Family run funeral directors in west London are under threat as conglomerate firms snap up lapsed businesses.
The warning comes from a long established west London funeral parlour amid fears big firms may soon force localtraders from the high street.
"Each time a family firm retires or sellsup, they leave a gap which is filled by the big companies," says Anne Shearsmith of Ladbroke Grove-based H J Bent & Co.
"They often continue to trade under the oldname... John Smith & Sons sounds better than Dignity funeral directors. It's sad because we offer a much more personal service. When you come to an independent funeral director you will have their helpand individual attention throughout a difficult process. We are also cheaper as we have lower overheads."
Ms Shearsmith who has worked at H J Bent forhalf of its 50 year existence says the personal touch helps the bereaved through painful and often complicated times.
"Larger firms are also professional, but because of their size they are colder; the person who conducts the funeral may be different to the one you meet when you first walkthrough the door. We provide continuity and are well known among thelocal area. Our funerals are our advertisements."
Dignity, which runs 548 funeral directorsacross the UK, took £90.6million in the first six months of 2008, an 11per cent increase on last year. It says the expectations for the rest of the year "remain positive".
In an effort to stem the loss of custom tobig companies, the National Society of Allied Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) is launching an awareness campaign this winter. It says many customers do not know the difference between an independent and chain business and wants its members to become more accessible to the public.