Window dressing

Charles 27 Comments

An email arrived here recently from a person who has been struck by the way undertakers dress their windows. ‘Dreadful’ is one of the adjectives she used, ‘depressing’ another. She’d like to set up a small business and put them right.

Whether or not undertakers’ windows are on the whole dressed badly is a matter of perception. An assortment of tombstones, the window sticker of a trade association, a vase of faded artificial flowers and a fan of pamphlets selling Golden Fleece funeral plans – is that okay or is it dreadful and depressing? In truth, you rarely see much in most undertakers’ windows to raise the spirits of yer average potential customer, nor evidence of the exercise of much imagination, aesthetic intelligence or marketing acumen.

Did I say customer? I meant client, of course. Funeral Directors are professionals. They term themselves Funeral Directors to distance themselves from the unlettered, scurrilous undertakers of yore. The modern use of the word undertaker denotes an artisan funeral director, an altogether different fish, one we can dissect another day. Artisan, of course, doesn’t mean what it used to mean, either; it’s gone (socially) upmarket like artisan toast.

What other professional operates out of a shop? I mean, I was going to say, lawyers announce their presence with nobbut a discreet brass plaque, but actually, come to think of it, a lot of them now have something of a shopfront. As do banks, and banking is a profession, right? What are estate agents?

Does it matter? You can tie yourself in knots arguing one way or the other about whether undertaking is a trade or a profession and it’s only status anxiety that causes undertakers to fret about it. Journalists don’t. (They’re trade.)

Undertakers aren’t there to flog you stuff, so you wouldn’t expect their windows to follow the retail model. Nor is there anything they can put in them to tempt people to avail themselves of their services before they absolutely need them — it’s only sad necessity that draws them over the threshold.

Nevertheless, a window is a potent marketing tool – and as they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. It’s a place where you can transmit key messages about your professionalism which will bear fruit when people find themselves bereaved.

What messages should a shop window transmit? Answer: what people want to hear, of course. Here are some.

The attribute that bereaved people rate most highly is empathy. Kindness if you prefer.

They want to know that you are a member of the human race and not one of those weird sotto voce types from planet BlackMac.

They want to know that you possess specialist skills and expertise of a high order.

They want to know that you have a vocation; that you are motivated by altruism (not greed and an ambition to sell out to FSP as fast as you can).

They want to know you are honest and open in your commercial dealings.

They want to know you have organisational skills.

They want evidence that your qualities are endorsed by someone on the side of the consumer.

You’ll tell me which ones I’ve missed.

How you get all or even some of those messages into a window display I haven’t a clue. But if I were an undertaker I’d be working on it. If you can create in people a warm regard long before they need you, you can probably halve your advertising spend.


  1. Charles

    With the centenary of WWI and the 75th anniversary of WWII coming up this year, what’s the betting there will be an inordinate amount of funeral drectors’ windows displaying Union Jacks and wreaths of poppies. I’ve wondered before why so many undertakers project this conservative patriotism. Is it because their majority customer base (often people who remember the last war, at least as children) like it that way?

    1. Charles

      Good god, Richard, I don’t think undertakers consider what people like, nor would have the slightest idea what on earth that was if they did. Nor, for that matter, would their customoer base.

      Poppies? Union Jacks? Almost certainly, but why? Have a look at their adverts, or their websites – I spent an hour once writing down what they say about themselves, and found they just think up the same old crap their competitors say about themselves and repeat it. As for their windows, they all look the same and I haven’t seen a single undertaker’s window display that would do anything but repel me. I feel so, so, so lucky that I will never need an undertaker for anything but a fridge, if that, and it’s my life’s work to appraise others of that simple truth.

      Who is this woman who would ‘set up a small business and put them right’? I’d love to hear from you, Madam. What do you have in mind?

  2. Charles

    It’s an intriguing species of patriotism, Richard. How many undertakers celebrate St George’s/David’s/Andrew’s day? What other patriotic anniversaries bring out their flags? If not, why not?

    Which set me musing that there is/was never an undertakerly regiment comparable to, say, the Artist’s Rifles. It would have a ring about it. “Bring up the 28th Undertakers’ Fusiliers!”

    A spot of googling has just informed me that the Artist’s Rifles is now the SAS, full title 21 Special Air Service Regiment (Artists) (Reserve). Well I never.

