’Til We Meet Again closes at Towne West Square; company still in business

UPDATED – It’s a reluctant Nathan Smith who shares ’Til We Meet Again’s latest news.

“I don’t want to tell you the news,” Smith says.

He and business partner Traci Smith-Cone have closed their store at Towne West Square, though they still have three stores elsewhere and plan to add more to sell custom caskets, urns and memorials.

“We are looking to continue to grow and all of that stuff, it’s just the Wichita market … everything slowed down, especially after Christmas,” Smith says.

“The Wichita store, like, just fell off the face of the planet. So we had to make some decisions pretty quick.”

Smith says he and Smith-Cone are now trying to determine if Towne West was the issue or if it’s Wichita in general.

“The traffic’s just not there in that mall,” Smith says. “The mall’s lost a lot of people, and they’re continuing to lose more people.”

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Condoleezza Rice is Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce’s annual speaker

UPDATED — Following in her former boss’ footsteps, Condoleezza Rice will be the speaker for this year’s Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce annual meeting in December.

riceRice was the second secretary of state under President George W. Bush, who spoke at the Chamber’s annual meeting in 2011.

“The reaction we’re getting is rivaling the reaction we got back then,” said Gary Plummer, Chamber president and CEO.

“We think that the way she has broken down barriers, particularly for … African Americans and women, we think we’re going to have a very diverse audience as a result,” Plummer said.

A Birmingham, Ala., native, Rice is a pianist who once planned to become a concert pianist. Instead, she went on to earn her doctorate in international studies from the University of Denver.

Rice was the first black woman to be secretary of state and was known for extensive travel and work to expand democracies globally. She also restructured foreign policy in the United States with something she called transformational diplomacy to further her goal of creating more democratic governments.

More recently, Rice has been a political science professor at Stanford University, where she has been on the faculty since 1981.

“One of her programs that she’s well known for is an after-school academic-enrichment program,” Plummer said. He said Rice is an “exemplary” national leader who cares about the plight of those less fortunate.

“A well-educated workforce drives economic development and Dr. Rice is well-known for her expertise and passion for education,” said Wayne Chambers, 2014 Chamber chairman, in a statement. “We’re very focused on helping area businesses increase their expertise in exporting and we believe we can also benefit from her global perspective.”

On Tuesday, the Chamber teased Rice’s Dec. 4 appearance by saying this year’s speaker has ties to football. Rice is an avid Cleveland Browns fan, is on the College Football Playoff selection committee and has said her dream job would be National Football League commissioner.

The Chamber often selects political speakers for its annual meeting. George H.W. Bush spoke at the chamber’s annual meeting in 2005, and political strategists and husband and wife James Carville and Mary Matalin spoke together in 2006. Last year, Gallup chairman and CEO Jim Clifton was the speaker.

“The line-up over the last 10 to 12 years is really remarkable,” Plummer said.

He said Rice has been on the Chamber’s short list of potential speakers for at least three years.

This year’s event will be from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Dec. 4 at Century II. Tickets are $115 for the dinner and reserved seating for the program. For those attending the program only, tickets range from $35 to $55. Tickets can be purchased at www.wichitachamber.org.

Within two hours of announcing Rice as its speaker, the Chamber reported that it sold seven tables for the event and added another top sponsor. A YouTube video to announce the speaker had more than 200 views within the same time.

Plummer said, “That’s a pretty dramatic response based on our experience around here.”

 

 

 

 

Visitors looking for the WaterWalk fountains might wind up at the county jail instead

WICHITA — Mulvane resident Tom Coppola Googled the WaterWalk fountains the other day because he planned to go to a nearby food truck rally.

FILE  The fountains at WaterWalk.   (June 21, 2013)“I was very pleased to find numerous YouTube videos showing the beauty of said fountains,” Coppola said in an e-mail.

Coppola said he was surprised, though, to see that a number of references on Google showed the address of the fountains as 605 N. Wichita.

Instead of a view of the fountains, visitors instead will find themselves looking at the back side of the county jail if they go to that address.

jail2“The most amazing of all was the fact that the city of Wichita’s own website has the same incorrect address!” Coppola wrote. “Imagine the surprise of a visitor to our fair city, who attempts to find the waterwalk fountains, only to end up in an alley behind the county jail. One would think that with the amount of money spent on these fountains, the amount of money spent promoting tourism in Wichita, and recent attempts by the city to increase sales tax in order to help promote tourism, that somebody would do a better job of making sure that visitors have the information they need in order to view these attractions.”

