Interview with a Funeral Director: Joseph Barsby, G Seller

We took some time out to speak to one of our client’s, Joseph Barsby to talk about his experience as a Funeral Director, discussing how he got into the profession, what it’s been like being a funeral director during the Covid-19 pandemic and how he is using technology to manage his business.

Following in the footsteps of his Father and Grandfather, Joseph Barsby is Managing Director and the third-generation family member at G. Seller Funeral Directors and Memorial Masons.

Welcome Joseph and thank you for joining us today, could just tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

I’m Joseph Barsby, Managing Director and third generation family member of G Seller – so my Grandad bought the business, and then he passed to my Dad, and then my Dad passed to me. Day-to-day I oversee everything at G Seller, from funerals, to memorials, to accounts, HR, marketing, bereavement and bereavement support.

Wow, what an amazing family legacy… Businesses all around the world have had to respond and adapt at a rapid pace due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how it’s been for a funeral director?

The main thing has been the changes and the lack of ability to be able to clearly define and manage the expectations of our families – because we didn’t even know.

It wasn’t necessarily the increase in volume per se; because funerals, by definition, there is no rhyme or reason – there are peaks and troughs throughout the year. When we’re busy, we can be incredibly busy but when we’re quiet, we can be incredibly quiet, and then everything in between.

But the key was the changes in regulation, and keeping abreast of everything. It was a challenge that in one breath, we were being treated as key workers, but then we’d have to abide by the retail workers isolation rule. So, it’s like okay, so we’re an anomaly to that rule…But then we have to abide by this rule. And I just didn’t think it was very joined up thinking to be honest with you.

I don’t think funeral directors really got the credit for the amount of plates we were juggling.

Are there any changes or trends in the funeral industry that may continue as we move, hopefully, into this kind of post pandemic landscape?

I think live streaming is here to stay, but I don’t think it’s going to be the same numbers as in the pandemic.

I think those people who couldn’t necessarily attend the funeral because they weren’t close enough to make number allowance, so therefore going forward I think that may be here to stay. But I feel it’s too soon to say for certain as a lot of people are still very nervous and unclear whether there are still regulations in place for funerals. We still get asked very regularly what the regulations are.

When it comes to your client’s needs; have you seen a shift is those looking to hold a burial or cremation, or the other way around?

No, I mean, at G Seller we’re an anomaly because we’ve got our own service chapel. And as a result, we have seen an increase in the demand for those looking to have a service on our premises… I think that is because it has given our families the chance to truly personalise, with no time restrictions and the flexibility in the time of day that they wouldn’t necessarily have elsewhere.

And what about sustainability… have you seen any increase in demand for people looking to hold more environmentally friendly funerals?

So yes, some people do ask about the coffin, and will ask if there is an eco-choice. But I wouldn’t say we’ve necessarily seen a huge a shift in any way, shape or form. I think people are gradually becoming more and more conscious of it, but I wouldn’t say we’ve particularly seen a trend that’s made us really sit up and think, ‘oh wow, this is really different to what we would usually expect.’

That’s interesting… would you say people tend to prefer to keep to traditions when it comes to mourning and funerals?

I think funerals are becoming a lot more personalised, with families’ conducting research a lot more online, and then coming in with an existing idea of what they want. We do ask for a lot of information because want to give our families as much choice as possible, so they can make an informed decision of what’s befitting to their loved one. So by definition, funerals are becoming more and more complicated, more and more intense – essentially, you’re arranging a large event within 10 to 12 days.

So there is a lot of intensity to it as things become more and more bespoke and unique; but that’s only right and proper.

I think we are moving away from more traditional funerals, there seems to be fewer Church funerals. But I do think this also varies from area to area – with varying demographical differences and thoughts on what’s socially accepted and what’s the societal norm. For example, there are some places in the Midland’s where funeral directors wouldn’t shoulder the coffin. Whereas in somewhere like Hinckley, in the East Midlands we would always shoulder unless we absolutely couldn’t.

Why is that the case?

I think it comes down to what is deemed ‘typical’ in the local area and for that generation… For example, when my Dad was my age – so around 30/40 years ago – if someone passed away on a Saturday or Sunday, then their funeral would usually be held before the following Friday. Whereas today, people come in expecting to wait three weeks, and that timeframe is based on four things; 1) doctors don’t issue certificates as quickly, 2) they can’t register the death as quickly as they used to be able to, and 3) corporate funeral directors don’t necessarily have the flexibility infrastructure. So that then means, with the total number of funerals they’re doing, it proliferates across the country.

And the fourth element; crematoriums. With 78% of funerals being conducted as a cremation – the reality is that the crematoriums are filling up, especially in areas where there is only one or maybe two crematoriums serving the local community. Which sadly means, when it does get busy, there’s not enough time slots available to keep being able to hold a cremation within a 5-7 day turnaround… So it’s then becoming the social norm.

And we have one final question for you… Seker, as you know is a tech product designed for the funeral industry. Do you think technology is becoming more integral to your business as time goes on?

Yes, absolutely.

eFD helps us with the management day to day – Seker’s tagline is absolutely perfect; ‘creating time to care’, and eFD allows us to do just that. In the funeral industry there are so many administrative tasks that are very archaic. And by making those tasks technologically efficient, it helps immeasurably in the day to day running of the business and by having access to the information live, it makes running the business measurably better.

I think over time, it’s only going to improve but I do think there’s still a lot of things that technology should never touch – it should never replace human interaction; that face-to-face interaction. There are a lot of new businesses coming into the market with a technological background, and trying to disrupt by doing online funeral arrangements and things like that. But businesses like ours, we will never ever subscribe to conducting in that way because it’s about that care of that person. It’s all about people caring for people, local people caring for local families, and you only have one mum or dad… To suddenly try and arrange things over email or over an online platform isn’t good enough. Now, don’t get me wrong, websites have a massive role to play in educating and informing families. But that still doesn’t replace us, who will come in and go through the options and help join up the dots…Because a funeral is quite a complicated life event. And you can’t just explain things over email because every funeral is unique.

So yes, I think technology has a big role to play, as long as it doesn’t impinge on the actual care of that family.

And with enquiries, have you noticed a preference with client’s still choosing to call to speak to someone rather than interact online?

Absolutely. I mean, we do get a lot of emails, but essentially, we see technology as a tool to help drive enquiries and manage our day-to-day administrative tasks. We would never use technology to replace that human interaction.

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