Sharing success: Young entrepreneur finds business savvy with friends in mind
Published 1:03 pm Thursday, April 12, 2018
Brandon Morguson blended right sitting in a black swivel chair surrounded by a flavored, foggy mixture of vape smoke.
His navy short-sleeved oxford shirt complemented his classic khaki shorts; his white gauges adding edge underneath his short brown hair.
The 24-year-old looked like he belonged, laughing in the lounge at Astro Vape on Bypass Road in Winchester. But he was the last person one would peg as the owner — Morguson said so himself.
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But Morguson has owned and operated the shop for about four years, he said, starting the venture on the cusp of adulthood.
“It’s one of the biggest things I’ve done in my life,” he said.
Outside of being a business owner, Morguson is a full-time student, pursuing a bachelor degree in computer science at the University of Kentucky. He holds an associates degree in science from Bluegrass Community and Technical College. He’s even considering applying for a real estate license.
At 20, Morguson said he saw how vaping, a form of electronic cigarette usage, was growing in popularity.
His friends regularly smoked cigarettes, though, Morguson did not. They would often step out to smoke, leaving Morguson alone and feeling ostracized.
Morguson disliked cigarettes, tobacco and its effects. Cigarettes were unhealthy, and Morguson wanted no part in that, he said. Vaping poised itself as the perfect opportunity; it was better for your body, wouldn’t stain walls or clothes, and it can smell a heck of a lot better, Morguson said.
“When vaping came along, I thought it was the coolest thing,” he said.
At the time he opened Astro Vape, it was a risk for Morguson, being young and inexperienced with an industry in its infancy.
But he took out a small loan anyways and opened up the first location in downtown Winchester.
“It was easy to see it would be a great business opportunity,” Morguson said.
In time, the business outgrew its original location and moved into its current place on the bypass.
“Fortunately, I had a knack for it,” Morguson laughed. “I would have been out of luck if I didn’t.”
It’s certainly not easy, Morguson said. He said while it’s a privilege to be the boss, there’s also a looming responsibility that follows him everywhere he goes. In a way, he never stops working, he said.
“The business is always on my mind,” Morguson said.
He said he owes a lot of the business’s success to his co-workers and employees such as his general manager, Gregory Reed.
“There’s so much I couldn’t have done without him,” Morguson said.
Morguson doesn’t vape much; when he does, it’s mainly to sample new flavors. However, his employees are the vape experts, he said.
There are many vaping hobbyists who frequent Astro Vape, but many of the folks stopping in are usually looking to quit smoking cigarettes, Morguson said. He believes vaping is a better method to quitting, compared to other products like nicotine gums or patches.
“It’s far safer than smoking,” Morguson said.
Some lifelong smokers have quit thanks to vaping, Morguson said.
“We have people come in that have smoked their entire lives,” he said. “And they come in, and we help them get a starter kit, and then they will be super grateful because they’ll come in and say they haven’t had a single cigarette. ‘I’ve been smoking my whole life, and nothing has ever worked for me, but this does.’”
Inside the shop, displayed in front of an alien, mushrooms and spaceships drawn in chalk on the black wall, are vaping models in all shapes, sizes and designs. Across the room, hundreds of vape juices from the house-made favorites — cotton candy yogurt, banana butter cake and the blueberry scone — to generic juice flavors line the walls and counters. Other accessories and merchandise are scattered among shelves and tabletops.
“We used to be known all throughout Kentucky for the banana butter cake flavor,” Morguson said. “…We felt like celebrities.”
People will flock from all over to buy the various flavors Astro Vape offers. Some travel as far as Harlan County and even Indiana.
Astro Vape also regularly holds meets and cloud competitions to build community in its lounge, a sizeable room armed with a few flat screen TVs, black leather sofas and a single arcade machine.
Besides sales, employees are also there to help educate and answer any questions one might have about vaping.
“Education is one of our biggest goals,” Morguson said. “Not only do we want to help people, but we also want to make sure they leave here satisfied. We don’t want to see them have any issues whatsoever. We want them to be happy.”
While Morguson is quick to laud Astro Vape’s successes, he said, it was because of his perseverance to not give up when that going got tough. What was once a full 10-staffers dwindled down to three. Sales have ebbed and flowed, as markets do, but the hard work hasn’t stopped, Morguson said. And that’s why Astro Vape is still around and recovered.
As for what’s next, Morguson said he plans to finish his degree and then work on opening another location somewhere that doesn’t already have a vape shop.
“Whenever you go out on a limb, have perseverance,” Morguson said. “Don’t give up. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned. Life goes on if you keep going on, and keep at it.”