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Fixer remedies - not quite doctor's orders

“It’s been fantastic.” That’s the view of David Holmes, the funeral director on the receiving end of some, sometimes caustic, advice from TV’s business guru Alex Polizzi in BBC programme The Fixer.

At least that’s his view a few weeks after the programme was aired as, initially, this latest TV probe into the world of funerals – on how to ‘rescue’ a struggling independent business – had received a mixed reaction.

“The cruel-to-be-kind tone at the outset seemed more cruel than kind,” read one comment on the Good Funeral Guide website. “Just slot the different business in and the individuals, press the button and out it comes,” said another.

And even David himself admitted he had felt trepidation on seeing the heavily edited four-minute preview. “I thought, oh no, what have I done?” he said.

However, the reactions of clients, local people and other businesses have since won David round and he is now very happy with the after-effects. “We’ve had thousands of hits on the website and emails,” he said. “99% of these have been favourable and the others were mainly complaining that a balloon release shown would have been harmful to wildlife.”

As viewers of the episode shown on February 26th will have seen, David's Hampshire-based business had been experiencing problems that many a small operator would identify with – cash flow issues, attracting customers, charging the right prices (funeral arranger Sheena had dubbed him ‘Giveaway Dave’) – as well as a few connected with being a family firm – how to engage his sons fully in the business, for example.

Alex offered some straight talking and proposed new initiatives, including a volunteer scheme, a suggestions book of preferred suppliers, new décor and a ‘coffin-free’ layout.

Sons Ollie and Toby took inspiration from a local wedding planner to compile an album showing client families images and details of services such as printers and florists. The duo – along with a more reluctant David – also persuaded people to sign up to a volunteer scheme to help a bereaved person with tasks such as mowing the lawn or a lift to an appointment.

Alex also roped in a design agency to come up with a new company name and logo and a soothing new layout from which coffin ‘wall decorations’ were notably absent.

The visual overhaul has received universal praise, while the volunteer scheme was described as “genius” by one commentator (although another pointed to the potential legal minefield of introducing un-vetted volunteers to people’s homes). Overall, David believes his media foray was a success, both for his own business and for the possible tips that other funeral directors might gain.

“It was a risk,” he said. “The power is all theirs – you really don’t know what they will present. We organised a soccer tournament for the local hospice, for example, but it was probably too successful, so was cut. “The title ‘Fixer’ does, of course, imply that your business needs to be ‘broken’ before the fix can take place, but I know it’s going to be good for business.

“And it certainly does me no harm to be known locally as ‘Giveaway Dave’.”

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