  3. Charles

    Neither a patriotic anniversary nor a specific saint’s day but one day undertakers don’t seem to mark in their window displays is All Soul’s Day (or Halloween). Odd that!

    1. Charles

      Curious, Charles, that you associate me with the ‘no souls market’ – has it something to do with my declining to believe in Richard’s god? Is some sort of god a pre-requisite for my soul?

    2. Charles

      I find it curious, Charles, that you associate me with the ‘no souls market’ – has it something to do with my declining to believe in Richard’s god? Is some sort of god a pre-requisite for my soul?

  4. Charles

    When I was looking for the building that would house my company, the window and frontage was my only concern. I wanted something with big windows so I could do some brilliant window displays but also so people could look in.
    The age at which people are having to arrange funerals is getting younger and younger. Many have no idea what to expect from a funeral director and there is an element of fear walking through the door. They expect to see bodies and coffins so by having an open window before they walk in, dispels that straight away.
    My window displays are always a big deal and no sooner as the new display been put in, I am already thinking about the next.
    I did do a Remembrance Day display and Charles posted a picture of it. Because I am part of a huge Military family that has served as far back as the first World War, I really wanted to make the window personal.
    My cousins have served in Afghanistan (one came back minus a leg…stupid boy!) and they lent me a lot of kit that they had on tour with them along with lots of photos. We hung flags of the Paras and Marine’s (that they currently serve in) as well as Royal Navy (Grandma and Grandad) Royal Air Force (Dad and Uncle) and the Union Jack (original WW2 flag that made it back from France)
    I have never had a more successful window. I had the same people stop every day to have a look and they always found something new to look at.
    I use the window to reflect the business but I want people to see the possibilities. Everything I have in the window that is available to the public has a short description and how much it costs. I always work on the basis that “If you have to ask you can’t afford it.” So I make sure everyone knows what things cost because they may find that it is within their budget and is never as expensive as they were lead to believe by other Funeral Directors/Undertakers!!
    I hate seeing headstones and faded fake flowers in windows. How many people are buried these days? How are headstones relevant to the majority? Faded, dusty, fake flowers. I am in no way green fingered, but even I haven’t managed to kill my plants and always buy fresh flowers every week.
    I work in this office 6 days a week. Even if people don’t notice the live plants and cut flowers, I do! I want to work in somewhere that I am proud and happy to be in.
    Window displays are a brilliant opportunity to show the public what is available to them. It is a chance to be honest, so put a price list in the window. After only 6 months, I have people taking detours on their way home from work just to see the next window! I have had two people call me and tell me this!
    Would they have ever called me until they needed my services without that window…I doubt it!
    Would they have called the big chain funeral director two doors down to congratulate them on the headstone and faded scatter tubes they have had in the window for five years…I can’t imagine they would!

  5. Charles

    A funeral home I used to work at would have people walk in off the street to say they liked our window display! We had a local florist come and do it every couple of months. The display never had anything to do with selling anything or funerals – it was just pleasant to look at.

  6. Charles

    I do wish someone on this site would have something good to say about funeral directors! We are not all doom and gloom…..

    Our Company has an informative and easy to use website with our prices clearly shown, our adverts are not boring, and as for our window displays they beat any other funeral director in the area.

    Our Cleckheaton branch has a window that we regularly put displays in. From Remembrance Sunday, to Christmas, Mother’s Day, Easter, plus some things that relate to funerals or as next months window will be – Memorial Candles. I am no window dresser and perhaps some may think they are the work of an amateur, but I have to say we get nothing but praise. As one lady said, as we tweaked our Christmas display “You always have something interesting in this window” I look forward to see what is coming next” The public like to see that we are a young and passionate company, offering new ideas. It’s not about selling, it’s about making people aware. If the lady who is thinking of setting up a business would like to get in touch with me I’m sure we could make our good and interesting windows – fantastic displays.

    1. Charles

      Lovely to hear from you, Janice. We’re not anti-funeral director, we simply like to stimulate debate. In this particular matter it’s a clear-cut case of them… and people like you and Lucy and David.

      Do send us photos. We’d love to publish them, share the love and spread the message.

      And: good for you. (You’ve got to admit there are some pretty dreadful ones out there.)

  7. Charles

    Bravo Jonathan. Well said. I also refuse to spell god with a capital.

