Alec Sharples – Funeral Stationery 4U

This week on WHITEBALLOON INSIGHTS we talk to Alec about his early foray into editing and the importance of understanding the very particular needs of his clientele.

Q: You have been in the printing business for over 30 years. What drew you to this sector in the first place and have you always offered a funeral stationery service?

A: That’s a very long story, Amanda. But long story short, it all started with Round Table. An organisation I joined in 1982. It revolves around local businessmen having fun and raising money for charity. But it also operates at area and national levels too.

At one of those area meetings, I’ll never forget the editor of the area magazine standing up holding a blank sheet of paper and saying that if that’s all the copy members were going to give him, a blank sheet of paper was all they were going to get. Not surprisingly, he didn’t last long. So, when the time came, I stood for the post of editor and my journey in print had become.

With no editing skills whatsoever, I made it my goal to fill as many pages as I could with interesting and newsworthy stories and worked with a local printer to put it all together and print for me.

I enjoyed it so much that a couple of years later I decided to leave the family farm (I was a pig farmer at the time) and start my own graphic design business. One thing led to another and Fineline is about to start it’s 33rd year in business.

Funeral Stationery soon became a steady stream of work.

Q: How is what you do now different from when you started?

A: Very different. We used to design and print for local funeral directors as well as walk-in customers. However, things really changed when technology allowed us to launch our first online platform which gave customers the ability to use online templates to create their own funeral stationery. Some 15 years on, we are now on our third-generation platform and able to offer a wider range of services and a hugely improved customer experience.

Q: Your expertise and experience must be invaluable when dealing with such a sensitive and time-critical area of printing? 

A: Yes and No. Printers are very good at putting ink on paper but that’s just the end product. Bereaved families need a special understanding to guide and support them through the process of creating something very special in memory of a loved one.

By and large printers don’t always have the understanding and empathy that bereaved families reach out for at such a difficult time. The launch of our niche service as Funeral Stationery4U allowed us to talk directly to bereaved families all over the UK with the empathy and understanding they deserve.

Q: Funeral Stationery 4U allows people to design and customise their orders online.  Why was it important to you to offer this service rather than simply following the more traditional routes of design and production? 

 A: Because we all need to move with the times. Families want the ability to work to their own timescales, evening and weekends, for example, and an online platform that is open 24 hours a day and seven days a week provides the freedom to do that. And … it allowed us to service all areas of the UK – not just our local area.

Q: I imagine digital developments around taking, storing and sending photos have transformed the types of images that people are producing.  Have order of service and memorial cards become more visual and colourful? 

 A: Very much so. Funeral Orders of Service are becoming a celebration of the life of someone close and the ability to share families’ most precious memories of someone who has passed are a big part of that.

Q: Technology in the printing industry is constantly evolving and changing.  It must be a constant challenge, albeit a very interesting one, to keep up? 

A: Challenging? Not really! Interesting and fulfilling, immensely so.

Providing a better customer experience is what it is all about and it is what drives us on every single day.

Q: Are there any other interesting or surprising developments that you have seen in recent years and do you see any other changes in the foreseeable future?   

 A: Memory books would be a good example. At the moment they are a tiny niche product, but I expect them to become more mainstream in the years ahead.

Q: And finally, your work involves creativity and technological know-how.  Do you have any other hobbies or interests that play to these strengths? 

A: I’m a very visual person and enjoy photography immensely. Surprisingly, technology is not a hobby – it is a means to an end. It’s a tool.

Thank you Alec for sharing these insights

To find out more, please visit Funeral Stationery 4U.

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