WICHITA — Willow Group continues to ink franchise deals for more 'Til We Meet Again stores, but the Wichita company has also experienced its first setback.
The chain's first franchisee was to open a custom casket store in Glenbrook Square in Fort Wayne, Ind. in May, but Willow Group's Nathan Smith says mall management changed its mind without giving him or local media a reason.
"Glenbrook Square officials likely sealed a casket company's fate in Fort Wayne," read the lead of a Journal Gazette story, which was one of several stories about the issue that appeared in local media outlets.
"It was a mess," says Smith, who is partners in Willow Group with Traci Smith-Cone.
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"Honestly, it took us by surprise," Smith says. "We do everything we can in the beginning to make sure everything is secured."
He says the mall took five months to approve the contract.
No one with Glenbrook could be reached for comment.
Smith says the franchisee lost about $100,000 on remodeling and other expenses when told she'd have to vacate the mall five days before opening. He says the store had a contract, but there was a clause that the mall could ask the store to leave at any time.
"We definitely worked quickly with the franchisee to minimize even more loss of funds," Smith says. "At the time, it was a scramble."