Willow Group lands Texas-size franchise deal for 14 new ‘Til We Meet Again stores

UPDATED — On the heels of getting its first franchise in April, the Willow Group has inked a deal with an undisclosed group for 14 ’Til We Meet Again stores in Texas. All of them will be open no later than 2014.

“It’s huge,” says Nathan Smith, who is partners with Traci Smith-Cone in the venture.

The two opened the custom casket store in Towne West Square in 2010 with no plans to franchise.

That changed, though, and in April they landed their first franchise with a store in Glenbrook Square Mall in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Smith says they’ve just finalized a deal for a Milwaukee store, though the franchisee hasn’t signed a lease for mall space yet, and are close on a three-store deal in Phoenix.

Smith thinks the Texas deal will help him and Smith-Cone close other deals.

“For the folks that are out there that we’re talking to right now … those guys that are on the fence … seeing that definitely gets them off the fence quickly,” Smith says. “It helps legitimize what we’re doing.”

He says it gives other potential franchisees a sense of security to know “they’re not the first ones, and they’re not doing this by themselves.”

Smith says he and Smith-Cone have the infrastructure in place for the rapid expansion.

“That’s what is the best part about what we’re doing here and what makes this work,” he says.

The company has warehouses with products ready to go in Wichita, Indiana and Ohio and ones in the works in Dallas and Kentucky.

It has exclusive contracts with more than 25 manufacturers. The group that bought the franchise rights for Texas is a manufacturer.

Smith says he and Smith-Cone need to hire a sales person and support personnel soon.

The company also now has the license to sell Wichita State University caskets.

Smith expects those to be just as popular as the K-State ones.

“We can’t keep ‘em in stock.”