George Steele & Son Funeral Directors points to more than a century of existence as its greatest achievement for good reason.
Founder Frank Burn used his considerable local popularity to get the business off the ground when he purchased it in 1919. The cabinet maker advertised his new venture all over Ossett, Horbury and Wakefield and quickly grew a loyal following in families that still exists generations down the line.
It’s needless to say Frank’s son-in-law, George, had big shoes to fill when his father-in-law retired 30 years later. He rebranded the business George Steele & Son Joiners and Funeral Directors to mark the change of ownership and the community welcomed him with open arms. George went on to oversee some of the business’ biggest changes including a modernised chapel of rest.
George’s son David and grandson Richard, now serving as business consultants, have continued their deep-rooted community loyalty to the turn of the century and beyond, still meeting families whose predecessors were served by Frank himself.
“There was no pressure from Funeral Partners, it just felt like a good opportunity to receive support and continue for another 100 years.” – Richard Steele
Trust in the Steele name across the generations and hundreds of families is something David and Richard don’t take for granted. In fact, it greatly informed their decision to join Funeral Partners.
The phrase ‘nothing lasts forever’ was on Richard’s mind as George Steele & Son edged toward its centenary. The business attracted so much demand for its funeral and joinery services over the decades that turning work and loyal families away may have become a necessity.
Richard said: “We didn’t want to refuse people and damage our reputation, but it got to a stage where we could be fitting a door and suddenly have to race back to the branch to organise a funeral.”
George Steele & Son’s century-old records highlight the increasing price pressures the business has faced. Richard said: “You can see my great-granddad costed a funeral procession for £10 in the 1920s which, even after inflation, is cheap.”
The strains the business faced made it think deeply about its future, so they approached Funeral Partners.
Richard said: “There was no pressure from Funeral Partners, it just felt like a good opportunity to receive support and continue for another 100 years.
“They were interested in the fact we provide both joinery and funeral services, which is something we were keen to preserve.”
George Steele & Son ultimately saw the move as a great opportunity to relieve the pressure and begin its next 100 years on the right foot.
Despite its long history, joining a network was a brand-new experience for George Steele & Son. Richard explained: “We bought businesses before, such as my wife’s floristry that we incorporate into the funeral directors, but we’ve never joined one.”
Richard and David were therefore surprised by the amount of paperwork required, which was heightened by the funeral directors’ decades of operation.
Richard said: “There’s a lot to discover and talk about with solicitors when you consider the four generations that have run George Steele & Son.”
As a case in point, Richard and his family originally thought their business was founded in 1925 until a newspaper cutting was discovered that showed it to be established in 1919.
Richard said: “Getting all the facts and figures was initially overwhelming, but once taken through everything step by step it was eventually completed.
“The whole process for us took just over 12 months, starting early April 2018 to completion in July 2919.”
Maintaining the respected George Steele & Son’s image is essential for Richard and David. Fitting its branch with Funeral Partners branding therefore raised a few questions from the community during its early days with the network.
Richard laughed: “Even when we finally corrected our signage to ‘est. 1919’ instead of ‘est. 1925’, a local garage called to ask if we went bust.
“It shows how well-known the George Steele & Son name is, which made us hesitant to include Funeral Partners branding initially.”
The family quickly realised that their curious customers never wavered from George Steele & Son. After a few conversations about the changes, word spread fast around the community, which continued to embrace the funeral directors as before.
Richard said: “You can imagine the community had a similar reaction when my grandad changed the business’ name to George Steele & Son in 1949. It’s all about getting used to the future.”
Funeral Partners’ investments have been welcome changes since the handover, which have included brand-new oak doors, a refurbished kitchen area and new carpets in the chapel of rest.
Richard said: “It’s as straightforward as myself or my father having an open discussion with the Funeral Partners team about what we think would work best and then being given the means to make it happen.”
Relinquishing responsibility of the funeral business to Funeral Partners has brought much-needed support to George Steele & Son. The network can focus on delivering quality funeral services to Ossett, Horbury and Wakefield while Richard and his father are still involved in the business serving as consultants, with the ability to conduct funerals when needed, allowing Richard to concentrate on the joinery and building side of the business.
Richard concluded: “My parents live on the premises which is close to where I live, so we always advise and help out wherever we can.
“It was the best decision for our business allowing our family legacy to continue for another 100 years and beyond.”