Driving forward in Huntly funeral business

HEAVENLY HOLDEN: Huntly funeral director Bryce Mounsey had this hearse custom-built for Haven Funeral Services.
HEAVENLY HOLDEN: Huntly funeral director Bryce Mounsey had this hearse custom-built for Haven Funeral Services.

What does a funeral home, a signwriting business, a monument stonemason operation and Holden muscle cars have in common?

Answer: Bryce Mounsey, of Huntly.

For mixing an unusual cocktail of businesses under one roof, Mounsey and wife Carla's Haven Funeral Services in the north Waikato town would be hard to match.

The couple are owners of signwriting business Haven Signz, Haven Funeral Services, and Haven Memorial Services, and their trademark vehicles are Holden SS's.

As if Bryce Mounsey's skill mix of undertaker, signwriter and stonemason wasn't rare enough, he has a 20-year background in banking.

Mounsey, 50, is passionate about Huntly. Born and bred in the town, he was determined to stay there and serve the community when he left banking.

After a short stint as a pet shop owner, he went to work for the funeral home's former owner Gilbert Dean.

Several years later in 2004, when Dean opted to sell the town's only locally based funeral service provider, the Mounseys bought it.

It was, Mounsey recalls, a particularly bad time to buy, demographically speaking, into the death sector.

The age group that would have been expected to be dying around the early 2000s had already been depleted due to overseas war service decades earlier.

"It's a fickle business with many highs and lows (in numbers). There was a steady decline in deaths (around that time) but now we are coming out of that rough, and going into a very busy time.

"There is going to be growth in the funeral sector, just as there is in the aged-care sector."

The business was tired and in need of investment, Mounsey says.

Funeral directors often used to be monument masons too, but it's a rare dual role these days, he says.

He was taught masonry skills by Dean and discovered his artistic side.

Before the Mounseys bought Haven all the monument work was done by hand. One of the couple's first moves was to invest in computers and equipment to cut inscriptions into headstones and plaques. The investment, and the lack of signwriting services in the area, led to the couple starting Haven Signz in 2008.

Mounsey reckons the couple have invested close to $300,000 improving and expanding the business group since 2004.

Probably the investment he is most proud of is the 2010 Holden VE SS hearse he had custom-built for the funeral business – a "huge step for a little business in a little town", he says.

There are only 16 such vehicles in the country, but the Mounseys' hearse is the only V8 version, he says.

The purchase shows the Mounseys' commitment to their town, he reckons.

"It was the right vehicle for a small town funeral home – it doesn't make sense to bring in a big American Cadillac. This has more of a local-town feel."

The vehicle is available for hire with a professional driver.

There's another sleek Holden SS in Haven's small fleet – an immaculate red ute Mounsey uses for non-funeral business.

Haven Funeral Services territory is big – spanning Ngaruawahia to Te Kauwhata including two police contracts for body recovery and work sometimes in Hamilton – but the whole group operates with just four fulltime staff, including Mounsey.

The couple have a young family so Carla Mounsey is not working in the firm right now.

Expansion of the business is a priority for Bryce Mounsey.

Another funeral director is being sought and Mounsey is looking to step back from working "in the business to work on it".

It is not so much difficult to attract staff to the funeral sector as it is to attract them to Huntly, he says.

He would like to set up a funeral home in Ngaruawahia, which would require an investment of up to $100,000, he says.

More "traditional" funeral directors who do not have Haven's diverse business interests "sometimes struggle with what we do", he says.

"For me the role is far greater than that [just offering funeral services]. Because I wear different hats, I have to be flexible, have to be able to get on with white collar and blue collar [clients]."

Mounsey says Haven conducts up to 100 funerals a year.

His biggest business challenge has been keeping ahead of technology.

"I'm old school. In this industry, technology drives it along. The funeral industry is changing and it's a matter of meeting that new market. You can't afford to say, `This is the way that it's done'. It's more demanding than in the past."

Waikato Times