Coppola signed his e-mail: “A concerned(sales tax paying) resident of Kansas.”

In another e-mail, city spokesman Dale Goter said the city appreciates Coppola’s concern.

“The address was erroneously posted as N. Wichita and should be S. Wichita. We have changed it,” Goter wrote. “Please pass along our thanks to the alert reader who noticed the mistake.”

Oxford Senior Living creates ‘Happy’ video

ox1WICHITA — Hundreds of fans of “Happy,” the ubiquitous Pharrell Williams hit, have created their own videos in celebration of the song.

None, though, is quite like the one that Oxford Senior Living released last week.

“We had a blast making it,” says Coryanne Graham, Oxford’s marketing and brand manager.

Part of the company’s mission statement is that Oxford’s “environment inspires happy residents who feel at home sharing hopes and dreams, recipes and fishin’ stories.”

Graham thought a video would be a great way to share that happiness.

“I saw a bunch of those ‘Happy’ videos,” she says. “There’s more than 800 of them. … I thought, man, that would be so much fun to do with our staff and residents.”

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Spirit AeroSystems shares award for crisis communications with American Airlines

UPDATED — Which is a bigger crisis for an aircraft company or an airline to deal with: An EF-3 tornado, or Alec Baldwin getting kicked off a flight for playing Words With Friends when he’d been told to shut down all electronics?

Turns out they’re both big deals for crisis communicators, so Ragan’s PR Daily recently awarded Spirit AeroSystems and American Airlines an award for best crisis communications.

“I was totally blown away,” says Spirit spokesman Ken Evans. “I thought we had a 10 percent shot.”

He figured no matter how dramatic the April 14 tornado was, it’s hard to top a celebrity crisis.

PR Daily says Spirit won because it lost all its traditional communication tools – e-mail, its website, even desk phones – but still managed to keep the public, the media and employees informed.

“We were kind of forced to think outside the box for us,” Evans says. “We’re a fairly conservative communications group. … I know that’s shocking to you.”

Twitter became one of the company’s chief communication tools. It also used YouTube and Flickr.

Evans says Spirit’s communications team made a case to management that it needed to reach out immediately, particularly to the media, “so that all of our local stakeholders wouldn’t panic.”

“One of the best results of the week was that our stock did not take a major hit even after that EF-3 tornado.”

He says the company learned lessons from the crisis as well.

“The one audience we didn’t spend (time) keeping up to date was an internal audience at other Spirit sites around the world. They were hungrier for information on a daily basis than we thought they would. They felt left out.”

Evans says the company is using some social media more these days than it used to.

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‘Til We Meet Again gets its first franchisee

UPDATED — Two years after opening ’Til We Meet Again, the custom casket store in Towne West Square, the Willow Group has its first franchisee.

The franchisee is opening a ‘Til We Meet Again in the Glenbrook Square Mall in Fort Wayne, Ind., next month.

Several more likely will follow in short order. That’s even though Willow Group partners Nathan Smith and Traci Smith-Cone never planned to franchise.

“We said, ‘Absolutely not. We’re going to do this on our own,’” Smith-Cone says.

What changed?

“The YouTube video,” she says.

There have been a few videos about the store, one of which has been viewed almost 124,000 times on YouTube. Calls from around the country started coming from people who wanted to open similar shops. Then a January story in Entrepreneur piqued even more interest.

“We’ve been flooded with inquiries,” Smith says.

“My limited knowledge about franchising was we would lose control of those businesses,” Smith-Cone says. “For two type-A personalities to do that, that was very tough.”

They realized they didn’t have much choice, Smith says.

“Once it got out there, to prevent anyone else from doing what we were doing, we had to move quickly,” he says. To secure exclusive deals with manufacturers, who create all kinds of unique caskets and urns, they needed to open more stores than they could afford to do on their own.

“Our fear was more of other people starting their own and creating competition for what we wanted to do,” Smith says. “Before we didn’t have that buying power.”

Now they do, but it hasn’t been easy.

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Developer Max Cole offers city a library deal at his Office This development on East Harry

WICHITA — Office This developer Max Cole was reading a Wichita Eagle story about the city’s proposed almost-$50 million library, and it got him thinking.

“I started on YouTube looking around the world at libraries and seeing what the difference is between the time I used to go to them and today, and I got really excited about it,” he says.

So he wrote District 3 City Council member James Clendenin with a new library offer for his Office This development in the former Wichita Mall at 4031 E. Harry.

“I’m proposing to do a 60,000-square-foot super deal,” Cole says.

