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The mythical American cowgirl and cowboy remain enduring symbols in a society preoccupied with smart phones and the transition to Web-based television. Particularly in Western Colorado, a segment of the adult population still lives to saddle up a pony and ride the range, if only on weekends.
And now, Steamboat Springs entrepreneur Maureen Totman is offering a way for cowgirls and cowboys to spend eternity in Western style.
Totman, who has revived her rustic furniture store, Hacienda Collection, in a new location on Steamboat’s west side next to Big House Burgers & Bottle Cap Bar, also has a new line of products to sell: Trail’s End Caskets and Urns.
Trail’s End is a way for Westerners to rest in peace, the cowboy way — in a solidly made pine box with hand-hammered iron hinges.
“We can line them with plain leather or with cowhide, and they are easily brand-able,” Totman said. “You can even take your saddle with you if you want to.”
She has three models to choose from, The Great Divide, The Legend and, of course, Happy Trails. One might expect to pay $3,500 at a funeral home for one of her caskets, she estimated.
Local SCORE volunteer Rich Lowe is advising Totman as she strives to take Trail’s End national. The reopening of Hacienda Collection is a means to that end, Lowe said.
“Maureen is like a lot of entrepreneurs — they’re very creative with lots of ideas rattling around in their minds. I asked her, ‘Let’s say $250,000 fell out of the sky, what would you do with it?’ Then we set out to create a road map, a business plan to take her where she wants to go.”
SCORE is a national nonprofit agency that partners
with the Small Business Administration to offer volunteer business counselors who match up with entrepreneurs. Lowe said he used a template from SCORE to help Totman generate a business plan.
They concluded that selling Totman’s existing furniture inventory at Hacienda Collection, or better yet, the entire store as a turnkey business, is necessary to generate capital needed to take Trail’s End to the next step.
Lowe is a former executive with XPEDX, the wholesale distribution arm of International Paper Co. That makes him an expert at efficiently and cost-effectively getting products to the market.
Totman has been traveling to national trade shows for the mortuary business, where her Trail’s End caskets have created a buzz from Chicago to Las Vegas.
“The response has been tremendous,” she said. “I’ve sold onesies and two-sies to funeral directors.”
Lowe understands that rushing to a local shipping store every time she needs to ship a large pine box isn’t going to work for Totman’s fledgling business. He is helping her work with regional distributors in the funeral industry to represent the product line.
“My mission now is to go with the caskets,” Totman said.
Copper Canyon connection
Both of Totman’s businesses have the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon in common. She has been working with an English-speaking member of the tribe for 20 years, since she first followed his delivery truck down an alley in Steamboat to buy some of the rustic furniture it contained. The remote Tarahumara have an abundance of native ponderosa pine, which they turn into a range of furnishings.
It was during a conversation with Kevin Sessions, a former Steamboat funeral director, that Totman hit on the idea of persuading the Tarahumara to build some prototype caskets. Tucker McGrath, of Steamboat, helped her design the caskets and communicate the dimensions to the Tarahumara.
“At first, they wouldn’t do it, and when they finally found someone to do it, he died shortly after building the first casket,” Totman said. “They totally freaked out, and it took me another two years to get them to start building the caskets again.”
With the Tarahumara solidly back on board, her business plan calls for gradually adding caskets made locally from blue-stained, beetle-killed pine while continuing to work with her friends in Copper Canyon. Their products would be finished in El Paso, Texas, closer to the source.
Totman ultimately wants Trail’s End to become a source of local employment. She’s working with Rick Boese on producing caskets here, and Danno Richey is creating casket linings out of tanned leather, cowhide and sheepskins.
“I’ve been blessed to have all of these people willing to help me,” Totman said.
– To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org