When Brian Parent was developing plans to move his family's funeral home business a few blocks south of its location on Dougall Avenue, he formed a committee of more than 600 people who all had input into the final design.
As a result, Families First Funeral Home, which is the largest independent home between Windsor and Toronto, brings together amenities and services in a way few others can match, said Parent.
"We sent out 2,500 surveys to our clients asking them what they would want to see in a new building," Parent said recently. "We got a 25 per cent response and what you see here now is largely a result of that response."
Brian Parent, who owns and operates the Families First Funeral Home in Windsor, says he focuses on personalized services. The home is the largest independent home between Windsor and Toronto.
Parent and his 32 employees moved to their current location on Dougall Avenue almost three years ago after selling the site on Dougall adjacent to E.C. Row to the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership.
There are wide spacious hallways, rooms capable of holding funerals for between 50 and 1,200 guests and large video screens for the increasingly popular video tributes which are produced in-house by a media specialist. There are also custom-designed guest books and tribute cards, sound-proof walls in all rooms, natural lighting and a small shop selling bereavement gifts and providing resources for families.
For staff, there's a second-floor exercise room with weights and treadmills as well as a kitchen where a staff member prepares a daily lunch for employees.
Clearly, the business has changed over the years and Parent said it's more than ever "focused on personalized services."
Parent's staff have helped families decorate visitation rooms in a variety of themes to help reflect a person's life.
"We've brought in fake ice because someone loved hockey, we've brought in a snowmobile because that was a large part of a person's life and we've set down a small putting green because the deceased loved golf," said Parent.
"With the family's help, we want work colleagues to learn about a person's life away from work and we want family and friends to learn about a person's career so they come away with a well-rounded view of someone's life," said Parent.
The home also has two embalming and preparation rooms as well as a selection room containing caskets ranging in price from less than $2,000 to more than $5,000.
Parent said that by offering a wide selection, "our families often end up spending less and being happier with their choice."
In addition to personalized services for families, Parent has also introduced a new system for hiring employees.
"It's largely staff-driven because I select the final three candidates and then I step aside," said Parent.
"The final interviews are conducted by our entire staff, often in groups of 10, and the decision must eventually be unanimous.
"Staff are the people who will have the most contact with new hires so why shouldn't they play a major part in the hiring process," said Parent.
In addition to arranging about 700 funerals a year, Families First has joined with the Goodfellows organization to sponsor a breakfast program which feeds 1,100 children daily.
And last year, Parent started a "Why Families Matter" essay contest for Grade 12 students, which rewards the top three contributors with a cash prize and a scholarship.
Next year, Parent will become president of the Ontario Funeral Services Association, which is made up of more than 230 independent homes across the province.
Â© The Windsor Star 2008