Business changes hands: After years as business team, 1 brother retiring

Published 12:58 am Friday, December 15, 2017

The strangest things people want in casket designs?

Alan and Eddie Williamson should know. Between the two of them, they’ve worked about 70 years at Covington Casket, and were around the business with their father, the late Johnny Williamson, growing up.

“Did you hear they buried Big Foot?” Eddie asked. “I’m serious. We made a special casket with a head panel that said, ‘Big Foot.’

“We should’ve kept a book of them,” Eddie said of the special and unusual custom orders the company has filled. “We do a lot of custom stuff that big companies won’t fool with. People like that. A lot of times, I’ll be on the phone with the funeral homes, and the family will be in there with the funeral director. I’ll explain to them what we can and can’t do, and tell them, ‘I believe you’ll be happy with your casket.’ ”

The funeral business, they’ll quickly say, is shrinking, as more people opt for cremation. Yet the two brothers have managed to grow their business, even in that environment.

“We’ve continually grown, and we’re growing in a business that is shrinking because of cremations and alternative burials,” Alan said.

As a matter of fact, Alan said, the business continues to break sales records each year.

The company started in 1924. Johnny Williamson owned a Texaco station on East Three Notch in 1971 when one of Covington Casket’s co-owners approached him about joining the company as a salesman. In 1977, the elder Williamson acquired half of the company, and 10 years later became sole owner.

Thursday, the brothers and business partners who’ve owned and managed the business together since their father’s death, made a big change: Alan bought Eddie out.

“Eddie came to be last December and said, ‘I want 2017 to be my last year,’ ” Alan said.

Alan immediately talked to his son, Andrew, who was in school at McArthur. Andrew agreed to join the company, and has taken over his dad’s sales territory.

“He’s a third generation salesman with some of our customers,” Alan said proudly.

“I always thought me and Eddie would go out together,” Alan said. “But I understand why he’s ready to get out.”

Said Eddie, “Our daddy died when he was 56, and I’m 57. It makes you think.

“I want this place to be here another 100 years,” he said. “It’s hard to walk away. But I want to ride my motorcycle, hunt and fish, and spend some time with my wife and grandchildren.. I may be back to help in some way after I take a break, but I want to be able to do that.”

The brothers signed the paperwork Thursday, and Eddie will continue to work for several weeks.

The brothers recently added equipment that allowed them to diversify, and Alan has plans to do more. Covington Casket added a powder coating system that has allowed them to contract for powder coating work aside from the caskets they manufacture.

“We’ve opened that up, and we’ve done ATV frames, motorcycles, patio furniture, tool boxes, and even a cast iron, clawfoot tub,” Alan said.

They’ve also added a blaster that uses walnut shells instead of sand.

“Our emissions are down,” Alan said. “Even ADEM agrees it is more environmentally safe.”

Alan plans to add custom embroidery for caskets, which is currently outsourced, to the Andalusia shop.

“There are some changes I’ll make, but the philosophy will be the same,” Alan said. “We want to provide service to our customers, and give families what they want. That will continue.”