Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 6th 2017 Contents BG4 | COVER STORY
BUSINESS GUARDIAN guardian.co.tt JULY 6 • 2017
thriving in T&T
It is known as "The Great Equaliser".
Rich or poor, black or white, healthy or
slovenly, powerful or powerless, there is
one eventuality we all share: someday we
As morbid as it sounds, an entire industry
full of life thrives not by knocking on but
rather opening death's door.
There are approximately 48 funeral homes
in the country.
Each with its own size, scale and per-
sonality serving a wide cross section of
They do the shadowy work that many of us
are ill-interested in but are all touched by.
Death, Inc is alive and well.
David Simpson is an executive
member of the Association of
Funeral Professionals of T&T
He is also the managing
director of the funeral home
chain that bears his last name: Simpson Me-
Simpson, 42, speaks in animated terms about
an industry that has seen rapid growth, both in
terms of number of homes and actual funerals
over the last few years.
"There is no other business like the funeral
industry. Our industry quietly generates mil-
lions of dollars of revenue every year."
A trained embalmer, Simpson added that
many of the homes in the funeral industry
are family owned and have been around for
"You have funeral homes that date back 130
years in terms of family lineage. Even my own
company is on its third generation," he said.
Located in Laventille---considered one of
T&T's crime hotspots---Simpson stated that
the perception of crime on the business of fu-
neral directors does not always square with the
"Crime doesn't necessarily imply that be-
cause there are more bodies, that the bottom
line will be larger. So more crime doesn't always
translate to more money to the funeral industry
as people think."
Asked to elaborate Simpson added: "Most
funerals that come out of crime hotspot tend
to be very low-end funerals. They usually run
from $7,000 or below, in line with the funeral
grant provided by the Ministry of Social Wel-
fare. A funeral at that price mostly covers the
Probed about the range that funeral expens-
es can span, Simpson noted that it could be
"You have funerals that cost anywhere from
$7,000 on the lower end to well over $100,000
on the upper end. The average price for most
funerals usually ranges between $15,000 to
$18,000. A state funeral could cost anywhere
in the vicinity of $200,000 because of the level
of detail and other considerations involved."
The digital age has caused many industries
to transform their business models.
The funeral industry is no different.
Questioned about the impact of the digital
era on how funeral homes get their value prop-
osition across to customers, Simpson noted
that like all other business, the industry has
had to evolved
"Gone are the days of signboards or relying
on a hearse passing through the streets for in-
dividuals to recognise your name.
"Now you have Instagram, Twitter and Face-
book---social media that funeral homes are us-
ing to interact with customers and build their
businesses. These platforms have also driven
down the cost of marketing tremendously."
The funeral industry, however, is not without
its fair share of challenges.
One of the major concerns for the AFPTT
is the activity of "touting" outside of mortu-
aries in T&T.
Referred to as "briefcasers" in the industry,
Simpson said that not only are they a threat to
public health, but they affect the perception
of the industry as a whole.
"The briefcasers tend to come from funeral
homes and break off to do their own thing. So
they may toss out the name of a home they
were once affiliated with to attract business
and then offer unrealistic prices and shoddy
service thus damaging the reputation of the
industry and the funeral home from which
On the topic of health, Simpson said that fu-
neral homes were "protectors of public health."
He said, "It's dangerous to use one of these
briefcase traders. When you enter the college
of mortuary science one of the first things you
are taught is that we (funeral directors) are the
protectors of public health."
Simpson added: "Some of the diseases that
people die from are dangerous and you have to
know how to treat with and handle dead bodies
to prevent infecting yourself first of all, and the
family of the loved ones secondly."
To combat the effect of this activity on the
industry, Simpson added that the AFPTT was
seeking to bring legislation that would intro-
duce minimum standards and licensing to the
"Most homes operate according to the high-
est international standards in T&T. Howev-
er, we are trying to push for legislation that
mandates certain standards to prevent brief-
casers from harming clients and the industry
as a whole. Anyone who promises a particular
service will be held to the standards, by law,
to deliver that service."
Another challenge confronting the industry
is the issue of space. Most of the major public
cemeteries in T&T are full.
"The public cemeteries under the purview
of the city corporations and regional corpo-
rations are full. So cemeteries in Tunapuna,
San Juan and St Joseph, for example, do not
have sufficient capacity to handle the current
requirements for space."
The loss of a loved one is usually the most
traumatic event anyone will experience.
The emotional stress brought on by death
can, for many, take some time to overcome.
As far of the evolution of the industry,
Simpson noted that funeral directors offer
"The process of bereavement can vary from
person to person and family to family. Many of
the funeral directors now offer ancillary sup-
porting services in the form of counselling and
psychological support to help those affected
deal with the emotional burden.
"In moments of grief, funeral directors now
play a greater role."
Regulations, burial spaces---major challenges
David Simpson, left, executive member, Association of Funeral Professionals of T&T, and
managing director of Simpson Memorial Ltd, Nekeisha James, assistant secretary, AFPTT, with
Andrew Habib, senior team leader, Belgrove's Funeral Home, stand in a showroom among
caskets and coffins.
Undertakers prepare a burial location at a private memorial gravesite.
PHOTOS: AYANNA KINSALE
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