Mike Grehan got a great idea when he met CHILI publish at drupa 2016. With a background in the funeral industry, he saw a gigantic potential in making coffins out of paper/board, and an even larger potential with personalized print on coffins.
When we met him at SPICYtalks 19 in Berlin – ironically in a crematorium turned into a cultural venue, we got the chance to do this interview with him.
This interview clearly shows a couple of interesting things – first; We don’t think any at CHILI publish ever considered that CHILI Publisher could be used to make personalized coffins. Second, this clearly shows that paper and printing technology still can be used to invent new solutions, and in this incident also turning something like wooden coffins into an environmentally friendly solution.
Rest in peace and enjoy!
LifeArt is all about developing digital print technology to create coffins that are green, so good for the environment, affordable for everyone, but, more importantly, personalizable, which might sound strange to the funeral industry. But if you think about it, in your lifetime, you’d probably buy one or two coffins and it’s a very, very difficult choice. If we can make that choice easier for families by allowing them to design their own coffin for their mother or their father or their brother or their sister or their loved one, I think that’s a good thing.
The feedback we get is incredible. Absolutely incredible. I’ve been fortunate enough to work in the funeral industry for 20-odd years, and I’ve never seen this sort of feedback. It just is quite amazing. Our partners that we’ve managed to work with have shared the vision, if you like, because this is a tough change. We’re changing an industry that is very traditional. It doesn’t embrace change. Our partners are Blubird, KAN Design and Chili and, together, I think we will change the world. I think it’ll be a better funeral world for people.
Look, I would like to think we’re a technology company because, ultimately, it’s all about the tech. We don’t really want a manufacturer. We want partners to manufacture. I know if we get the tech right, that’s the key thing because it’s a single point that you can use around the world. To manufacture, you’ve got to be in every country. We don’t want to do that. We want our partners to do that because they’re local. We happened to have the technology, so we do see ourselves as technology company. In fact, we call ourselves death tech. It’s quite an unusual quote, that one.
It’s how it’s manufactured, more than anything. We work with two big global board manufacturers who understand what we’re trying to do, and they work very closely to our specifications. But, ultimately, the strength in what we do is the patent around the structure of the coffin or casket. It was actually designed by a German Australian who is mathematical genius, and he’s still involved to this day. I haven’t found anyone in the world better, and I’ve met lots of people in design and create coffins, but fundamentally it works.
It’s very lightweight, it’s 10 kilos, but it’ll hold 260 kilos, absolutely no problem, by the handle. People go, “Yeah, but don’t you carry them by the handle?” A lot of them don’t. A lot of handles aren’t designed to be carried and people don’t realize that, so ours actually works properly. I’ve been to a lot of the testings that we’ve done around the world. In Paris where the association test the coffin, they put a ton through it and it didn’t break. That gives you a bit of a hint to how strong it is. They move aircraft engines in what we use. It’s a very different technology.
I first came into Chili at Drupa in 2016. I saw it and I knew then it could do what I always wanted to do, which was true personalization. So, for us, it’s been a journey in about a year. We released the product in about two weeks, it might be three. But we’re nearly there, and it’s absolutely the cornerstone. And Kevin knows it. I say to him regularly, “Kevin, you are the cornerstone of our future because you will fundamentally… your product will change an industry that hasn’t changed for thousands of years and in 10 years or 20 years, we’ll all look back and go, ‘I remember being part of that process.'” Because it’s really important to give people choices and Chili is the cornerstone to doing that.
We’re still in early stages, I’ll put it that way, because we’re breaking markets open. Our objective is to become a dominant player in every part of the world. We’ve got a very clear path now in terms of what we think penetration will be in each market, and I have unbelievable faith in the consumer. The consumer will always decide if given a choice, and the hard part is getting the choice in front of them. So, for us, any bit of publicity or any bit of promotion is good promotion. A family informed is always a much better family that’s not informed. We all like choices.