Meet the Cardiff businesswoman turning the funeral industry on its head
Entrepreneur Kim Bird came up with the idea for About the Funeral after working as a funeral arranger for one of the UK’s leading funeral providers.
Whilst working in the industry, she noticed how many people were needing to arrange the perfect funeral for their loved ones but just couldn’t afford to do so.
This inspired her to launch About the Funeral, the UK’s first independent funeral comparison and review website, and she hasn’t looked back since.
“I worked in IT and marketing for many years,” she told BQ, “then inspired by my brother, who was training as an embalmer, I became interested in the funeral industry.
“I took on a role as a bereavement volunteer, to make sure that this sector was for me and then got a job as a funeral arranger for one of the UK’s leading funeral businesses.
“Whilst I was working for the funeral provider, I got first-hand experience of people needing to arrange a funeral but not being able to afford it. This happened over and over again and it was very distressing to see.
“I realised that there must be a way to allow these people to select their requirements just once and then get quotes from a variety of trusted funeral directors. This led me to the concept of an online comparison site.”
Combining her knowledge of the funeral sector and her IT and marketing skills, the 52-year-old got down to work and started planning how her business model would work, what her branding would look like and how she would bring the concept to market. The latter was always going to be one of the toughest challenges.
“The hardest part of the job is persuading funeral directors to pay for the service,” she said. “They are used to trading on their reputations. Usually they generate business through word of mouth or walk-in customers, especially if they’re the only funeral director in the immediate area.
“Some of them don’t believe that anything will change, but the small independents face growing competition from the big multiples or from other independents looking to expand their businesses.
“We also need to educate customers to expect to buy funerals in the same way that they have become used to buying car insurance and booking hotel rooms. To some extent other comparison sites have done the job for us, but there are some differences.
“It’s not all about comparing prices and getting the cheapest deal. Funerals are not a commodity product – we need to be able to help people compare on the basis of value, and that’s partly subjective.
“Showing that we can help people get a good value service not just a cheap deal is the key to making this work both for funeral directors and end customers.”
Another challenge which has faced Kim however, as well as the challenges that come with being an industry disruptor, has been the fact that the funeral industry has always been and continues to be a real male-dominated industry. But this hasn’t stopped her breaking through one bit.
She adds: “I’m a woman in a very male-dominated industry. A bit of a cliché but still true. I’ve had to fight sometimes to be taken seriously. That included a battle to get investment at a time when no one else was doing this.”
Helping Kim overcome these challenges, as well as her tireless work-ethic and determination, has been the support network around her which has helped push her from the pre-start idea all the way through to the business going live.
As well as being accepted on to the Entrepreneurial Spark programme, a business accelerator run by NatWest and KPMG, she has also managed to secure the backing of some of the founding members of leading price comparison website Go Compare as well as funeral industry experts.
She says: “I am very lucky to be party of the Entrepreneurial Spark Accelerator programme which has been a great experience. I won one of their main GoAcceler8 £4,000 Awards in February, which was brilliant. I also secured investment in November and have a really good team behind me, including the founders of Go Compare.
“I genuinely believe our biggest USP is the people behind the company. The team has a wealth of experience in the funeral industry, which is essential. Our management combines leading lights from the worlds of online comparison sites and funerals. Alan Slater MBE, former chief executive of the National Association of Funeral Directors is also a non-executive director.”
This wealth of experience driving the company combined with the company’s unique business model has also saw Kim named as one of the ‘UK’s top disruptors for 2017’ by The Sunday Times and Maserati and receive praise from top politicians.
“The Sunday Times selected me as one of the UK’s top 100 business disrupters of 2017 last month,” said Kim. “I am very proud that the positive changes I am making to the industry is being noticed and championed.
“I was also delighted that the work we are doing in the industry has been recognised by high profile figures such as Rt Hon Frank Field MP, who congratulated me on encouraging price transparency amongst funeral directors. Letters like that make the long days worthwhile!”
It has now been five months since aboutthefuneral.com went live and the business already employs 13 people and has proven a huge hit among funeral providers across Wales.
“It is early days but we are making strong progress,” Kim adds. “We have funeral directors signing up on a daily basis and the number of people using the site to arrange their funeral is exceeding our expectations.
“We just have to keep going until we have comprehensive coverage of the market, a site that’s as powerful and easy as it can be to use, funeral directors who see the service as indispensable and consumers who wouldn’t dream of buying a funeral without using About the Funeral first.”
She concluded: “I just want to make it easier for people to find out about funeral services and to make better decisions because I think that’s good for the industry and good for consumers.”
Published: 20 April 2017