Pivoting from a career in flying, to bespoke funeral services
In a recent interview, we spoke with Claire Mountain, a South Wales based female entrepreneur who started Mountain Celebrations back in 2010 after pivoting her career flying high to bespoke funeral services.
Initially the company was formed with the idea of being a small side business that would help compliment Claire’s other job, flying for British Airways which she has been doing for over 25 years. However not long after launching, Mountain Celebrations grew from strength to strength and soon became Claire’s full-time job and focus.
Q: How was Mountain Celebrations formed? How/why did you decide to pivot from a career with BA to hosting funeral services?
Following a conversation with a local funeral director, Philip Toms and Son’s, I realised there was a gap in the industry for someone who could offer truly bespoke funeral services which met the unique needs and wants of each family. Not long after, I did a small course in Civil Celebrancy (this was the only course available at the time).
During my time working for British Airways, I gained a vast number of transferable skills in customer service and gained vital experience with working with people from all walks of life, cultures and religions. This gave me the confidence and ability to adapt our services individually to each family that we work with.
Q: Mountain Celebrations has seen significant growth since launching in 2010 - What do you believe is your USP (unique selling point?). How is Mountain Celebrations different from anyone else in the industry?
I believe Mountain Celebrations USP is that we are truly bespoke. We listen to our clients’ needs and aspirations and do our best to meet these. We are flexible in our approach and a great deal of empathy and worldly knowledge and experience of people.
Q: When did you know was the right time to take your business from part-time to full-time?
Following my first funeral service which was that of a baby girl who was born sleeping – I still to this day don’t know how I managed to hold back the tears, however I did and delivered a lovely service. Within a few weeks following I had been contacted by numerous people within the industry asking if they could book me.
Within 6-8 weeks I had over 10 funerals booked and within 6 months I was working every free hour on the business. Every day I had off from BA, I had funerals or services booked as the business kept on growing. Within a year I had to make a choice – was this going to be a proper business or remain as a hobby? So, I made the decision to reduce my hours yet again at BA, but Mountain Celebrations kept on growing. I chose to take 6 months unpaid leave from BA to explore whether the business had the potential to be fulltime…and I never went back.
I think you just know in your heart, its by no means an easy decision and terrifying at times to walk away from 25 years of employment but with the support network I had around me I took a leap of faith and it paid off.
Q: With the growth of your business also came opportunities to expand your offering and with that your team. Can you tell us a little more about your team behind the business?
I noticed the need for more celebrants as my business took on more and more work. I started to reach out to those who I thought would be interested in joining my team and started to train them. I now have 7 other celebrants and 2 admin staff that help me run the business.
I also spotted a gap in education and qualifications around the industry which led me to develop, with the NOCN (National Open Network College) a Diploma in Civil Celebrancy – an industry recognised qualification. This began with classroom-based learning, but we quickly realised that those learning to become celebrants needed to learn hands on how the funeral industry worked in their own area, so we developed the course further and made it available online.
To date, we currently have over 50 learners who are taking the NOCN Diploma.
We train celebrants for both the funeral and wedding industry, we also work closely with training partners MVRRS which enables us to deliver training which ranges across customer service to business management within both industries.
Q: Do you have any advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
The company was started from an idea, a dream to help people acknowledge life’s celebrations in a truly unique and bespoke way, with no restrictions. I had no funding, no prior business experience or knowledge, just a burning ambition to make it a success.
I would say to others, seek advice, do your research and go for it. It can be achieved, with hard work and sacrifice but it is worth every second. Watching your dream grow and become successful is a true testament to the person you are.
I came out of school with very little, I was told by my career advisors that I wouldn’t achieve much with many O levels as it was in those days, and I did. I got my dream job at BA with hard work and confidence in myself, I now run two business so it can be done “If I can do it you can”.
Q: What’s next for Mountain Celebrations?
The last few years, in particular, have been a whirlwind. I have such an amazing team around me, and I am so grateful for the support I have received from my family and friends.
Last year I was awarded Business Woman of the Year, along with Lux Wedding Magazine Wedding Industry Trainer of the Year for 2019. I’ve just received a Welsh Woman’s award for commended business in the small business category.
Most recently, I have been invited to be a judge at the Wedding Business Awards and accepted an exciting offer to do a Wing Walk for the ABF Charity.