Close your eyes,” Yos Bunleng instructs. “Now imagine that your relative has just died. What are the problems?” Bunleng’s sales pitch, delivered in a gadget-filled Tuol Kork office earlier this week, is effective. Death in Cambodia creates logistical problems that those affected are ill-equipped to deal with: mourning rituals are elaborate, and require a coffin, musicians and a fully decorated marquee to be delivered on the same day as the death.
“I see a lot of difficulties with funeral management in this country,” said Bunleng, an energetic man in his late 20s, who records all his interviews on a tripod-mounted DSLR, and whose office is wallpapered with marketing-strategy flowcharts.
Bunleng said it took him four years of research to come up with his business venture: memorial planning that streamlines the complexity of funeral arrangements by putting it all in the hands of a single organiser – himself.
Morodok Memorial Planning, the company he set up last year, has the potential to furnish grieving families with everything from a photographer to the embalming chemicals needed to inject into the deceased.
Bunleng said the original idea stemmed from a bereavement in his own family, which left his grandparents at a loss for what to do. Seeing a gap in the market, he quickly left his job as an interior designer and set up the funeral firm. At the time he had no training in business other than a keen observance of entrepreneurs he admired, and scouting trips where he visited similar businesses abroad.
He is a keen innovator and, as he spoke, he flipped through an iPad featuring pictures of the foreign ideas he’s most excited about introducing to the local market, such as “memorial trees” on which small condolence messages can be hung from white branches. “We provide extras – some accessories that the families can’t miss,” he said with confidence.
And the coffins, he was keen to point out, are top of the range: imported from Malaysia and Singapore, the caskets have a second, internal lid made of see-through plastic.
Bunleng explained that bodies are usually covered over quite quickly in Cambodia because of hygiene concerns, but this double layer allows relatives travelling from far away to view the face of their loved one several days after death. He thinks the idea is new to the Kingdom.
But what makes Bunleng’s business unusual is less the particular services he provides than the boldness of the vision.
The company, whose packages cost from $950 up to $7,000, disrupts the status quo of families taking responsibility for their own funeral arrangements.
According to Seng Someny, spokesperson for the Ministry of Cults and Religion, it’s an unusual venture. “I heard that there are funeral planning companies to cover food, the ceremony tent or flowers … but I never heard of a company covering a full event. Normally it is only the family who go to find different places to organise the funeral,” he said.
He added that as long as the business wasn’t cheating people in their hour of need, it seemed like a good idea.
Bunleng is not the first person to try to attempt to monetise funeral services. Two entrepreneurial women, Lay Chunn Yi and Hou Sivhong, made local headlines last March when they won the gold medal at the Mekong Business Challenge with their plans for a funeral agency.
The idea never became a reality, which Bunleng thinks was due to flaws in the model that slowed down the process: “For example, if they want to have a coffin, they have to contact a coffin supplier,” he said.
At Morodok Memorial Planning, coffins are the first thing on display in the large central foyer, while a newly painted funeral truck waits in the yard outside.
Bunleng has organised 10 funerals so far, and said he would persevere in convincing the Cambodian market in favour of outsourcing.
“I do believe that people want our service, but if they don’t have information about it, they will think it is expensive,” he said. “We are happy to help them and make it easier for them to make this different choice to use our service.”
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