Jason and Brook Craig, of Council Bluffs, Iowa, had always felt that they should own their own business, but for years never pulled the trigger. It took a traumatic, near-death experience – as well as some help and advice from a banker at Northwest Bank – for Jason and Brook to decide it was finally time to make their dreams a reality.
In 2015, Jason and Brook started Grandscape Precast, Inc. and, in 2016, purchased Heartland Vaults. Under Jason and Brook’s management, Heartland Vaults continues manufacturing burial vaults and providing grave-side services.
“It’s kind of a crazy story,” said Brook. “We both have always had this feeling that we were supposed to do something on our own. It’s weird because I always had this dream of concrete, and Jason always had this dream of service, so it’s really crazy how it came about.”
Back when the idea of owning their own business lived only in their minds, Jason had a minor knee surgery which took a dramatic turn for the worst. Jason ended up with three blood clots that traveled from his leg, through his heart and got stuck in his lungs. He would eventually make a full recovery, but the experience led to them starting conversations about finally taking the steps towards owning their own business.
“We just had a come-to-Jesus moment and thought ‘hey, life is really short and if we have these dreams, we need to start pursuing them and praying about them,’” said Brook.
A Little Help from My Friends
After meeting with a couple of prospects, they decided to turn to a person Brook had worked with before at her previous job working for a CPA firm. They met with Kevin Dasher, a commercial banker for Northwest Bank in Omaha.
“It just seemed like a natural thing to talk to him,” said Brook. “He gave us insights and, if he didn’t know an answer, he’d refer us to somebody who did.”
Jason and Brook told Kevin that they wanted to start a business but were still in the beginning stages of envisioning what that would look like. Kevin shared with Jason and Brook that he knew of someone that might be interested in selling their business to them. Jason and Brook liked the idea of walking into a previously-established business.
After meeting with the previous owner and after a year-long process of negotiating price and logistics, Jason and Brook finally took ownership of Heartland Vaults.
Since Jason and Brook didn’t have the capital necessary for a traditional bank loan at the time, Kevin helped them get an SBA Loan. SBA Loans are backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration and are issued by participating banking institutions, such as Northwest Bank.
Well Equipped to Serve
Heartland Vaults has four employees and, sometimes, additional help in the summer. On a typical day, each staff member will be responsible for setting up a grave-side service. The staff will meet at 7 a.m., load trucks and go their separate ways to set up services at cemeteries. After the services are complete, they go back and start preparing for the next day.
They manufacture the burial vaults themselves and have them prepped and custom painted the night before. At the grave site, Jason and the staff do everything except dig the grave. Their services include setting up tents and laying green grass carpets to make the site look nice.
“We’ll wait for the procession to come out, help them load the casket onto our lowering device, and then we step away and let them have their service,” said Jason. “We’ll go lower the casket, close up the vault, lower the vault and tear everything down.”
Jason and Brook’s previous careers helped them as they went into business on their own. Brook, having previously worked for a CPA firm for several years, is equipped to manage the books, tax filings and financial matters. Jason spent 19 years working in engineering and construction.
“The concrete and precast part of it kind of came a little more naturally for me, but the depth of it, the grave site things, everything else that goes along with funeral service was completely new,” said Jason.
Jason takes pride in providing a service to families in need on the day when they need it the most.
“They’re burying a loved one and everything needs to be just right,” said Jason. “And so, it’s really cool to be able to provide that service to them.”
In addition to manufacturing burial vaults, Heartland Vaults also sells grave liners, urn vaults, infant and child casket/vault combinations, pet products and bronzing services. They have also started building niche walls at churches and cemeteries.
Building Business and Community Relationships
Working with Northwest Bank to purchase their business and for managing their finances has been convenient for Jason and Brook, even though they don’t live very close to a Northwest Bank branch. Brook is able to do all of their deposits with Northwest Bank’s mobile banking app.
In addition to the SBA loan that Northwest Bank was able to help Jason and Brook acquire, Kevin also helped them open an operating line of credit. For many businesses that provide services that are, for the most part, seasonal, operating lines of credit are necessary to help them get through the slower times of year.
“It’s crazy, you know, how it ebbs and flows, and sometimes it’s just, this month is awesome and then the next month won’t be,” said Brook. “So, we just need that security blanket.”
The thing that Brook values the most about working with Northwest Bank, however, is the relationship they have built.
“When I call him (Kevin), he knows our names,” said Brook. “He knows our back story. I don’t feel like I have to go through 10 people before I get to do anything. He refers people to us and tries to put forth that he cares about us, the business and people.”
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