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'Til We Meet Again further franchises and encounters its first stumbling block

09/05/2012 6:00 AM

09/05/2012 6:29 AM

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.

"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."

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About Carrie Rengers

Carrie Rengers joined The Eagle's Business team in 2002 despite her inability to even balance a checkbook. Fortunately for her, and readers, her Have You Heard? blog is about business scoops and contains lots of news but almost no math.

A Michigan native, Carrie’s father was quite tragically transferred to Little Rock, Ark., in the middle of her sophomore year of high school. To make matters worse, her parents put her in a girls school. She recovered, though, and went on to enjoy being an English major at Hendrix College (the Harvard of the Ozarks, don’t you know). She worked for the weekly Arkansas Business and the statewide daily Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before moving to Wichita to be with her favorite writer and cook, husband Joe Stumpe.

Carrie encourages readers to contact her with tips, questions, behind-the-scenes business news and even funny quotes from business people. Reach her at 316-268-6340 or crengers@wichitaeagle.com

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