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Wealth in death

Matilda Simmons
Monday, March 05, 2018

IT'S a thriving industry all over the world. The care for loved ones when they pass on; known as death care or funeral services.

While the industry is still in its fledgling stage in Fiji, globally the industry has taken a different form of customer service providing everything from embalming, cremation, burial and memorials. No industry is called on more to address the emotional needs of customers in times of stress.

According to online sources, the industry was a thriving $US20 billion (F$40.44b) industry just a few short years ago.

In Fiji, individuals alike and businesses have noticed this thriving market. Although obscure behind our daily bustling lives, the funeral services industry has been growing quietly.

The funeral services located at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital, more commonly referred to as CWM, have been privatised to provide people with better services while new crematorium services have sprung up around the country.

In Davuilevu, a first of its kind Crematorium in Fiji provides not only cremation services but specially designed graves and urns to keep loved one's ashes and even monuments.

It's an industry that almost banks on better customer services.

And one that lingered on the mind of Kaminieli Tuimavana more than 18 years ago when his parents passed away in 1994 and 2000 respectively.

"I remembered running around looking for a good casket for my mother when she passed on in 2000 and there were not many good ones," he said. "And I noticed how funeral services made a lot of money from this.

"I decided to start one funeral service business so ordinary Fijians can have access to good caskets and at good prices."

Kaminieli is a co-owner (alongside his wife Alesi Navuniwaqa Tuimavana) of Safe Haven Funeral Services based at their home in Nadawa, Nasinu.

The couple invested $23,000 for a container of caskets from China in December last year and have already seen the demand in this market.

It has seen them grow with every transaction made but one filled with many challenges along the way.

"In this business you have to have contacts and how you manoeuvre yourself around," said Alesi. "Death is a usual occurrence and nobody thinks of the work that goes around preparing for that next journey."

Even as we conversed, the couple's phones kept ringing, it was customers from outer islands who wanted to place an order for their coffins.

"I have customers right from Cakaudrove in Vanua Levu, and outer islands. When I have orders from there, I do the delivery free of charge and drop the price a bit - because I'm thinking of them," said Kaminieli.

"In 2013 and 2014 I started this business then I stopped because I had to go on tour overseas for peacekeeping as I am a soldier," he said. "Then last year my wife encouraged me to restart the business because she knows there's a service needed here. We want our fellow Fijians to be able to afford it."

The couple said they've had to market their services, make contacts and spread the word about their business as much as possible.

But it was one incident that made them reach out to ordinary Fijians.Kaminieli recounts an incident when they used to operate a shop in Samabula.

"There are many funeral directors out there, and they used to buy from me. At that time I was selling at a very cheap price; I would import the caskets and sell it to them.

"One day, out of curiosity, I followed one of the drivers of those companies who had just bought a casket for $1500 from me. This was back in 2013. So I pretended to want to buy the casket which they had bought from me earlier that morning.

"When I enquired, the lady there said 'oh this is bought already'.

"I asked the price of the casket, and she said it was $6000.

"I was flabbergasted. At the same time I became angry and asked how could it be so expensive..

"The lady replied 'oh we had to pay the freight, the duty charges and so on'.

"This was ridiculous as they had bought that same casket from me for $1500 at 10am that day and increased the price to $6000 that same afternoon.

"Mind you, that casket was to be used for a chief who had passed away that year.

"I was really disgusted at the level of thievery. I really felt sorry for the general Fijians out there paying exorbitant prices.

"That's why I advise people to be vigilant with costs out there, there are scrupulous dealers out there who buying things cheaply and tripling the costs."

The Cautata, Tailevu native says there are many challenges along the way but they've learnt to deal with it.

"There are veterans in this business and they know the ins and outs of this business," shares Alesi. "Another challenge is our location. We are operating from home and we're out of range. The others are just near the hospital; we're not really exposed in this industry but we have confidence and the faith."

Kaminieli who studied business management in Malaysia, says he has always lived by the three legged stool of discipline, timing and making the right decisions.

"Don't be double minded especially if you have low cash and you want to loan for business. Do it and have the confidence that you can make it," he says.

"For us Fijians the three-legged stool that influence our lives are the church, vanua and the government. So I designed my own three-legged stool which is discipline, timing, and your decision. I merged those three into my main aspect of life and we've never looked back since."

Those who want to contact Safe Haven Funeral Services can reach them on 9268531/7684402 or 3343731. The couple is based at 37 Borete Rd, Nadawa in Nasinu.

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