For my interview this week I stayed in Dundee and visited the Millar Family Funeral Directors in their modern and welcoming premises just off the Clepington Road. Husband and wife team, Suzanne and Graham have been in business as an independent family firm for almost two years.
But their experience in the funeral world goes back a lot longer than that. I chatted to Graham in their comfortable family room and he explained that he had some 37 years in the business. “As a young man I was working in garage when I saw an advert for a job as a trainee funeral director with a local firm. Maybe it was because my grandfather had been an undertaker but I just realized it was something I wanted to do.”
Graham’s career sounds like a roll call of Dundee funeral directors: Ashtons, Samsons, Dignity, the Co-op. And between them, Suzanne and he have over 50 years of working together as a team. But what was it that spurred them into starting up on their own?
“Having our own business means we can do things our way. We can personalize a funeral according to the family’s wishes and needs. We can be flexible. We want each funeral to be about the families themselves and we always try to accommodate their wishes.”
Of course many independent funeral directors say the same – that they’re able to tailor the ceremony to the family’s needs. But I put it to Graham that their long experience must help inform the advice and support they give: “Yes, every funeral is different and over the years we’ve seen everything! That does mean we’re able to advise on what works and what might not. But we always try to be flexible and we’re also committed to keeping costs down.”
Being a smaller family firm obviously helps them to deliver a very personal service but I wondered if it might restrict the Millars when it comes to larger or more complicated ceremonies. Do they have the capacity to compete with the big companies? “Absolutely!” replied Graham, “Again, it comes back to the experience we hold. And as for resources we are always able to access whatever we need. That comes partly from the really strong bonds we have built up with other independents in the area. So we can handle sensitively anything from a very small funeral with just a couple of people present right up to a really big ceremony, perhaps for a local celebrity, that attracts lots of folk, media, and requires live music, video etc. We have a very ‘can do’ approach to our work.”
That led me to my usual discussion about natural and green funerals. Would they be open, say, to using a coffin that a family had sourced themselves? Or let a family decorate a coffin? “Yes, definitely”. But I think this is where they bring a quiet wisdom to the process, something that stems from those many years of experience. Because there are many things to consider: what kinds of paints would be safe to use in decorating a coffin, for example.
And home vigils? Well, it’s just not something that people ask for much these days and modern houses are not always suitable. But I got the feeling that Millars would always try to make it work for the family – “we’d find a way” is very much a theme of this chat.
Flexibility is a theme – and so is team work. The Millars are a team in every way and it’s clear that Graham takes pride in knowing that when a family call up to ask anything about a funeral, it doesn’t matter who they speak to, they get the right answers promptly.
So what does the future hold for the business? Growth definitely. Plus a willingness to adapt to an ever changing environment. But not at the expense of those core values, and nothing sums those up better than their own tagline “Our family caring for yours”.
Many thanks to you Graham, for your time and best wishes for the future.
Millar Family Funeral Directors Ltd
12 Graham Street, Dundee DD4 9AH
Michael Hannah, Dundee 2 October 2020