• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Running a business that helps you to say goodbye

DOM Maguire recalls a seminal moment which convinced him where his future career lay.

SUccess: Dom Maguire, chairman of Anderson Maguire, is proud of the achievements of his company, which employs 34 staff. Picture: Colin Mearns
SUccess: Dom Maguire, chairman of Anderson Maguire, is proud of the achievements of his company, which employs 34 staff. Picture: Colin Mearns

It was during the blizzards of 1963, when as a junior assistant at a funeral parlour in Belfast he was told to clear the snow from under a Humber Imperial.

"There was always something that appealed to me about those big shiny cars," he recalls.

The funeral director, who has long since swapped Northern Ireland for Scotland, has worked in the industry ever since.

While some may view funerals as a bleak sector to work in, he takes a different view.

The chairman of Glasgow-based Anderson Maguire, which he established in 1982, said being able to provide fitting and meaningful occasions for bereaved families is a source of deep satisfaction.

He also feels "pride" in seeing his 34-strong staff meet the emotional demands of the job.

Many of his staff with the company, which has 10 branches in the Glasgow area, are long-serving. It is also a family affair: son Mark sits on the board and his daughter Angela is also involved.

Mr Maguire, winner of the outstanding contribution prize at The Herald's Family Business Awards last year, said: "I remember a very well-known minister in Glasgow, the Reverend John Miller, saying to us after doing a funeral in his parish in Castlemilk that it was street theatre at its best. And I always remember that; making that day special for people."

Mr Maguire concedes directing funerals is not for everyone, and highlights empathy, being able to switch off and a sense of occasion among the list of attributes people need for the job.

To that list he adds the ability to adapt to changing times.

When he started religious services were the norm, but as the influence of the church has waned the number of funerals presided over by ministers and priests in Scotland has fallen.

Mr Maguire points out that the number of secular and humanist funerals his company is asked to organise is on the up, with Anderson Maguire also handling services for families from an increasingly broad range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

He noted: "You don't need God to say goodbye. Twenty years ago, no matter how big a rapscallion the deceased was, not matter what lack of belief they had, the family would have felt they would have had to have a minister or priest in attendance or it would have shamed the family. Now there's not that sense of [religion]."

Just as religion has become less prominent, a trend towards send-offs which reflect the personality of the deceased has grown.

Mr Maguire, who switched from the post of managing director to chairman two years ago, has seen his firm orchestrate everything from Elvis to Star Wars-themed funerals in recent weeks. He feels the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997 brought a "sea change" in attitudes, and states that popular television shows often dictate the type of funeral people request.

As such, requests for American caskets, horse-drawn and motorcycle hearses have been steadily on the rise.

And while many of Anderson Maguire's engagements are high-profile in nature, Mr Maguire insists the objective is the same regardless of budget: to provide a service that is significant and meaningful for all concerned.

He said: "It's very good to get that sort of business, to be recognised as being the premier undertaker in the city, but the downside to that is that wee Mrs Smith living in the Gorbals or Springburn maybe thinks you are above in terms of cost, which is not the case.

"We do what we call a simple funeral for £1400, £1500 people, and we suit everybody's taste and everybody's budget.

"And I think we have managed to get the balance right. Although saying that in the past three months I have never known so many expensive funerals."

Mr Maguire noted the structure of the funeral industry itself has been a "moveable feast" during the period of his involvement.

He explained his company broadly belongs to the 60 per cent of the market occupied by independent family-owned firms in Scotland, of which Anderson Maguire is perhaps the largest in the west.

Dignity, the listed funeral business, co-ops, and smaller groups which have been busy acquiring smaller players carry out the remaining 40 per cent.

Mr Maguire has seen a spate of low-cost operators emerge since the recession and said there are two ways to look at the recent consolidation.

"There can be a haemorrhage - a lot of people who use a small family business no longer feel the same loyalty to the company when their [connection] is severed.

"There is an argument that the level of service goes down when a big acquisition buys a smaller business, but I don't subscribe to it.

"Some of these acquisitors are very good at maintaining service and pumping money into businesses and dragging some of these smaller companies which have not been investing into the 21st century."

In addition to the consolidation of ownership, Mr Maguire highlights the growing prominence of pre-paid funeral plans as another major driver of change in the industry.

Anderson Maguire has long had a foothold in this sector, with its chairman first spotting the trend coming when he visited the United States in the early 1990s. But he noted other independents have not been so prescient.

He said: "My experiences in the United States of America 20, 25 years ago told me quite clearly that funeral plans were something to get into quite early on.

"And while many smaller companies eschewed getting involved in them we actively promoted them, and that is certainly going to protect our market share in future. In fact, not only protect it, but enhance it because we went on to television advertising these plans.

"The result of that was that we attracted people to buy them who under normal circumstances might have been another funeral director's client, and they are now linked into us.

"The big change is that many of these funeral plans are linked into one of the large companies, which in the longer term will have the effect of moving market share towards them.

"However the saviour for the smaller private family companies ironically enough is a Glasgow company called Golden Charter, who provide pre-paid funeral plans, and are now fast-becoming one of the market leaders.

"So their efforts should in some way redeem the situation, but there will definitely be an erosion of the private business for a year or two until things correct themselves."

Contextual targeting label: 
Business

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

230756