Grandmother Finds Niche in Coffin Business

July 12, 2011
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It’s been only a couple of months, but Alice Reiter’s earned her new nickname.

The Forsyth County grandmother of five first heard the title while stopped at a gas station to fuel up.

“A young man pumping gas on the other side said, ‘Oh, you’re the Casket Lady,'” Reiter said. “And I said, ‘Yes I am.'”

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The name stuck, and she’s since become known by the title around town, with her boss and many funeral home workers. It’s even on her nametag.

At McDonald & Son Funeral Home and Crematory in Cumming, employee Mark Musselwhite said Reiter’s “definitely become ‘the Casket Lady.'”

“I think it’s her personality,” he said. “She’s very likeable.”

Musselwhite’s co-worker, Rick Wiggins, added that Reiter’s visually loud and unique van contributes to that overall package that helps her earn the nickname.

The side displays the Gainesville-based business’ name, Custom Casket Company, and the back of the van often holds one of its products.

Reiter said curious bystanders most often ask if she carries any of the deceased with her.

That answer is no, she said. Otherwise, she would be driving a hearse.

While the job may sound macabre to some, Reiter looks at the positive side of pitching a product typically associated with death.

“I think of it more of a way to honor somebody you’ve cared about for so long,” she said.

Reiter jumped at the offer for a sales associate position with the company when she learned what the product was all about.

Each wooden casket holds a mounted plaque that can be inscribed with the name of the deceased or something paying homage to a line of work, Bible verse or anything else to commemorate someone’s life.

Military and firefighter custom caskets have been popular, she said.

Appliques, such as stars, eagles and longhorns, have also been attached to the sides of the caskets.

Reiter’s favorite part about the caskets, though, is that they are 100 percent American-made, in Georgia no less.

“That makes me so proud,” she said. “Our major competitors are from China and Mexico. Ö I just hate to see that we source many things out and leave so many unemployed.”

Prior to entering the casket business, Reiter worked in commercial real estate for more than 30 years.

“Of course, that died and it was too big for any casket in Georgia,” she said of the downturn in the real estate market.

Reiter said what she enjoys about her current line of work is the people she meets.

She doesn’t directly correspond with those who have lost a loved one, but rather works with funeral homes and delivers the custom-made final resting places across the Southeast.

She said some motorists will do a double-take when they see a woman her age driving the van.

“I don’t mind being ‘the Casket Lady,'” Reiter said. “Grandmas are noted for a lot of things. But I don’t bake cookies, I sell caskets.”

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