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Spring 2012 Beyond Burial Basics

An unusual franchise is looking to be a popular concept in shopping centers.

A custom casket franchise at a mall might sound unusual, but for Nathan Smith and Traci Smith-Cone,   the mall setting has proven to be the ideal location to help families through difficult times.

When Nathan Smith began working with the Muscular Dystrophy Association and other organizations for sick children in high school and college, it wasn’t uncommon for him to attend five children’s funerals a year.

“It was hard to see a 12-year-old kid, someone who had been full of energy and embraced every day, lying in a grey box,” Smith says. “There were just no real options for something different that met the personality of those kids. That’s what started the idea for ‘Til We Meet Again.”

In March 2010, ‘Til We Meet Again opened at the Towne West Square mall in Wichita, Kansas. The company operates a smaller store in Hutchinson, Kansas in a Main Street setting but is looking to expand in malls.

“The mall was the only place that this would really work,” Smith says. “We needed a high-traffic location where people weren’t coming to look at a casket, but would be coming for some other reason. If people don’t know we’re here before they need us, they’ll go to the funeral home.”

How it works

Rather than choosing a standard casket from a funeral home, customers work with staff to create a custom-designed product.

“Families come in, they tell us what they want and we make it happen,” Smith says.  “We can do any theme of casket or urn, everything from flames on the side, to a hot pink one with zebra stripes. The sky’s the limit and we really try to honor people’s personalities.”

Prices range from about $900 to $5,500; a handmade wooden coffin similar to an old west movie is the store’s number-one seller. Markup averages from 25 percent to 50 or 60 percent depending on the product. In addition to caskets, ‘Til We Meet Again carries urns, pet caskets; and urn and cremation jewelry.

Franchise opportunities 

Potential franchisees speak with Smith first. After going over basic information and signing a non-disclosure, they attend a face-to-face meeting with the team at ‘Til We Meet Again, in Wichita. “After that process is done and they get approved, they’re putting a deposit down for the store and we start doing the market research and looking at potential locations,” Smith says. “We help them negotiate with the malls and the rent, and then they get training.”

Total fees range from about $75,000 to $125,000, depending on the location. “We don’t start charging royalties until the store is open five months and they get up and running,” Smith-Cone says.

Smith says the company’s success is due to the uniqueness of the business model. “Funeral homes don’t carry product like these; it’s so specialized,” he says. “People usually react with surprise upon seeing the store, but it’s not unusual for them to come in later when they need us and say, ‘I remembered you were here.’”

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Kristin Larson Contino

Kristin Contino is a freelance writer and copy editor based in Philadelphia. She writes for a variety of print publications and blogs, and also covers women's fiction for

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