Fiddlehead Casket Company sticks with the basics

Jeremy Burrill is transforming from a cabinet maker to a coffin maker.

Cabinet maker Jeremy Burrill has transformed into a coffin maker

New Brunswick coffin makers gets back to basics 1:25

Jeremy Burrill is transforming from a cabinet maker to a coffin maker.

The business idea came after a family member recently had to deal with two funerals and was lamenting the caskets on offer.

"She said it would be nice if there was something just simple and nice. That's not the same shiny lacquered brass and this and that — that would appeal to those who like the more simple things," Burrill said.

So using a combination of his tools, savings and a start-up loan, Burrill started the Fiddlehead Casket Company two months ago. His caskets include no metals, no synthetics and are environmental friendly.

Jamie Burrill in his casket-making shop. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)
The pillow and mattress are made from cotton and stuffed with the shavings from milling the rough lumber.

But then Burrill found out something that was sewn up tighter than his pillows — the coffin-selling business.

The only real route to see his caskets was through the funeral homes, but many, Burrill says, had banded together.

"Buying groups in order to get better deals from the distributors, the main casket distributors; because of this they have exclusive contracts with them," he said.

"So they're not allowed to buy anything other than the guys that they buy from."

Local product

Burrill did find a couple of homes not bulk buying, that were immediately interested in his coffins.

And he said he hopes more people will start asking for his product.

"This is something that is a local product, made in New Brunswick, using local New Brunswick wood and it's a hand-crafted product," he said.

"This is me, this is my shop, there's no big assembly line or computerized anything, except the laptop in my office. For the certain person, that makes a lot of sense."

Jeremy Burrill's caskets include no nails or brass. (Submitted)
The funeral home sets the price, so all he can say is it's in-between the cheapest, and a wooden coffin with metal fixtures.

Phillip Ells Jr., the executive director of the New Brunswick Funeral Directors and Embalmers Association, said the association is 100 per cent behind Burrill.

"The concept is a home run," he said.

"We would really like to see him become successful. It's a great idea."

Ells said there is interest in environmentally-friendly caskets.

He said the idea of a casket handmade in New Brunswick is also a good selling point.

But, he said, they are hoping to help Burrill get to a point where his price is competitive.

Ells said funeral homes do not buy on a quantity discount, such as large retailers, but they do buy from manufacturers who are producing in quantity, so can offer lower prices, and have entire systems set up for distribution.

With files from Catherine Harrop