Lively mortician says: 'know your business'
Some young women wouldn't be seen dead driving around in a shiny black hearse.
But lively funeral business owner Ellese Templeton is as proud as punch of her wheels, 'Black Betty'.
After the three funerals it went dead for two months.
"She's my sexy girl, I love her," says the 28-year-old. "I used to take her down to the local car wash and people just look at me and say 'nice car'."
Ellese Templeton is finding great success in the funeral industry.
Hearses don't come cheap. Black Betty, a 1997 Ford Limited mash conversion, is apparently only one of four of its type in Australia and cost $36,000.
"This is my first hearse, I'm planning to buy another one by 2014," says the owner of Melbourne's Templeton Family Funerals.
With an ageing population, demand for her services is likely to increase, but you might wonder how a witty, one-time aspiring model found her way into the business of dead bodies.
Ellese Templeton behind the wheel of her hearse, 'Black Betty'.
Says Templeton, who declared to her grade six class that she would be a mortician, it's been a serious, lifelong dream - one that recently saw her finish as a finalist in the Victorian Telstra Business Women's Awards.
Mum Yolanda, who also works full-time in the family business (sister Sheree is also involved part-time), says her daughter's unusual passion began early, and for no particular reason.
"If we were in the car and there was an ambulance she would say 'follow the ambulance so I can see a dead person' and I'd be like 'Oh my god'," she laughs, hands clutching each side of her face.
At 12, Templeton had a chat with a funeral director, and at 16 tried to find work experience in the industry, before going on to study criminology at TAFE.
But it wasn't for her, and she quit after two months, instead sending out more than 150 resumes for positions in the funeral industry. Meanwhile she continued to dabble in small modelling jobs, receiving interest from the likes of paparazzo Darryn Lyons.
Not to be deterred by her dream, she eventually found a foot in the funereal door as a 'transfer driver' - for the layperson, that's collecting the bodies.
"That's how I started as an undertaker, picking up for the coroners. Your murders, suicides, car accidents - it's basically anything the doctor will not sign. I loved it, I was so excited."
After a year or so, a position for a funeral director's assistant arose, and Templeton jumped at the chance, learning the nuts and bolts before deciding to go out on her own at just 24.
Building Templeton Family Funerals from scratch, the young woman worked large hours at a local pub to help fund the business.
"I just worked my butt off. I worked at the pub five or six days a week doing graveyard shifts," she says.
"Some days I wouldn't know which uniform I was wearing."
The business opened in December 2008, and by January the first funeral had been booked, followed by two more in quick succession.
"After the three funerals it went dead for two months," says Templeton.
"We were speaking with funeral directors. They said 'you'll be lucky to get six in the year. We had 20 for the first year so we were rapt."
As word of mouth spread, the number increased to 40 in the second year, and 85 in the third.
"Now we're known in the industry, we're known as mother and daughter."
Despite Templeton's professionalism on the job, her age at first sometimes proved a challenge. In those cases, she would have to pretend to be training while her mother watched on - when in fact the reverse was true.
"Now because I'm 28, nearly 29, people are looking at it as an achievement," she says.
Templeton, who bought her first house at 21, says her whole life has been driven by setting goals.
Late last year, she bought a warehouse in Dandenong which she is converting into a comfortable place where friends or family of the deceased can come to organise the funeral. She would like to eventually own her own funeral home, where services can be held.
Templeton says she is honoured to be "the last person to look after a loved one" and feels being a funeral director is her calling. "At the end of the day, this is what I'm here for."
She and her family's focus is to provide a highly personal funeral that reflects the person who has died.
"It's however that person lived, their life and that's how it's got to be."
It must be a sad job? "Nup," says Templeton, who adds that it's her job to be warm and comforting for the family, but not to be sadder than them.
Ironically, when bookings are slim, that's when she feels the worst. "I'm depressed when I don't have a funeral."
Her work so far has sparked some unusual situations, and the odd perk.
"I dated a client, would you believe," she laughs. "Not the deceased - it was the son of the deceased."
Ellese Templeton's five tips for entrepreneurs
1. Know your business, work in it, be a sponge and learn everything there is to know. Ask lots of questions.
2. Set goals with timeframes: write a list of what you want and how you're going to achieve it. Then take one step at a time - slow and steady wins the race so enjoy the journey.
3. Don't be afraid to ask for help or advice. Build relationships within your business field.
4. Learn and research your business, especially the kinds of marketing strategies that are going to work. So much money can be wasted on wrong choices.
5. Be true to yourself. Believe, be positive, be passionate, never give up a dream and remember to always smile!
(Lucky number 6. You will never know until you give it a go. What's the worst that can happen?)