VOL. 130 | NO. 235 | Thursday, December 3, 2015
SMALL BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT
Brought to you by
Hard Work Leads to Success For Aunt Key’s Apothecary
By LANCE WIEDOWER
Carla Worth was a single mom of a 2-year-old, working two jobs and going to school.
Busy would be an understatement. But Worth also had a realization: Though she had several employment opportunities, she discovered she was pretty good at cleaning houses. And it worked well with her schedule.
Mallory Elkins, left, and Carla Worth are co-owners of Aunt Key’s Apothecary, headquartered in Crosstown.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
That was seven years ago. After two years of cleaning houses for another company, Worth went out on her own, forming Aunt Key’s Apothecary.
The inspiration for the business name comes from Worth’s Aunt Catherine, who went by Key and helped raise her.
Her aunt used natural remedies for a number of everyday items, something that stood out to Worth and would help drive her all-natural cleaning business.
Aunt Key’s Apothecary cleans residential and commercial properties and also sells cleaning products. Worth makes all of the cleaning products she uses, in part because it’s cost effective. But she also appreciated the example set by her aunt, who died when Worth was 13.
As her fledgling cleaning business grew, Worth needed to create a recognizable identity, something that would set her apart.
“I had so many houses and commercial properties so I needed to name the business,” Worth said. “I also was making my own cleaning products. All my clients liked what I was making.”
Worth said she believes clients appreciate the all-natural ingredients she uses. Homes don’t smell like products when her crew is finished cleaning. She adds essential oils as disinfectant and sometimes gives a boost of hydrogen peroxide or vinegar.
The Aunt Key’s Apothecary brand of cleaning sprays is used in all homes and businesses the company cleans. The products also are available for purchase through Worth.
“Clients started asking for the sprays, asking if I could leave them a bottle or make it for them,” Worth said. “I realized I could sell these as a brand.”
Worth said she is being strategic about how she offers the products before expanding. She wants to learn how to formulate other products that can go with the sprays.
“Making the product is something I’m doing anyways for our cleaning clients,” she said. “It doesn’t change anything for me making more bottles here and there.”
Worth continued working two jobs until two years ago when she left a position at The Majestic Grille to focus on the business full time. She credits the restaurant for some of her company’s success, in part because of the support from her employers but also because of the word of mouth that began spreading among Majestic customers.
Worth has grown her business through referrals and personal connections, which parlay well with the nature of services her company provides.
“It can be scary and personal for some people,” Worth said. “We try to keep it very personal for the safety of our girls and our clients.”
Business is growing. The company now has four full-time and seven part-time employees. The first employee, Mallory Elkins, is now a partner in running the business.
“The growth in the cleaning side of the business has happened rapidly,” Worth said. “I hope it’s because we’re really good at cleaning houses. Our staff is close knit. I think that’s a huge part of how Aunt Key’s works. I try to make them happy because if they’re not happy, they won’t do the job right.”
Aunt Key’s will clean homes and businesses all over Shelby County. Most customers are biweekly, Worth said, but some are weekly, monthly and even one-off situations such as move-out cleans.
Worth opened an office in the Crosstown neighborhood in November in an effort to give her better work-life balance.
“The last two years it’s been out of my house,” she said. “I’m separating myself a little bit and leaving work at the office. I probably work 80-hour workweeks. I’d say every free moment I have I’m doing something for the business.”
The office is also home to The OAM Network, a podcast business operated by Worth’s husband, Gil Worth.
Operating both businesses out of their home became too much. The OAM Network, which has 13 shows, was run out of the couple’s backyard shed.
“We could have 10 to 40 people at our house,” Carla Worth said. “It was disruptive. Once that grew and Aunt Key’s took off, we wanted to find something we could share. We needed to reclaim our family.”
In some ways, Worth said luck has played a role in her business’ growing success. But those 80-hour workweeks probably played a part, too.
“I had no skills in business management,” she said. “This all happened quickly and without prior knowledge of how to run a business. I’ve had to learn as it happens. That keeps me on my toes. And being nice and patient can carry you far.”