IS STARTING A FUNERAL HOME /PRIVATE MORTUARY BUSINESS PROFITABLE IN KENYA?

Funeral services is a growing field that can be rewarding for those with compassion to those who have lost their loved ones. The average funeral costs in Kenya is between Ksh.60,000 and Ksh.500,000, which means that opening a funeral home business can be a profitable venture. However, the cost to start a funeral home can be high.

*Location*

Just like any other business, location is very important, choose a place that is accessible, possibly away from residential areas because of the negative perception about mortuary. Best location is being near a big public or mission hospital.

Depending on availability funds, you may prefer to purchase a plot & build one, but in my opinion, leasing space for a funeral home can be more affordable for many who cannot afford to build one from scratch. A typical lease, plus utilities, for the average funeral home is about Ksh.50,000 and above per month.

*License*

There are permits one is required to pay before starting a mortuary /funeral home eg. Public health, County permit, NEMA among others.

You will need a qualified mortician /embalmer & to some extent qualified laboratory, accounts and records personnel.

*Equipment and Furnishings*

You will need quite a bit of equipment to start your funeral home business. It will be necessary to buy refrigeration/cold room /insulation equipments, tiles, stainless-steel preparation table, embalming supplies/chemicals and pipings.

The average cost of these items for beginning operations is about Ksh.500,000 upto Ksh.1 million or more.

*Hearse & Caskets*

You will need to allocate some space or partner with a person who owns a hearse and probably someone who makes caskets in order for your funeral home to be a one stop shop. The hearse owner and casket maker can be paying you some commission.

*Marketing*

As with any other business, marketing will be one of your key business costs. To ensure that the community is aware of the opening of your funeral home, as well as any special offers you may have, you will need to advertise your business.

You will need to have a website to promote your business or print some brochures that can be dished out in the surrounding, Have an advertising budget of about Ksh.20,000, but costs can be reduced with creative marketing tactics, such as the use of social media eg Facebook.

*Future Plans*

In case all goes well one can upgrade his/her morgue into a private anatomy lab, a new concept where medical students, medical colleges & researchers can pay dissection fees.

*Promising life a PhD candidate saw in funeral homes business*

Ms Ann Gathoni Waititu resigned from one of the leading blue-chip companies in Kenya five years ago to venture into the funeral home business to the chagrin of family members and friends.

You must have lost your mind, she was told many times. Indeed, some of her friends are yet to rest the case.

They wondered why a well-educated woman would leave a “promising” job at Safaricom, a leading telecommunications firm in the region, and choose to do business “with the dead.”

She holds a master’s degree in Strategic Management from the University of Nairobi and is pursuing a doctorate at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, where she is also a part-time lecturer.

The 31-year-old had worked for five years as a Safaricom customer care agent but health complications forced her to quit and venture into entrepreneurship.

Ms Gathoni founded Montessori Funeral Home in 2013. The business supplies coffins and hearses, does cremation, embalming, photography and video, eulogy and funeral programme printing.

“I remember telling my parents about my decision to venture into this business and everyone gave me a blank look.”

“My friends wondered what had come over me that I decided to go into the sendoff business yet I had a good and promising job. My parents have come to accept my business but my friends still give me that ‘really?’ look.”

Ms Gathoni toyed with many business ideas, including transportation but settled on funeral services due to a number of factors, including the fact that it was not costly to set up.

She used savings from a previous job to start the business at a makeshift shop in Kasarani with a stock of only four coffins. Worse, she was worried about the possibility of the business picking up.

To grow her business, she visited morgues to create contacts of attendants who would refer possible clients to her. She would also visit hotels and restaurants that regularly hold funeral meetings and engage prospective customers.

Her negative thoughts were mostly tied to the dispiriting comments she kept getting from people she thought would support her venture as well as the stiff competition in the industry.

During this period, Ms Gathoni had two employees, meaning she had to literally roll up her sleeves and work with them. This hands-on experience helped her to learn the intricacies of the job.

Today, Montessori Funeral Home has expanded that she not only moved to a bigger shop at the Golf Course Commercial Centre, near Kenyatta Market, but has a stock of between 30 and 40 caskets and 10 employees. The hearses are three.

The caskets range from the “masses” category which go for about Sh.10,000 to the executive (locally-made and imported) which retail for as much as Sh.200,000 each. Every month, the business sells about 30.

“The funeral services business is very unpredictable. There are weeks when we struggle to make sales and then there are other weeks when we are fully booked.” The business now transports bodies within Kenya and across the borders either by road or using airlifts at a special cost.

The services, she said, are in four categories to accommodate client segments.

The platinum category includes embalming, cremation, repatriation of bodies and use of helicopters to ferry the bodies locally.

Under gold category, there is use of high-end caskets and hearses as well as cremation but there are also silver and bronze clients.

Marketing, she offers, gives her sleepless nights. The business is male-dominated and this has made it even more challenging as people still find it strange that a woman is doing it.

“You have to create contacts with mortuary attendants to refer the bereaved families to you or you attend wake ceremonies with a view to getting a business opportunity,” she says.

“You have to balance the business and be cognisant of the fact that your clients are grieving. This is an uphill task which does not become easier even after three years of doing this.”

Notwithstanding the delicate balance, the entrepreneur is planning a private burial site akin to Langata Cemetery, but improve it so that families can give the departed a dignified send-off. She also wants to open a morgue.

Think outside the box when looking for a job or starting a business, she advises young people, especially women. Opportunities abound, Ms Gathoni says.

“To many, the job I am doing is a taboo especially for a woman, but to me it’s a business opportunity like any other.”

By Timothy Angwenyi
Business Consultant

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