ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When Chester T. French laid the foundation for FRENCH Funerals-Cremations in 1907, Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House, New Mexico was still a territory and the first Ford Model T was still a year away.
So much has changed in the ensuing 106 years, but not necessarily at FRENCH.
Although it’s grown well beyond its original site at 5th and Gold in Downtown Albuquerque, it remains family owned, continues to operate exclusively in the Albuquerque area and adheres to the same business model established a century ago.
It’s a winning formula, says President and CEO Tom Antram.
“At the end of the day, the longevity of FRENCH really has to come back to the founder, Mr. French, and his (emphasis) on integrity and doing the right thing and serving others,” Antram says. “We’ve always talked with our staff and employees about having a servant’s heart, and that’s really made the difference.”
FRENCH operated with just one funeral home for nearly 80 years but has experienced a relative growth spurt in the last 30.
French’s grandson Chester French Stewart – the former CEO and still the majority owner – added a second location in the mid-1980s. The company has opened three more funeral homes since then, but hasn’t ventured farther than Rio Rancho.
Antram says FRENCH is unlikely to move beyond the metro area despite fielding regular proposals to buy properties elsewhere.
“I think if we went that route, we would slowly become a mini-conglomerate, and that’s not the goal at the heart of the company,” he says.
A strong local presence and commitment to the community has been instrumental to the company’s success. When it comes to planning funeral services and cremations, Antram says people prefer dealing with familiar faces.
“It’s relationships with the people they know in the community – people they may go to church with, see at the store, serve on boards with,” says Antram, noting that the company has supported causes such as the Ronald McDonald House and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. “Being able to call somebody you know, and (a company) you know is locally owned, I think makes a difference.”