Moving with the times and meeting people's changing needs is key to the success of a long-established Whanganui funeral home.

Craig and Laura Cleveland are celebrating 25 years since they bought their Ingestre St business, now named Cleveland Funeral Home.

After working for other people, Craig, who had been a funeral director in Whanganui since 1987, and Laura decided it was time to go into business for themselves and began looking all around New Zealand.

They saw an advertisement in a national newspaper for a provincial funeral home for sale. It turned out to be Alex Hird's funeral home in Whanganui and the Clevelands bought it with business partners Daphne and Rex Ballard.


"It was great because we had family here and they could help with the kids," Laura said.

"Our youngest son Rhys, who is now 30, was five years old at the time. We bought the house next door then we bought the business."

Craig says in those days the business was struggling, with 28 per cent of market share.

"We had lots of support from our family and worked lots of hours," he said.

"The good thing about living next door was that if we needed to do work at 2am, we could do work at 2am. It was all about being available for people and offering a 24-hour service."

People would knock on the door of the house at all hours and ask the Clevelands for help with a funeral after a family member had died.

"It's about families and caring for families," Laura said.

About 12 years ago the Ballards retired and the Clevelands bought their share of the business, renaming it Cleveland Funeral Home.


It was the latest in a long string of name changes for the business which has always been owned by Whanganui families.

The Cleveland family's involvement in the business has expanded with son Rhys and daughter Michelle deciding they wanted to be part of it long-term and becoming directors alongside their parents.

Rhys is a fully qualified embalmer who was recently part of the response team called in after the Christchurch terrorist attack. He is also the business's technology expert.

Michelle, who recently returned to work after having children, is stepping back into her previous funeral directing role and also helps people with pre-planning for funerals which is now a big part of the business.

"Pre-need is peace of mind for families," Laura said.

"We have all sorts of things rather than standard funerals. We have always given people choice and we're open about pricing and the structure of funerals."

Changes over the years have included building the atrium, expanding the chapel space, providing a private chapel in the home next door and keeping up to date with technology for livestreaming funerals.

"There's a lot more involved," Craig said.

"Last week we had 200 sites around the world watching a funeral. That's not necessarily 200 people because there could be four or five at one site."

Cremation is a more popular choice these days, Laura said.

"People are most cost-aware and funerals and prices are not taboo subjects these days. Smaller funerals are coming into play and that's a direct result of people living longer. If you're in your 90s, there are not the people to say goodbye any more, other than immediate family and the younger generation."

Older people now often tell their families they do not want a funeral, Craig said.

"Families don't want to go against their parents' wishes but they need to be able to say goodbye. I think that's why we're seeing more private services then later there's a public farewell. Even if a funeral director isn't involved, we try to get people to do something to say goodbye. It's not the staid, old-fashioned service it used to be."

There are more funeral celebrants around and people are choosing different venues for funerals, from beaches to parks to private homes.

Laura, the only qualified female funeral director in Whanganui, believes the increasing number of women in the industry has "softened it quite a bit".

"There's more friendliness," she said.

"In the early days people used to cross the road to avoid us if they saw us in the street."

Cleveland Funeral Home is heavily involved in the Whanganui community, providing regular financial support to community groups over the past 25 years, Craig said.

The funeral home now has a staff of about 20, including office, maintenance and catering staff. The other funeral directors are Jonathon Greenwell, John Goodare and Monique Collins, who has recently qualified as an embalmer.

"We have a great team," Laura said.

"The younger ones are a breath of fresh air."

The Clevelands celebrate their 25th anniversary of owning the business on May 1. To mark the occasion, they will hold an open day from 2pm to 4.30pm on May 19 with tours of the funeral home and afternoon tea.