Monday, September 25, 2023

Serving the Dead for a Living: The Story of Caroline Wanjiru

Caroline Wanjiru is a remarkable woman. She managed to turn something that most people fear and dread into a thriving business. Her business revolves around death, and she has become a prominent figure in the funeral industry.

The 36-year-old from Nairobi’s Huruma estate runs a successful coffin-making and funeral services company, and she has no regrets about her chosen career path.

Caroline stumbled into the coffin-making business by chance after completing her degree in health science at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.

“I wanted to go into something that would impact my community. I started my research in Huruma, and to my surprise, I came across many carpenters making coffins,” she narrated in a past interview.

She noticed that their businesses were doing brisk sales every day and decided to become a broker for one of the shops. She would earn a commission for every client she brought in.

“The first step was to tell clients that the shop in Kasarani was mine, and then I’d offer a lower price than what the carpenters in Huruma had. Business was good.” She said, adding that proprietor agreed to her proposal and they reached an understanding that he would remunerate her Sh1,000 for each customer she referred.

The business was good, and Caroline was able to make a decent living from it.

However, it was not until the death of her father that she found the courage to start her own coffin-making and funeral services company.

Her father died unexpectedly while she watched helplessly. She ended up taking care of his body and organising his funeral. It was during this time that she found her true calling.

The person in charge of her father’s burial became her mentor, and he introduced her to the coffin market fully. He showed her the various designs and helped her overcome people’s negative opinions of her chosen profession.

In 2016, Caroline opened Carol’s Funeral Services, and she has not looked back since.

Caroline’s business is thriving, and as of 2019 she averaged a turnover of between Sh80,000 and Sh120,000 a month.

The pricing of her coffins varies depending on the design and handles used. Her most expensive coffin is the pentagon coffin, which costs between Sh40,000 and Sh50,000 without handles.

The swing bar handle increases the cost to between Sh64,000 and Sh74,000. The high-roof coffin is her most popular product, and it costs between Sh30,000 and Sh35,000 without handles.

Most people who select it usually ask for the last supper handle, which costs Sh2,500. She also has the double-stair coffin, which costs between Sh20,000 and Sh25,000, while her cheapest handle is the plain handle, which costs Sh1,000.

While Caroline’s children have no issues with her business, her friends and relatives are not as accepting. Many people have the perception that she is happy when they grieve.

However, the truth is that taking money for a coffin from a customer is one of the hardest things to do since you can read from their vibe what they think of you. When a coffin costs Sh50,000 and she’s taking this money from a person who’s lost a loved one, it’s difficult to imagine that they view her as a friend.

Caroline also faces the challenge of marketing her business. Unlike clothes or shoes, marketing coffins is tricky. People look at her weirdly, as if she’s wishing them death so she can get business. She has lost a number of friends who are now wary of associating with her given the line of business she’s gone into.

Despite the challenges, Caroline remains passionate about her work. She believes that there is an inescapable need for her services and that she is making a positive impact in her community.

She has come up with the idea of branded T-shirts to market her services to more people and to reduce the negative perception around selling coffins and funeral services.

“If I weren’t selling coffins, with my knowledge in health science, I’d probably be a mortician. But with the flood of people in the market who have the same qualifications scrambling for few jobs, I decided to think

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