Entrepreneur

Helping The Departed - How This S'porean Is Preserving Her Family's Age Old Undertaker Business

When millennials talk about the career paths that they would like to embark on, many will be aiming up high into the heavens.

For some however, they have another option to consider – carrying on a family business, ones that can be rather unconventional.

Stories of these millennials taking over these rather ‘traditional’ businesses have been making the headlines recently, and we met up with one of these individuals, Kelly Lim, as she shared with us about her family business and her decision to take it up.

An Undertaker Business Acquired By Her Father

Image Credit: Kelly Lim

Hiap Hin Tian Kee Undertaker has been run by Kelly’s extended family for around 60 to 70 years now, and it’s a business that takes care of full funeral services – from embalming the body, to cremation, and burial services.

The business is named after the founder – a distant relative of Kelly’s, whose legacy has since been passed down within the family.

Kelly’s father had bought the business from her aunt to further continue it, and now her mother is the one running it full-time.

Given that the business wasn’t “registered” 70 years ago as how you would today, there is no existing official records that state its exact founding date.

While the family’s business was only officially registered in 1975, it’s actually one of the oldest in Singapore.

Inspired By Her Businessman Father

A businessman for much of his life, Kelly’s father has always been her role model and source of inspiration – so much so that she even sees that side of him in herself.

Since making up to be her own boss when she was young, the thought of joining her family’s business was something that was always at the back of her mind.

Her parents however, wanted Kelly to experience the corporate world while she could, so they didn’t pressure her into working for the family business after graduation.

She went on to take on four different jobs post-graduation in various companies – a digital marketing agency, a social media agency, Japanese company Rakuten, as well as an IT company.

It was after that last job that Kelly finally saw the perfect moment to join her family’s business, and to learn the chops firsthand from her mother.

After experiencing the corporate life, she held on even stronger to the belief that a successful company comprises of great employees, and providing a great service is only winning half the battle.

“One important thing I’ve learnt is to treat employees more of a human and less of a resource,” she said.

Taking Up The Reins Of The Business

Image Credit: Kelly Lim

In general, both her friends, and especially her parents, were rather supportive towards her decision to join the family business.

Friends were even curious as to how the industry worked.

Still, they were divided into camps – one side saw it as a bad way of making money, while the other felt that it is a great way to help families have a peace of mind as they send off their loved ones on their last journey.

While she still shadows her mother as she learns more about the business, a typical work day for Kelly involves heading down very early to the funeral venue to oversee the setup process, ensuring that the proper logistics is upheld.

This could be in the form of ensuring the coffin is in place, to making sure it’s the right type of funeral (Christian, Buddhist, or Taoist), to going to the crematorium to ensure that everything goes smoothly.

Most importantly, their aim is just to be there for the families of the deceased, and maintain a proper line of communication, through consultation or any queries.

On Growing A Traditional Business

Kelly explains that due to the nature of the business, advertising is a rather tricky affair. For them, much of the publicity is still done via word of mouth.

She is also exploring the potential to grow the business through other avenues, and is planning to sponsor charities and non-profit organisations in the future.

The industry has also benefited from the increased media exposure that shone light on the undertaker business, especially those concerning millennials going into the unconventional field.

Kelly feels that this is good, as it gives the public an added perspective on an industry that isn’t usually talked about, giving an insight to the ones who are helping families come to terms with those who have departed.

When Funeral Services Are More About The Departed’s Family

Image Credit: Kelly Lim

Kelly ended off the interview by sharing that a service like this is not for the deceased, but more for the families of those who have parted.

“Families don’t remember the colour or type of coffin you sell, they remember how you made them feel. We [want to make] them feel comforted, [and] that the final journey of their loved one is being taken care of.”

Lastly, we asked her if she herself would encourage her own children to take over the family business:

“Absolutely”.

We would like to thank Kelly for her time to speak with us!

 

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