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Brothers purchase funeral homes and cemeteries
In mid-June the Sequim Valley Funeral Chapel changed ownership and will no longer be operated by Dignity Memorial, a sector of Services International Corporation. The new owners, Danny Wakefield and his half-brother Chris Price “caught wind” that Services International Corporation was planning to sell and thus embarked on about an eight-month process working with the corporation and consulting firm in order to purchase the funeral home, Wakefield said.
Because the previous corporation not only owned and operated the Sequim Valley Funeral Home, but also Harper Ridgeview Funeral Chapel in Port Angeles, including the three cemeteries, the two funeral homes and three cemeteries were bought as package, Wakefield said. The cemeteries include Mount Angeles Memorial Park, Sequim View Cemetery and Dungeness Cemetery.
Services International Corporation originally acquired the funeral homes and cemeteries in 2010 during a large-scale purchase of a corporation similar to itself, said Philip Miller, Specialty Services Corporation supervisor in business development. The “fringe locations” (meaning acquired in the purchase, but not necessarily wanted) on the peninsula were “isolated” and didn’t really fit with the corporation’s trend of developing establishments in bigger cities, he said.
“In many ways to the public the transition should seem fairly seamless,” Wakefield said.
Of the two new owners, Wakefield, of Sequim, will be the primary owner presence. He moved to Sequim with his family in 1988, but after attending Sequim High School, Wakefield moved around the county for both school and work, but eventually found himself back in the area only this time with a family of his own.
Though Wakefield may be the onsite owner, Price brings years of experience to the company. Price also is part owner of a family business, American Cremation and Casket Alliance — a company based throughout the greater Seattle area.
“I think it is (the change of ownership) going to be a really great thing for the community,” Price said.
Because Services International Corporation is the largest funeral corporation in the United States it was “limited” when it came to different options for families, Price said. Price and Wakefield hope to provide more options for people, given their flexibility as private owners.
“Right now our biggest challenge is figuring out how to streamline the business and make it operational,” Wakefield said. “We hope to be able to be better and quicker at responding to the community’s needs and cater to the families.”
Both Price and Wakefield agree they want to keep pricing competitive and fair. If anything, there’s “going to be a cost reduction,” Price said.
In order to keep both reasonable prices and an operational business, Wakefield hopes that his staff can be cross-trained when it comes to the different aspects of the business and a sense of collaboration can be achieved. Given the nature of the industry Wakefield explained there can be a couple weeks between jobs or many jobs can come in at one time.
“The secret is to find a way to keep staff engaged the whole time,” Wakefield said. “Even in the slower times because for some reason we seem to see patterns with death occurences.”
So far, the transition in ownership has gone smoothly, according to Deidre Magner, longtime groundskeeper for Sequim View Cemetery. Magner has worked at the cemetery for about 25 years and during those years she has worked for six different owners, but said she hopes this will be the last.
Of all the different owners thus far, Wakefield and Price are only the second private owners Magner has worked for and the first ownership which is both local and private, Magner said.
“They (new owners) really are family people and can relate to family issues,” Magner said. “I think being privately owned and operated is better for the families.”
Although Wakefield admits the funeral business can be challenging because you’re mostly engaging with people during moments of loss, it also can be rewarding in a way.
“We have the opportunity to make the experience a little easier depending on the load we’re able to take off,” Wakefield said.
Reach Alana Linderoth at firstname.lastname@example.org.