“I’m offering them the world. It’s a paradigm shift, believe me. I know I shocked them with the offer, but it’s the right thing to do.

“I want that southeast part of town to succeed. I invested 10 years and a lot of money.”

He got the attention of Clendenin and others.

“Tell you what, I’m very intrigued by Max’s presentation,” says Clendenin, who has visited the property several times, including with library board members.

“I think everybody sees the extreme potential that the Office This space gives District 3,” he says. “That location is smack dab between two of the most underserved neighborhoods in Wichita.”

He’s referring to Planeview and Hilltop, but Clendenin says Office This is ideally situated for most of the district.

Director of libraries Cynthia Berner-Harris says the library board has invited Cole to make a formal presentation at its Oct. 18 meeting.

Cole’s offer was discussed at the board’s meeting Tuesday.

“They also were very intrigued by the possibilities, but they do have concerns that 60,000 square feet is beyond our capacity at this time,” Berner-Harris says.

She says southeast Wichita is an area scheduled to be addressed with the library’s master plan. The plan calls for a neighborhood facility of 7,500 square feet.

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China Star Super Buffet campy commercials attract attention and a nomination

WICHITA — Sometimes commercials are so bad they’re good.

That was the idea behind a series of television commercials for Wichita’s China Star Super Buffet, one of which is in the running for the Independent Film Channel’s LoCo Awards.

The awards, which are designed in part to promote the new “Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings” show, will honor the best and most bizarre late-night commercials and their stars.

China Star, which is on Central just west of I-235, made the commercials with the help of Fox Kansas.

“Their goal in this one was designed to be campy so it would make . . . it stand out above commercials and not blend in with average commercials,” says Jeff McCausland, vice president and general manager of Newport Television, which operates Fox and My TV Wichita.

A former Fox employee stars in the commercials, which feature him singing and chatting about China Star.

In one scene of the nominated commercial, he sits in an easy chair that’s reduced to a miniature size and flies over the buffet offerings.

“It’s like the buffet’s right in my house!”

The ads have proven popular, and not only in Wichita.

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‘Til We Meet Again to open second custom casket store, this time in Hutchinson

WICHITA — The YouTube video “Death Comes to the Mall” has created more than just curious customers for ‘Til We Meet Again, the custom casket store that opened at Towne West Square in March 2010.

It’s also leading to a second store, this one in Hutchinson, in what owners Nathan Smith and Traci Cone hope will be a franchised chain.

“This whole thing has just taken . . . off and just taken us all by storm,” Smith says.

“I expected us to be open at least two years before we started putting (more) stores in.”

Hutchinson residents James and Robin McComas are two of the more than 120,000 people who have seen one of the videos that customers have made about the unique store.

“We actually drove down to take a look and see what it was,” James McComas says.

Then, Robin McComas’ father died, and her family ordered an urn from ‘Til We Meet Again that was customized to look like her father’s Harley-Davidson.

“It was a wonderful experience in the sense of closure for so many people,” James McComas says.

“Right after that, I kept hounding Nathan. ‘Hey, we’d really like to be partners with you.’ ”

He says the biggest trigger to open the store was when he lost his job as vice president for operations at Promise Regional Medical Center due to restructuring.

“It opened the door to this,” McComas says.

The Hutchinson store will open at 306 N. Main St. on May 19.

“I’m calling mine the Main Street model,” McComas says. “It’s designed for rural America. It’s a little bit different market niche.”

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‘Til We Meet Again casket company at Towne West Square gets a boost from YouTube

deereWICHITA — Not surprisingly, the ‘Til We Meet Again casket store has attracted a lot of attention since it opened at Towne West Square in March.

A YouTube video — “Death Comes to the Mall” — has since given it a lot more attention, especially nationally.

“We’re almost to 100,000 (views),” says co-owner Traci Cone. “It’s crazy.”

It’s proving to be a boon to business, too.

Cone was manning the store earlier this year when a man visiting from North Carolina stopped by and started shooting video.

“It happens every day,” Cone says of videos and photos.

Sometimes people won’t even come into the store to snap pictures or shoot video. Cone says they’ll sneak around corners.

urnThe more than six-minute, spur-of-the-moment video the North Carolina man shot shows the store’s signature caskets — the KU casket is the most popular attraction — and unusual urns, such as a fishing pole.

“It has been amazing,” co-owner Nathan Smith says of reaction to the video. “Business was already good, but honestly that video took it to a whole new level.

“We have sold caskets and urns all across the country because of it.”

He also now has interest from at least five people who would like to have a franchise.

“We have been inundated about franchising,” Smith says.

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