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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 30, 2013 5 years ago

Quick Churn

The delicate business of dying has turned into a fast-growth opportunity for a local entrepreneur. Her challenge is to harness it.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Death doesn't put off Andrea Bogard.

At least not in the business sense, where Bogard runs one of the more unique companies on the Gulf Coast: Bogati Urns, which sells hundreds of memorial urns for adults, children, infants and pets.

It's not only unique, but it's growing fast. Sales at the Sarasota-based company, which Bogard founded out of her house in 2004, doubled in 2012 and are up 60% so far in 2013. Bogard says Bogati Urns, with clients nationwide and in 25 countries, from Mexico to Germany, should easily surpass $1 million in sales next year. The company recently hired three employees, including Bogard's husband, Scott Curnutt, to help Bogard handle the growth.

“We just keep growing and growing,” says Bogard. “It's been incredible. Business has been booming.”

Bogati Urns sells a variety of product lines, including hardwood, alloy, brass, crystal and biodegradable selections, both wholesale to funeral homes and directly to consumers online. Retail prices range from $22.50 for a brass cremation urn to $395 for a lead crystal urn.

A few urns are based on Bogard's own designs, while others are standard patterns. Most of the urns are made in India and shipped to Sarasota, but some Bogati products are made in Poland, China, Australia and the United States. Bogard recently found another manufacturer in Estonia.

Bogard says the growth at Bogati Urns has come so fast, she faces two previously unforeseen challenges. One is simply managing the expansion, including a 6,800-square-foot warehouse/office the firm moved into in June in the Northgate Business Park, a few miles north of downtown Sarasota. Bogard had run the business from her house and some rented storage units, then a few smaller offices. Now she has a lease with an option to buy the current building for $365,000 within 24 months.

Bogard has run the business to this point on limited debt, but she recently secured her first line of credit, with Synovus Bank. “If I'm looking to grow,” she says, “I can't do it all on cash basis.”

Another challenge is to thwart a growing list of national competitors, which now include Amazon and Wal-Mart. There are a few urn companies in the region, though most others that sell urns on the Gulf Coast also offer cremation services. That turns it into a different business, and Bogard wants to focus strictly on urn sales.

Her strategy on the competitor side is to remain nimble. For example, most other urn distributors, like one based in Ohio and another in Brooklyn, N.Y., have staid product catalogs and rarely add something new, says Bogard.

But Bogard aims to stay ahead of industry trends. That's why she recently added a line of remembrance accessories and urn adornments, including necklaces and medallions. She's also added several new pet urn designs, following a growth trend in that niche segment. “Most competitors aren't able to change their selection as often as we can,” says Bogard. “You have to innovative, because everyone is basically selling the same old stuff.”

Bogard, 51, founded the business initially from some sales she did with her first husband, who imported home accessories from Poland. Back then, in 2004, it was for extra income to supplement a nursing career. Bogard had been a registered nurse with a home health care program run by Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and after that with a private firm. But that firm hit some financial issues and Bogard was laid off in 2011.

That's when Bogard decided to focus fulltime on Bogati Urns. The layoff, in retrospect, was a blessing — even with the looming challenges. “I liked nursing, but I always wanted a second career,” Bogard says. “It's the most freeing thing in the world, to own your own business.”

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