| A forward thinking funeral home business with traditional beliefs
Groupe Garneau Thanatolgue is a group of seven funeral homes in the province of Quebec that is owned by Valérie and Marie Eve Garneau’s father, Jean Garneau. It truly is the epitome of a family run business with Valerie’s husband Joel and Marie-Eve’s husband Owen, part of the business as well. Valérie is also the president of the CTQ (Corporation des Thanatologues du Québec) and the youngest and first woman to be the president of CTQ. CTQ facilitates both quality standards in funeral service and gives assistance to funeral directors in the process of reflection concerning funeral rituals. Marie Eve is the FSAC representative for Quebec.
Valérie and her sister are young in age, but are well-established businesswomen. Their father started the family business in 1980 and when he wanted to retire, they decided to help him with the business. So Valerie and her sister, along with their husbands are first generation funeral directors with the running of the business now. “When we first began, we were doing 125 calls a year, today we are doing more than 750 calls a year due to our rapid expansion to 7 funeral homes,” said Valerie. Their business encompasses the main areas of Chaudière Appalaches and Mauricie, including St-Romuald, Lévis, The St. Lawrence River area and in between.
Valérie and her sister are the “faces” of the business. They are both involved with meeting with their families and helping them plan their services. Joel and Owen take care of the “back” room operations (embalming/prep, cremation and transportation). These two dynamic couples have established a very successful funeral home business in Quebec with their attention to serve everyone in their community by providing multiple locations and service options for the needs of their families. “It is true that a big part of our success has been due to acquisitions, but we also have increased the size of our funeral home in St-Romuald to 33,000 feet to more effectively serve our large market, Valérie stated. Because of the large size of their funeral home, they make it available for local events and recently the Red Cross held a blood drive at their home. “We don’t want people to think we are just a funeral home when they come in to see us. We want them to think of us as a meeting place for business and local events as well,” Valérie stated. She added “If we can bring them here for other events, they will be more comfortable when then need us later. They know we are serious about our profession, but also see us at “regular” people when they come for an event.”
Making everyone comfortable is very important to the Garneau family. A unique feature of their funeral home is that they have a special place with a playroom for children under the age of five to make them feel safe when they are at their funeral home. “Children are our future and we show to them that a funeral home is not a scary place for them which will help them about their feelings on death in the future. We answer their questions about death and the funeral process openly and honestly with them. It is important to explain the children, not only for the children, but for their parents as well. Because many times the children are asking the questions instead of the parents and by explaining the process to the children, it helps the entire family,” said Valérie. They have also built the first memorial park in Quebec beside their funeral home. “This was an addition we did to separate us from other funeral homes and makes us different,” Valérie explains.
However, with success there is always challenges to be met by funeral homes today. “The biggest challenge we see today is the loss of tradition. 30 years ago, religious values were very strong, but now people have started to pull back on religious ritual, meaning presentation of the body and funeral ceremonies in general. They have fast forwarded from a church service to doing nothing. They just want the ashes and that is it. What we have tried to convey in Quebec is going back to the tradition. We speak with our families about honoring tradition. We explain to them the importance of viewing the body before cremation because we know this is a very important part of the grieving process. It is in educating them and finding different things that will work for them,” said Valérie. She added, “What was done 20 years ago is not how we do it today. We need to find new ideas, think “outside the box”, have new products for our families to help them work through their grief and let them know that having a service of some kind will help them with that.”
Quebec has very harsh winters. When people die in the winter and want to be buried whether it be a casket or urn burial, they cannot be buried until the spring. That is one of the reasons for the high cremation rate in Quebec. “People see it as easier because they are “done” after the cremation and don’t have to have a “two-part” service, meaning first a service when the death occurs and secondly a burial service in the spring. So, we explain to them the importance of a service with cremation because without the service they would be missing the traditional part that is needed for closure. Interestingly enough, we are seeing a trend in younger people, who want a tradition of a viewing and service with cremation and we think that is wonderful,” said Valérie.
Traditional cremation typically involves having urns for the family for their loved ones ashes. For their families that want personalized, high quality urns, they use Urnes Begin as one of their suppliers. “We provide their line for our families because they are made of bronze and will last forever. We also like their personalization options which helps our families memorialize and represent their loved ones,” Valérie added. However, they also go above and beyond to incorporate various items families bring in for their loved ones ashes because they know it is special for the family to remember them by.
Part of the Garneau’s success is also attributed to their extensive community involvement. Valérie sits on two local boards, one that helps people at the end stage of their life and the other is an organization that helps feed people in need. She also volunteers her time and talents in local charity events. One being a local charity that helps new mothers once they bring their babies home from the hospital. “Yes we are working with people that pass away, but it is important to help all families at all stages of life in our community,” said Valerie. Last year, she became part of another foundation that helps families that can’t afford funeral expenses. “My community is important and I want to give back to make a difference in people’s lives,” Valérie stated humbly.
Valérie is one busy successful business woman and has plans to continue to serve her community in building another funeral home in the near future. “We need to have another large funeral home in the eastern part of Quebec so that we can serve everyone that needs us. We have a lot of things we still want to do so that we will be the leader in funeral service in our region,” said Valérie.
Their future is very bright as they continue to serve the province of Quebec with their commitment to excellence. They believe emphatically in the return to traditional values. “I think the funeral law is not what it should be. It is important for people to do something; to remember their loved ones. We have a lot of work to do in educating our community. It is not just a financial goal of ours, it is finding the right thing for each family and doing the right thing by them. Funeral homes as a whole need to change their image and provide different services for families in order for our industry to be continue to be successful in the future,” Valérie says. She added “We need to be advisors, not sellers. We need to be an advisor to the families, like being a conductor, if they want us to play, we will play.” The community of Quebec is very fortunate to have the Garneau family with their consummate dedication to serving everyone in their community with compassion, professionalism and their strong dedication to tradition. They are a model of excellence that our industry should strive to emulate.