    On the subject of shop window displays…what the devil (sorry Richard, Devil) would you put in a funeral director’s window to attract custom? I must say, the leaning towards patriotism leaves me a bit cold but I am aware that there is a massive section of our good British public who love the nationalism thing. It all rings of sentimentality and soppiness to me – the Mothering Sunday displays and the Remembrance Sunday displays…..however, they are infinitely better than the two headstones, some faded purple velvet and a bunch of plastic flowers.

    I am absolutely convinced that the majority of funeral directors/undertakers want to do their very best. I am also absolutely convinced that they believe 100% in what they do and do it to the very best of their ability, believing that this is what their customers want. But the customers don’t know what they want until they see it. They are confused about what is allowed, what is possible, what they feel they should do and what the neighbours will think if they don’t. All change in any business (NOT profession) will be customer led.

    And as Jonathan the rebel says, I thank small-g-god that I know what I can have, that I know what I want and that I won’t be needing the full fd thing when my time comes – except for a bit of chilling.

    I’d like to see what this young woman has up her sleeve re window displays.

  8. Charles

    We are just drawing up a schedule for the year of window displays that we want to be “thought provoking”. To get people to think about the end of their lives.

    A blend of displays that throughout the year embrace a variety of themes such as:

    Do It Your Way – Be Different
    Just Add Colour
    Remembrance – WWI Anniversary
    Celebrate All Things Local!

    And even – “We don’t want to see you before your time – Look After Yourself” which we can do in collaboration with local sports teams, leisure centres, gyms, slimming clubs. This in particular is the contrary to dying and visiting us, but the positive is it gets our business talking to local community groups, which in itself spreads the word about who we are, and wins us more community support.

    It is not all about the dead you know!

  9. Charles

    Richard, I had also thought about that, quite recently as it happens. We don’t currently have a window that could be ‘dressed’ but if we did I would be thinking seriously about what could be reasonably done at Hallowe’en/All Souls/ Samhein if only because it is a time when folks have traditionally remembered their dead. It would have to be done very carefully though!

    I also do not believe in Ricard’s God, but I do use a capital G, partially because its a convention, partially out of respect for those who do (One of a few conventions I use for that reason, not limited to Christianity, a symptom of being an RE examiner I think!) and partially because in a professional sense I find it a useful way to differentiate between a monotheistic or Monist God or Goddess and the individual deities (gods and goddesses) of religions such a Hinduism.

    1. Charles

      Liking this thread!

      Jenny, I agree, whether you believe in souls or not, All Souls’ Day could inspire inventive undertakers’ window displays. And, yes, God with a lower case G strikes me as militant posturing.

      As you may have noted from a recent post, I’ve recently attended a church service of thanksgiving for the life of a beautiful and sorely missed friend. Attendees were a complete mix, but no one politicised the profound service, throwing their toys out of the pram because it included the Lord’s Prayer.

      Over drinks afterwards, we all agreed how our confused, grieving thoughts were crystallised by words expressed during the service, whether hymns, prayers, Bible or poetry readings or personal addresses. People sang their hearts out, engaged deeply in private thoughts, hugged, cried, laughed— all as it should be when someone loved is lost.

      ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind / Forgive our foolish ways. / Re-clothe us in our rightful mind / In purer lives thy service find / In deeper reverence, praise’.

      Quokkagirl, what would I put in a window display? I’ll get back to you on that but I have plenty of ideas (I’m a window dresser manqué!).

      Janice, you say, ‘I do wish someone on this site would have something good to say about funeral directors!’ This is certainly not a negative blog site, with positive things said whether about direct funerals, woodland burials or full-on requiem masses. Here’s just one of my recent examples but our host has authored many dozens more:

  10. Charles

    I was very interested in your point about ‘the shop front’ and what it should portray, a friend of mine work has a funeral director, it was part of a sort of ‘franchise’ operation so he didn’t have a say in the frontage of the shop. When he received the image he laughed and thought it was the wrong photo sent by mistake, it was hideous to say the least. He had to go with it as it was part of the deal and it had already been paid for!
    The ‘shop’ (I do agree with your retail analogy) was ‘dead’ (pardon the pun), people were stopping in thier cars to take a photo of this abomination and laughing. He sold his shop back to the ‘franchisee’, it could still be there now, maybe he was hasty but he said he could have never lived with that horrific image it is engrained in his brain forever.

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