To pastures new for the funeral trade
“It was a bit like looking at the first car back in the 1920s.”
Masseys are also currently shooting an online video in their Templeogue branch that will educate customers about different aspects of organising a funeral, an idea that they saw and liked during a recent visit to America.
“Most people arrange one or two funerals in their life so they are not what you would call a discerning customer and they need to be educated very quickly.
“If people don’t already have a relationship with a funeral director, they want to be able to go online and hoover up as much information as possible. That trend is building,” says Gribben.
Although it will always remain a face-to-face business, Gus Nichols, spokesman for the Irish Association of Funeral Directors (IAFD), says use of the internet is increasing.
“Even in a business as innately conservative as the funeral business we need innovation. Most funeral directors have websites now and I arranged a funeral the other day on Skype with someone in New Zealand.”
There are over 600 funeral directors catering for the 28,000 deaths per year in Ireland. Most are part-time businesses and fewer than 200 are members of the IAFD, which was set up to improve standards.
Despite the large sums of money involved, the funeral and cremation industry is entirely unregulated in Ireland, with no formal licensing system, no training requirements and few barriers to entry.
The Forum on End of Life last year called for regulation to crack down on substandard practices.
It heard anecdotal reports that some funeral homes were paying off hospital and hospice staff – “points of influence” as it is delicately put within the industry – to recommend their services.
Gus Nichols says the IAFD is concerned about the issue with most funeral directors agreeing it oversteps an ethical line.
“It is very hard to isolate and name and shame anybody because it is done in a very underhand manner but it definitely does go on.
“Our code of practice in the association strictly forbids that type of activity. Policing of this industry is long overdue.”
The funeral business has become fiercely competitive, which may be one of the reasons why some companies are resorting to unethical practices. According to Freddie Maguire, people in the business keep an eye on each other.
“The reality is that funeral directors watch other funeral directors. Things like ‘Do they have a 12D limousine and hearse?’”
When Dave Gribben began working in the industry he immediately noticed just how much funeral directors are able to keep tabs on the competition.
“I work with around 12 different industries and none is as transparent as this.
“You can go onto rip.ieevery week and see how many funerals were done in Dublin, who did them, where they were done. So the guys will know how many funerals Kirwans have done, Fanagans have done and vice versa. It has heated up considerably in the past five years.