"It was just a fluke, actually," Venus Smith says of how Couture Caskets got launched.
A few years back, Smith was in California visiting her brother, a mechanic who appreciates nice cars. They spotted a 1956 Thunderbird -- her brother's favorite.
"We went and sat down and ate some pizza and started talking, and I said, `Man, wouldn't you love to be buried in something like that?'"
That was it. A business was born.
"As soon as I said it, I knew it could be done," says Smith, 42. It took her two years to develop a prototype and get a trademark. Initially Smith wanted to build the caskets out of environmentally sound products, but she ran into too many barriers to making her Couture Caskets eco-friendly.
The company officially opened for business on Nov. 29, 2010. Smith works from home, but has to outsource a lot of the productions steps. She commutes from Pennsylvania to New Jersey to have the caskets painted.
Smith started with caskets for pets, but says her next step will be designer human caskets. She understands that for some, the notion is unsettling: "It is a fresh idea, but it still affects a lot of people in strange ways." Younger people seem to be more into the idea of a Couture Casket, Smith notes.
Thus far, she hasn't sold any caskets.
Retail prices for in-stock pet coffins -- ones shaped like a bone or a house -- start at $395. Custom-made pet caskets go for $995 on up. But that's a bargain compared to a human casket, which Smith expects to sell for a $9,995 entry-level price tag.
"I believe the idea is going to catapult once I have a human casket so that people can see the visual," says Smith, who is working on a Vintage 1966 Shelby Cobra. "Once it catches on, I think it will be like wildfire."
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