Sharon Kurgis, founder of Best Popcorn Company, initially started popping corn and selling it at farmers markets in 2004. It started off as a way for her kids to have fun and to learn about finances and responsibility at a young age. Over time, the business grew out of the farmers market and Sharon's sons, Kevin Kurgis and John Ginter, now co-owners of the business, took the reins. Sharon shared the story behind the journey and how Best Popcorn Company has evolved into much more than just a popcorn shop.
"Where I grew up in Ohio, my grandpa had a farm and a farm stand where he sold corn, tomatoes, pumpkins and other vegetables," Sharon said. "I worked that farm stand with him and gained a lot from that experience. I remember looking in my pocket at what I made. That's where my appreciation for hard work came from."
Even though Sharon would go on to have a career in the financial industry, the hard work mentality and the satisfaction that comes with selling something you made or worked for never left her. After moving to Collier County in 1983, that thirst for entrepreneurship and hard work came back and the popcorn idea was born.
"In the early days, we really didn't have a name for the business," she said. "We just set up at farmers markets and had fun. The kids would take turns working the booth and their friends would also help out. We'd also work the Christmas parades and Halloween festivals. After a few years, people started asking us to supply popcorn for their weddings. They also asked about shipping our popcorn to various locations. When the kids got out school we had a decision to make. We were either going to downsize or continue to grow. John and Kevin decided they wanted to continue to grow the business."
The business moved from a commissary kitchen to a rent-a-kitchen, where they were able to experiment with different popcorn flavors and even started to make salt water taffy. They started doing more and more weddings and were able to package and ship directly from that location. They eventually grew out of that space and, after two years of dealing with permitting, a hurricane and renovations, they moved into their own stand alone building on Bayshore Drive.
"Our location is great," Sharon said. "We're truly part of the neighborhood. Even though the majority of our business is weddings, people still stop in for popcorn, salt water taffy and ice cream. The building itself has an old Florida feel. It's a little blue building with a white picket fence. It looks like a cross between Mayberry and a 1950s style cottage. It gives us plenty of room to enjoy our creativity."
In addition to weddings and walk-in customers, Best Popcorn Company also works with various trade shows to supply their popcorn as part of the welcome bags given to attendees. They're currently identifying opportunities to partner with more conventions, trade shows and hotels throughout the state.
Looking ahead, Kevin, John and Sharon are in the process of completing an addition to their building. They're adding space to allow customers to watch the production of salt water taffy. They're also focused on getting more involved in the neighborhood and will add bike rentals as an additional source of revenue. Sharon shared her thoughts on growth.
"We're small and we like it that way," she said. "We're not looking at franchising. We want to control our own growth. In fact, we planned this business to be the right size to where it doesn't end up controlling our lives. That happens with a lot of small businesses. We just want to have fun and put out a great product."
Sharon offers some great advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. "Watch your expenses," she said. "Even if it takes a little extra time to open, give yourself a financial cushion because things do sneak up that you weren't prepared to pay for. You don't want to be working just to pay your expenses."