10 Mom-and-Pop Businesses That Turned Into Empires

by Staff Writer

As much as people love mom-and-pop businesses, it can be hard for these small shops to compete with the big guys. Nonetheless, some of the biggest and most successful companies in the world got their start as a small mom-and-pop business. Many of these small business owners never envisioned becoming international corporate giants, but when you've got a great idea, the sky is the limit. Here are 10 mom-and-pop businesses that turned into empires:

  1. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf

    The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, also known as "The Bean" to loyal customers, is a Los Angeles based, family-run coffee and tea company that's owned and operated by International Coffee & Tea, LLC. Today, The Bean has approximately 350 company-owned stores, with locations in Southern California, Las Vegas, Honolulu, New York City and Southeast Asia. Today, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf is considered a major competitor of Starbucks, but it wasn't always a mega coffee chain. The Coffee Bean came from much more humble beginnings as a mom-and-pop coffee shop started by Herbert B. Hyman in 1963. Hyman was committed to finding and serving the best coffee and tea in the world. Since then, The Bean has grown into one of the biggest and best coffee and tea companies in the world, offering more than 40 coffee and tea varieties.

  2. Ben & Jerry's

    Ben & Jerry's is a quirky ice cream company that's best known for its creatively-named flavors and outspoken political advocacy. Ben & Jerry's was founded by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, who opened up their first ice cream shop in a rundown gas station in Burlington, Vt., in 1978. The mom-and-pop business became an instant success and its annual sales continued to skyrocket each year. In 2000, global giant Unilever bought out Ben & Jerry's for about $326 million in order to eliminate competition with the corporation's brands, Breyer's and Good Humor. Even though the mom-and-pop ice cream business was bought out, it has managed to maintain its lighthearted humor and commitment to social causes that made it unique and likeable from the beginning.

  3. Party Pieces

    Party Pieces is one of the biggest online and catalogue party supplies companies in the UK. The successful homegrown business was started by Carole and Michael Middleton, the parents of Princess Catherine Middleton. In 1987, Carole launched the mom-and-pop company out of frustration when she couldn't find affordable party bag gifts for her children's parties. Her husband, Michael, quit his job to help run the business from the family's backyard shed. Party Pieces grew rapidly and the Middletons moved their operations to three converted farm buildings outside of London. Despite its success and growth as a partnership, Party Pieces has maintained its family business model and Carole continues to be involved in the sourcing and developing of new party products. Even though Party Pieces and the Middletons aren't required to disclose the company's earnings, it's likely that the company received an extra boost in business during the royal engagement and wedding.

  4. Energy Brands

    Energy Brands, also known as Glacéau, is a privately-owned subsidiary of Coca-Cola Company that's best known for its enhanced water products, such as Smartwater and Vitaminwater. Energy Brands was founded in 1996 by J. Darius Bikoff, who distributed his enhanced drinks to health food stores, independent retailers and mom-and-pop stores in the New York area. Bikoff's small business came about after the 1993 water contamination scare, in which he wanted to provide a sanitary and flavorful alternative to bottled spring water. The idea took off and Bikoff responded to the success by expanding the drinks to national distribution. In 2002, the Glacéau, line of beverages became the top-selling enhanced water brand in America and it raked in $350 million in revenues in 2006. The following year, Coca-Cola bought out Energy Brands for $4.1 billion.

  5. Wrigley Company

    The Wrigley Company is one of the largest and most recognized makers of gum, mints, hard and chewy candies, lollipops and chocolate. But chocolate lovers and sweet tooths may be surprised to learn that the Wrigley Company started off selling soap and baking powder before adding confections to the list. This family-owned business was founded in 1891 by William Wrigley Jr., who started giving merchants free chewing gum with each can of baking powder they purchased. Two years later, Wrigley launched Wrigley's famous Spearmint and Juicy Fruit flavors. Wrigley's gum became a huge success and he moved the company to its first factory in Canada, then Australia, Great Britain and New Zealand. The company now has 19 production facilities across the world.

  6. Wal-Mart

    Considering the fact that Wal-Mart is the biggest company in the world with more than 2 million employees and 8,500 stores worldwide, it's hard to believe that the corporation began as a mom-and-pop business. The founder of Wal-Mart, Sam Walton, started his retail empire in 1950 when he opened Walton's Five and Dime in Bentonville, Ark. It was here where Walton achieved higher sales volume by marking up items slightly less than other competitors. Using this successful sales technique, Walton opened the first Wal-Mart Discount City store in Rogers, Ark., and expanded to 24 stores over the course of five years. Since then, Wal-Mart has infiltrated all 50 states as well as 14 foreign countries, where it operates under different names.

  7. Burt's Bees

    Burt's Bees is by far one of the biggest names in natural personal care products. Even though Burt's Bees is a multi-million dollar enterprise, the company was built on very humble beginnings. In 1984, Burt Shavitz and Roxanne Quimby founded Burt's Bees, a mom-and-pop candle company in Maine. They used the excess beeswax from Shavitz's honey business to make the candles in an abandoned one-room schoolhouse that they rented, and Quimby began making homemade personal care products from the wax and other natural ingredients. In 1991, Burt's Bees became incorporated and the company started selling natural soap, perfume and their best-selling lip balm. In 2007, Burt's Bees was bought out by Clorox for a reported sum of $925 million.

  8. Yankee Candle Company

    The Yankee Candle Company may be the largest manufacturer of scented candles in the United States, but this candle company was built on humble beginnings. The Yankee Candle Company was started by a teenager named Michael Kittredge, who created his first scented candle by using melted crayons. Kittredge started making candles in his Massachusetts home and started selling them to interested neighbors. With the help of his friends Donald MacIver and Susan Obremski, the group organized and funded the mom-and-pop business. The first Yankee Candle Shop opened in 1975 and continued to expand throughout Massachusetts. Today, Yankee Candle has approximately 515 stores in the U.S. and sells products through a wholesale customer network of nearly 20,200 stores.

  9. Mattel

    Mattel may be the largest and highest-grossing toy company in the world, but this empire got its start as a humble mom-and-pop business. In 1945, Ruth and Elliot Handler and Harold "Matt" Matson launched Mattel and set up shop in a garage workshop in Southern California. The company's first products were picture frames, but after the success of Elliot's dollhouse furniture business, the owners decided to shift their focus to toys. Mattel revolutionized the toy business by advertising on the Mickey Mouse Club and creating the beloved Barbie doll in 1959. Although Mattel has seen its fair share of lawsuits and product recalls over the last few years, it has maintained its place as a premiere and trend-setting toy company.

  10. Whole Foods Market

    It may be hard to believe that Whole Foods Market was anything but the massive supermarket chain it is today, but its beginnings were in fact much, much smaller. In 1978, John Mackey and Rene Lawson Hardy opened up a small natural foods store called Safer Way Natural Foods in Austin, Texas. The couple later partnered with Clarksville Natural Grocery owners Craig Weller and Mark Skiles to merge the two stores and create the original Whole Foods Market in 1980. Whole Foods became an instant success among natural food supermarkets and continues to dominate the industry to this day. The Fortune 500 Company has also maintained its ranking as one of the "100 Best Companies to Work For in America."

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