Shannon and Sheila Mullins are bringing new life to one of Southwest Florida’s largest funeral homes.
In the process, Shannon Mullins said, they hope to amp up their philosophy that today’s customers generally want services more personal than the formal, elaborate productions that traditionally dominated the industry.
At 5,000 square feet, the former Anderson Funeral Home off Palm Beach Boulevard in Fort Myers is more than capable of dealing with that array of choices.
The couple started Mullins Memorial Funeral Home & Cremation Service at 1056 NE 7th Terrace in Cape Coral in 2011. Shannon Mullins said he learned the industry in Kentucky, where he worked for a funeral home and owned another.
“I certainly was taught a lot of good values in Kentucky in the funeral business,” he said – chief among them being not to take advantage of people whose grief makes them vulnerable to the hard sell. “I think certainly there are always families that choose to have the more formal services,” he said. “But it’s important to accomplish what we see as a trend.”
As for the Palm Beach Boulevard location, he said, it was a happy accident. “My wife and I were not looking for that opportunity” but realized it was the ideal place to expand their business.
The transformation of the funeral industry has taken place over the past half-century, said Robert Fells, executive director and general counsel for the Sterling, Va. – based National Funeral Directors Association.
“As far as the public goes, funeral traditions are changing,” he said. “Forty or 50 years ago there’d be no question: Of course you’re going for the formal service. Society expected that.”
What changed, Fells said, is that people started deciding in advance what kind of sending off they wanted. “The individual has made known his or her views.”
Mullins said that whether the survivors or the deceased have chosen to go a different way, it’s important for funeral directors to be willing to accommodate their wishes.
A smaller operation is better able to make the quick decisions on how to do that, he said. “We just make common sense decisions – we don’t need to get corporate approval.”
For example, Mullins said, his new location soon will be able to seat up to 50 people at an on-site banquet facility.
Fells said that’s a genuine departure from tradition: Providing food service wasn’t part of traditional funerals and some states, such as Pennsylvania, still forbid it by law.
Trey Hall of family-owned Gentry Morrison Funeral Homes in the Lakeland area said that whether a funeral home is owned by a family or a corporation, it’s important to have personal relationships with the people in a community and what their preferences are.
“It makes it easier for them to pick up the phone and call you” to explain what they want, said Hall, who’s secretary/treasurer of the Florida Cemetery Cremation and Funeral Association.