From one time consumer to business owner…..

The funeral industry is a very unusual business sector, not just because of the job that it does and the type of services it provides, but due to the attraction it has for new business start ups, the type of people starting up and they manner in which they ‘start.’ It is unlike any other industry in the UK.

People are entering the industry, in some cases with absolutely no previous working experience or knowledge of the funeral industry at all – and without regulation of any kind it is absolutely possible.

I went to a funeral once and decided to start my own funeral home

The amount of people who enter the funeral industry, starting up a funeral business and charging people for ‘professional services’ supposedly on the back of having a personal experience of arranging and attending a funeral is extraordinary. I have heard a number of business start ups with reasons for starting a funeral business ranging from, ‘After the loss of my Mum, I wanted to help other people arrange a funeral,’ to ‘I attended my best friends Dad’s funeral and knew that I could do a better job’ and also ‘I have always been very fascinated by death,’ as well as ‘I volunteered in a Hospice.’

While some of these reasons may well be genuine, what experience or actual knowledge do they afford? – and what then attracts them to start up a business which they have absolutely no experience of at all? We don’t hear of people saying that they started a Hospice or a Specialist Care Home after experiencing these services due to caring for their loved ones. But then the hospice doesn’t present them with a bill of thousands of pounds for seemingly very little work and both would require a lot of regulations and licencing to be met…. oh and professionally trained and suitably qualified staff.

Similarly, in other business sectors we don’t hear of people going from a one time consumer to immediately opening a business, but that is a common story in the Funeral Industry.

While there is no doubt that there will be those small start ups that have started a funeral business with a genuine desire to provide a meaningful and professional service which is accessible for families. I can think of one straight away, although I have never met the owners and do not know them, reading about them and speaking to Doctors at a hospital who know them, I am confident that they are doing it for the right reasons. But for a vast proportion – it’s more about money and the ease in which they can set up, then operate with absolutely no interference by any authority what-so-ever and in an industry where there is zero consumer protection from any authority.

Learning on the job or as part of the Market research

People starting up that have literally no knowledge of arranging a funeral, the legal documents and or the administration of death either learn on their feet after setting up or start asking people with some knowledge, how to actually do the job that they are about to set up a business for. I personally have been approached a handful of times in recent years and asked for either ‘everything I know’ as the person asking needs an ‘in-depth knowledge of how the industry works’ or I am asked for advice on the embalming side of things and how to do specific things relating to deceased care. My answers are always the same…. a) don’t get involved if you are just out to make money, b) if you genuinely want to enter the funeral industry, find employment and undergo specific training and gain experience.

For most people when they look to set up a business the months leading up to it isn’t about learning the job or industry – it is conducting market research, learning what consumers want and if their business will meet a need, ultimately if their business will be a success. A few years ago, I attended a series of seminars on starting your own business which was organised by The Business Enterprise Fund which covered everything from Market Research, Financial Planning, Business Plans and Marketing and Advertising – but at no point was there any advice on offer for people with absolutely no relevant experience in the area of business that they was hoping to start a business in. In fact, quite the opposite, one of the key factors was a person’s relevant existing experience and qualifications. I wonder how someone wanting to start up a funeral business without ever having worked in the industry would fair in one of these kinds of seminars? More to the point… how do they survive in the funeral industry?

Is Charging professional services without any formal training or qualifications right?

The most common phrase on a Funeral Director’s price list is ‘Professional Services’ these are commonly referring to the arrangements of the funeral, conducting the funeral on the day, and in some instances it also includes the care of the deceased. Professional Services typically refer to services provided by someone with specific qualifications and or licences to practice – such as Solicitors, so is it right for people to be charged professional services by people with no formal training, experience or qualifications? Personally I think not.

Research that has been carried out over the recent times suggests that most people assume that the funeral industry is regulated and that people are specifically trained or that there is a standardised level of back of house facilitates and care. And from the responses that I have had personally – people are utterly shocked and in some instances horrified that there is no regulation at all and that there is no regulation or training requirements that covers caring for and or embalming of deceased persons.

It is time that the industry is regulated, independently, and there should be legislation in place to protect both deceased and consumers. This has to include requirements to operate a funeral home. Death isn’t a commodity and shouldn’t be seen as such… if someone needs to find out exactly what a Funeral Director does and how they do it in order to start a funeral business, they shouldn’t be doing it.