Carrie Rengers

Towne West shop will sell custom caskets

Nathan Smith wants to talk about his new store, but first he has a few questions.

"Are you ready?" he says of the new business at Towne West Square .

"Are you sure you're ready? Is Wichita ready?"

His business,' Til We Meet Again , will sell custom caskets and urns.

"It's very specialized, very unique," Smith says. "You can personalize it however you want."

That could be with such things as a college-themed casket or one decorated with motorcycle memorabilia. There's a whole service-oriented line, such as for firefighters and members of the military.

The business is a switch for Smith, who has been a sales-and-marketing consultant across the country for the last 16 years.

"I was tired of the travel and tired of relocating my family," he says.

He's long had the idea for this company.

"I drew my first custom casket in a meeting," he said, "— a very boring meeting, obviously."

The funeral of a 13-year-old boy Smith knew gave him the inspiration.

"It really bothered me that a 13-year-old boy was in a casket that didn't represent him at all," Smith says. "Even the person doing the service made the statement that this does not represent this kid."

The custom-casket business has grown 700 percent since then, Smith says. He says there are seven good major manufacturers that have $25 million in sales annually.

Most of the sales come from the Internet, but Smith says that's difficult for a lot of people.

For instance, he says his wife would never go that route "so I would end up myself in that gray box."

Smith thinks the mall is ideal.

"People don't like to talk about it," he says of death. "It's taboo."

Being at the mall could change that, he says.

It won't be long until his store will be the talk around the water cooler, Smith says.

He recognizes someone in mourning may not want to go to the mall, but Smith says he's made it easy by locating at Towne West's main north entrance between JC Penney and Dillard's .

"They're not having to go through the mall to get to us."

Smith also will sell pet urns and keepsakes. He and his partners hope to have seven stores in the region by 2012.

Smith knows this is a concept that some people will have to get used to, especially since it's at the mall.

"We're on a fine line in some aspects," he says.

"I told you, were you ready?"

Temporarily home

The Wichita State University crew team has a new home, albeit a temporary one, thanks to Phil Ruffin .

Ruffin is letting the team use the building he owns in Delano that used to house Kansas Golf and Turf . The team doesn't have to pay anything but the utilities.

"We were happy to do it for WSU," Ruffin says. "After all, I went there two years."

For the previous eight years, BG Products donated space for the team along the river at South Wichita Street.

Last summer's major hail storm damaged a BG maintenance building that now has to be demolished, and the company is moving maintenance to the building the crew team has been using.

"The good thing was BG was there when nobody else would stand up," says Galen Myers, BG chairman and CEO.

The team is still seeking a permanent home.

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