At the age of 15, Clive Anderson was sitting beside his recently widowed mother making funeral arrangements for his father. That’s when the seed to becoming a funeral director was sown. At the age of 18, while working in his family’s insurance business in Ireland and pursing a degree in business at night, the seed that had been sown at 15 wanted to grow. “Financially, I was doing very well, but I didn’t feel satisfied. It was then I really started thinking about the funeral profession. What other profession could be as important and as rewarding? Within a couple of days I was back at the same funeral home that buried my father but instead of arranging a funeral, I was making arrangements to change my career. After a 2 hour conversation with the funeral director Mr. O’Connor I had an accepted job offer at the Jeremiah O’ Connor Funeral Home in County Cork. Ireland,” Clive recalled.
Clive’s introduction to funeral service was born and after several months of working nights and weekends at the O’Connor Funeral Home in Cork, he knew his calling was in funeral service. It didn’t stop there. Like every immigrant he dreamed big. He dreamed of coming to America like Henry Ford and many other famous Irish men to pursue a dream.
In Ireland, the funeral profession is unregulated and he quickly learned in order to be an owner/operator of a funeral home in America, he would need to go to mortuary school in the United States.
After applying to two mortuary schools, he was accepted at the New England Institute in Boston, MA. In 2003, Clive landed at Logan airport in Boston to pursue his dream. He graduated in 2005 and upon completion he had an internship with the Gormley Funeral Home in Boston.
Clive’s career in funeral service turned to sales in 2007 as the funeral home he had interned with did not have a full-time funeral director position. He briefly worked with Heritage Coffins before joining Matthews Casket putting his business savvy and warm personality to good use. His dream of owning a funeral home still very much alive.
While working in the casket business Clive would regularly visit the Pelham Funeral Home. They were one of the few funeral homes in Westchester who were not doing most of their casket business with Matthews. “I was trying so hard and yet unsuccessful in winning their casket business that one day I said to myself, “The only way I’m going to acquire their casket business for Matthews is to buy the funeral home and that’s exactly what I did. I contacted the owners and told them I was interested in buying their funeral home. To cut a long story short, Matthew’s got the casket account and I got the funeral home. It was a win-win,” recounted Clive.
His 10 year struggle in finding a funeral home of his own was now over, but a new challenge had just begun, how to finance the Pelham Funeral Home. The “luck of the Irish” was with him when he met Stephanie Dunn of Live Oak Bank. “I was talking to Stephanie about my long journey with immigration in hope’s for a green card and how not having one (at the time) was an obstacle. She understood SBA loans, the immigration process and my visa status, which was a must in order for this deal to work. The purchase was complete in February of 2014.
Taking over Pelham Funeral Home presented challenges for Clive. It was a small and outdated established funeral home in lower Westchester, NY. It was founded in 1946 by James Flood and had not seen much growth in the past years before Clive took it over. “My first challenge was to make the phone ring often. More and more people are shopping for funerals. I believe they are looking for value and service and I knew I needed to show that to the families coming through our door. I looked at other consumer based industries and how they increased customer satisfaction. I referred to the book The Starbucks Experience as well as The Experience Economy and learned that people are looking for good service and wow experiences. I began applying that theory to my business. People want to celebrate life. When you give consumers what they want and are looking for, they will gladly pay for it. I honestly believe that the majority of people do understand that their loved ones are not a commodity. Introducing the value of the experience for our families and giving it to them at 110% percent is what they will remember the rest of their lives and they will want to work with us again,” Clive said emphatically.
Another challenge, Clive faces head-on is the trend towards direct cremation. Although his community is still a traditional Irish-Catholic area, the cremation rate has risen to 50-60% of his business. “It doesn’t really bother me. What matters is the 72 hours before the cremation takes place. I recently had a family who wanted a direct cremation for their father. Which was totally fine with me, but then I told them the reason I am a funeral director. I told them that I’m not a funeral director because people die and my job is to inter them. The reason I’m a funeral director is because someone has lived and I want to help families celebrate their loved ones life. Once, they heard that, they decided to have a viewing, a service and have a priest come. Price was important to them and I was glad that price was important to them because it proved to me that there is still a value of celebrating a life and families will spend the extra money,” Clive explained.
Clive is in the process of renovating his funeral home to serve the needs of his families better. The funeral home hadn’t been updated since the 1980’s. “I know that the shape the funeral home was in was starting to hurt business before I took over. People have so many choices these days, there is nothing stopping people from having a funeral at a country club, hotel or wherever. My competition is not the funeral home down the street, my competition is in the trend that people are starting to go elsewhere to hold services. So, we are renovating our funeral home to include a lounge area that can be used by families and for aftercare programs and updating our building that families want and expect to see today.
One part of Clive’s business that he didn’t need to change was Pelham’s business partnership with ASD. “I first met Kevin Czachor at a trade show when I was with Matthews Casket and developed a very good relationship with him and his staff. We shared a lot of business ideas as vendors exhibiting at the conventions throughout my tenure with Matthews. So when I bought Pelham and discovered that they were already using ASD, I was very happy. I think they are the best and would never think about changing to someone else. They are top-notch and always looking to improve their services. Their technology is cutting edge because they have built a system that is built around our industry, not the other way around. They are fantastic to work with and have really helped our business run more efficiently,” said Clive. Becoming a member of the professional community Life Celebration has also enhanced my knowledge of becoming an experience provider for the families I serve.
Pelham Funeral Home’s success and commitment to their community will continue to grow and flourish because Clive’s passion for helping families is unstoppable. His tenacity and Irish hard work ethic has brought him to where he is now and his future of his funeral home business is bright. “Every day, people ask me how I am doing and I tell them ‘I am living the American dream.’ I sincerely mean that and they laugh and ask when I am going to stop saying that and I say ‘when I am dead,” Clive said happily. America and funeral service as a whole are so fortunate to have Clive among us. His sincere business practices and concern for families in need is the true measure of success in business today. FBA