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Fresh blood for the funeral industry: DIY interment gets a web 2.0 makeover

Think of the great disrupters of the last few years: Uber, Skype, Airbnb. What do they have in common? All three exhibit one defining trait: they disrupt traditional industries by placing more power in the hands of the consumer.

Jude Mannion, founder and owner of Fresh Funerals, aims to do exactly that with the funeral biz.

Simply put, Fresh Funerals lets grieving families plan funerals online. With an easy-to-use checklist, customers can custom-design their unhappy occasion all in the one place, and with a minimum of fuss. In turn, Fresh Funerals provides multiple quotes from local businesses for each item or service they’ve selected, letting families avoid gauche conversations while still getting value for money.  

There’s money there, too. The New Zealand funeral industry is worth approximately $300m a year, with Statistics New Zealand predicting mortality rates to rise from 29,568 in 2013 to 50,000 by 2046.

We’re weird about death. We’re reluctant to talk about it and hesitant to get involved in the minutiae of burial when the need arises. That’s something Mannion is looking to change.  

“Fresh Funerals completely changes the paradigm,” she says. “It’ no longer a case of handing someone else all the power. It actually sees you and your family holding the power, instructing the funeral director in what you want to do, rather the other way around.”

“And you can do that all in a very relaxed way in your own home,” she says.

Image: Jude Mannion, founder and owner of Fresh Funerals

Mannion says that people are far too ready to abdicate their responsibilities when planning a funeral, and too ready to hand everything over to the control of a funeral director.  

“What I want to offer people is an opportunity to do this in the comfort of their own homes,” she says. “They can research everything they want to do and they can discuss those options together as a group or family.”

“Everyone’s been to a bad funeral, where they felt that it wasn’t relevant to the person, where the person giving the service did not know the [deceased] person. I want more families to take more ownership of this event.”

Fresh Funerals seeks to empower the consumer by offering options that allows them to stay within their budgets and not become financially overwhelmed.

“Here in Auckland we embalm all the bodies, but, nine out of 10 times it’s not necessary,” she says.
“Or, for example, no one ever thinks of asking their funeral director for coffin hire, even though most do have a coffin available to hire for $500. Why spend $5000 when you don’t need to.”

In preparation for the creation of Fresh Funerals Jude Mannion spent 18 months travelling New Zealand, meeting 50 funeral directors. When asked as to what was the inspiration for the venture she cited her experience of losing loved ones.

“I’ve buried my parents and sister. When I did, I discovered that if we can accept our own mortality, accept that we are going to die, we live this life differently. We tend to be happier. We tend to do a better job. I wanted to come up with a solution that took away all that fear and enabled people to confront their own mortality. That was where Fresh Funerals started.”

As expected with any business disrupting an industry, not everyone was happy. Mannion says Fresh Funerals received abusive calls from some funeral directors, but that the response was largely positive from industry professionals.

“I have received a number of calls from members of the funeral industry. About 10% of them, well, yeah, they can be pretty abusive, but you would expect that when you’ve disrupting an industry.”

“But I’m okay,” she says. “I’ve got thick enough skin to take it”. 

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