Life Ledger’s series of conversations with people working in the bereavement sector continues with Fearghas Quinn, founder and MD of Quinn Hearse and Limousine in Co. Antrim
LL: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to find yourself in the bereavement sector.
FQ: It is very much a family thing that started with my father, Vincent Quinn. Our family owned a bar and garage doing car repairs in Moneyglass, in the late 70’s my father took over the local funeral business. It is quite usual in smaller communities for the funeral director to have multiple businesses, simply because the demand for their services isn’t high enough to provide a family’s sole income.
As the youngest son, I got the job of ‘helping out’ at the funerals, alongside my own day job of working in the family accident repair shop and that is how I found myself in this sector.
LL: How did Quinn Hearse and Limousine start?
FQ: In the early 80s, my father looked to replace the hearse he had inherited with the business and that was when we found out how much they cost!
So, my brothers and I got together to build our father a hearse, and it turned out pretty well considering it was our first attempt, although I always thought that there were a few little things we could have done better.
In 1994 I had a second attempt, but this time to try and sell the finished product. I spent a year or so working on the project while also running the accident repair business, when it was finally finished, I advertised it in Autotrader magazine and the response was amazing.
I sold the hearse and got orders for 2 more immediately, more orders started coming in as word got around and the rest is history as they say!
LL: What is the main aim of Quinn Hearse and Limousine?
FQ: Well, the business really came about as an alternative to high-cost hearses, providing affordable, respectable hearses for undertakers like my father. In Ireland, especially, there are a lot of rural undertakers who are unable to spend large amounts of money on a new or near-new hearse. Yes, the business has evolved massively but we haven’t lost sight of our original premise of delivering a practical, affordable vehicles for smaller businesses, as well as being able to provide fleets for larger operators.
LL: What have been the biggest challenges to Quinn Hearse and Limousine to date?
FQ: It feels odd to call this a challenge, but we had a period in the late 90s of rapid growth which got us all totally out of our comfort zone. Suddenly overheads were 10x what they used to be, we ran out of floor space, we needed more staff, we simply weren’t prepared for it and it was tough work to hold it together.
More recently Brexit has had an impact on the entire business, where we are based means that we must have one foot in the UK and one in EU. The global semi-conductor supply issue has seen a shortage in the availability of the base vehicles we use and of course like everyone else we have been hit by Covid. But thankfully we have been able to navigate everything successfully so far.
LL: What do you feel have been Quinn Hearse and Limousine’s biggest successes to date?
FQ: Keeping the family connection has been a huge thing for me with both my daughter Deborah and my son Patrick now helping the run the business, bringing new ideas and a fresh drive.
Milestones that we are proud of include building and delivering the UK’s first 4×4 hearse for funeral directors F Macleod on the Isle of Skye in Scotland in 2018, it has made a huge difference during snowy winters. In 2000 we shipped our first hearse to Delapenha Funeral Home in Kingston Jamacia which was an amazing feeling, Dale has now become a repeat customer, purchasing multiple vehicles over the years, and in 2021 we were the first in the UK/Ireland (and the first that we know of at all!) to build a hearse based on the VW Passat.
We’ve also taken big steps in reducing our carbon footprint by replacing older machinery with new energy efficient models and being the first UK hearse manufacturer to switch over to water-based paints for all models.
LL: Where would you ideally like to see Quinn Hearse and Limousine in ten years’ time?
FQ: I think the biggest change coming to our business will be electrification. In 2032 all new cars will have to be fully electric, and so we need to change our core business to be centred around that. We have already produced hybrid vehicles on both our Passat and E Class lines, the plan is to deliver full-electric models in the near future. But we want to ensure that we come to the market with a fully fleshed out and sustainable product that we can be proud of.
We also want to continue being a beneficial presence in our local community. Our business helps provide high skilled jobs and supports other local businesses, this is an important part of our future and being interconnected, like we are, is going to be key to our longevity.
LL: What do you feel is the single biggest issue currently facing the death/bereavement sector?
FQ: Traditionally the bereavement sector has been an incredibly resilient one, with family businesses spanning multiple generations but there is a lot of pressure on the sector right now. I don’t think there is a single big issue facing the sector right now, I think there are multiple issues, ranging from regulatory change to the pandemic and the knock-on effect on the economy. It has been a very intense period with lots of people on the front lines having to step into roles to support grieving families in ways that they’ve never done before. That can take its toll and the sector will have to show a lot of resilience.
LL: Which other organisations or people really impress you in the sector?
FQ: For me, while there are many organisations and people doing really exciting thing at the moment in the sector, but it’s really hard to overlook the funeral directors. They are on the ground in a public-facing role, and I think there’s lots of work that goes unseen and unappreciated, with organisations like SAIF and the NAFD instrumental in ensuring that funeral directors are as prepared as possible for changing legislation and changing COVID requirements. Despite everything thrown at them, they continue to deliver one of the most important roles in society day after day.