‘Til We Meet Again owners gamble on new Louisiana store

WICHITA — ’Til We Meet Again business partners Nathan Smith and Traci Smith-Cone should consider buying some lottery tickets. They’ve already won one big gamble this week.

Thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court decision to let an appellate ruling stand, casket dealers are now going to be able to sell in Louisiana, which previously allowed only licensed funeral home directors to make the sales.

Smith and Smith-Cone gambled that this might be the case and have a store ready to go in the Esplanade mall in Kenner, La., which is a suburb of New Orleans.

“We were going to take our chances because we wanted to be the first ones in this market,” Smith says.

“It was worth the calculated risk,” he says. “We do believe this market … is going to be one of our top markets.”

There are a few reasons for that, Smith says.

“We’re not just the first store of its kind, but we’re going into a state that has never had even a casket store,” he says.

“Once an industry corners a market, as we all know, they control the pricing, they control the distribution, they control everything. Caskets in Louisiana, in some parts, (are) double what they are anywhere else in the United States.”

Smith says Louisiana residents haven’t been able to buy personalized caskets prior to the new ruling.

“It gives them the options that they’ve never had,” he says.

Smith says the culture and funeral traditions in Louisiana match well with personalized caskets.

“They’ve been doing celebration-of-life events with really representing that person for who they are for years – for decades.”

The Kenner store will be a corporate store. Smith and Smith-Cone also have a store in Towne West Square in Wichita and franchises in Phoenix and Fort Wayne, Ind.

“We’re choosing at this time to focus on corporate stores and not franchises,” Smith says.

“We want to … master the program,” he says. “We want to have the best product possible when we really start pushing forward on the franchising. We want our systems to be solid and proven.”