Enhancing final farewell

Updated: 2012-12-28 07:30

By Xu Wei (China Daily)

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"People are becoming richer, so it's natural that they want better services. And that's a gap the funeral service culture from Taiwan can fill," Lu said.

Taiwanese funerary services, such as embalming and directing proceedings at the funeral, were a popular feature at a funeral expo in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, in November.

Enhancing final farewell

A woman stocks shelves at a funeral home in Meishan city, Sichuan province. Yao Yongliang / for China Daily

Sino-Life's booth received thousands of visitors, most of whom were representatives of funeral homes and civil affairs bureaus.

The company signed letters of intent to help train staff members with more than 100 funeral homes nationwide during the funeral expo, an indication that operators are willing to further diversify their services.

"We are considering shifting our business focus to training and the design of funeral parlors," said Liu.

Difficult initial steps

For many funeral service providers from Taiwan, entering the potentially lucrative mainland market presents enormous difficulties in the initial period and guanxi, or connections, is often a stepping-stone.

Huaien Funeral Service Co, based in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, is another service provider from Taiwan trying to crack the mainland market. The company runs three establishments in the province and cooperates with three other funeral homes in employee training and the provision of services.

"The Chinese mainland has 1.3 billion people, but there is no single, large funeral service group. The market is still far from mature and that's why we came," said Huaien's CEO Liu Yuchi.

He admitted that the company's initial period in Hunan was very difficult, mainly because the local market was highly monopolized at the time. "We were trying to win approval to open our business from the local civil affairs bureau, which was our market rival," he said.

Usually, funeral homes are under the direct supervision of civil affairs bureaus and are also government institutions under the authority. If outsiders want to provide services, they have to gain approval from the civil affairs bureaus, some of which attempt to preserve their monopoly by preventing newcomers from entering the market.

Liu Yuchi admitted that guanxi was important during the company's initial foray into Hunan. "If you manage to establish guanxi, things get a lot easier. However, guanxi is only important in the early days when you are trying to establish yourself in the market. Now that the market is more open than ever, establishing a brand name is more important," he said.