Pine box coffin makes retro return

Wyoming furniture maker seeks niche for low-cost, no-frills caskets

Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2001

POWELL, Wyo. -- Coffins of the West are not a thing of the past.

Indeed, Coffins of the West is the name of a new business enterprise, which literally builds on the image of the simple, pine box coffins of earlier times.

Steve Cranford, Powell furniture maker, acknowledges that ''it's kind of a homey thing, a retro thing culturally. But it gives people a choice that hasn't been there before.''

Cranford has launched the wood coffin manufacturing project as part of his Cranford's Historic Furniture Preservation Studio in Powell. He moved his first shop from Hulett to Powell four years ago and has 10 years experience in custom western furniture design.

''Half the idea is to save people money,'' said Cranford, who plans to sell his coffins for under $1,000.

He has built and sold three pine box coffins. Armed with a new grant, Cranford is ready to step up the manufacturing pace.

The $8,120 grant is a Rural Business Enterprise award through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, designed for emerging businesses in rural areas.

Dave Reetz, president of the Powell Valley Economic Development Alliance, helped Cranford apply for the grant.

''It's the first-ever RBE grant in our area,'' Reetz said. ''We're just thrilled they have chosen to invest in a good business plan. Steve needs the grant as a jump start to get going.''

Cranford will use the grant to build prototypes and showroom quality coffins for brochures and to develop a Web site through which he will market his coffins.

Cranford got the idea for the specialty wood coffin line when he was working at a furniture company in Cody. The owner of the company asked him to build a coffin for his brother who was dying of cancer.

''We built a simple box and put his brands on one end and a simple family crest out of wood on top,'' Cranford said. ''They put a new horse blanket inside, and the burial was on family property. After the funeral, family and friends came by and told me how fitting the box was. That kind of gave me the idea.''

The prototype coffin plans include western design, with modifications to ethnic and cultural preferences.

''You could have Mexican/American, Asian or Indian styling,'' Cranford said. ''That's one of the ideas, to make it adaptable. People could paint their own if they like or put on their own markings. They can essentially design their own and still get it cheaper.''

Pine is the basic wood material, but other types of wood can be used.

The Federal Trade Commission has ruled that funeral homes must accept third party caskets.

''Caskets vary, but the boxes are pretty much the same, with the same hardware,'' Cranford said.

How many coffins does Cranford expect to sell in a year?

''Theoretically, the potential is unlimited,'' he said. ''But we'll just have to see how big the niche is.''

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