Do you dream of starting your own business, but are weary of its future success during these times of social distancing? Or maybe you’re currently in a larger city, looking to make a career change and relocate somewhere a little less crowded amid COVID-19. Whatever the case may be, it’s time to talk entrepreneurship in 2020.
That’s why we spoke with Andrea Gorsh, the founder and owner of Kae Apothecary in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, about her success in building a business and growing her own “apothecary community” in her hometown. (Yes, you read that right — Iowa!) Andrea’s journey to becoming a successful business owner similarly revolves around her city’s pride and sense of community. For Gorsh, the more she’s gotten involved with her community and the small businesses around her, the more successful her business has grown.
Read below to learn about her story and discover why Iowa is such a great place to start a business.
Question 1: Is your company or product any different today than when you first started? And why?
Kae Apothecary began 5–6 years ago when I first started doing the “mad scientist” work at my kitchen table and started getting into essential oils and all-natural products. I started with just a small line of about 10 products and only did pop-up shows for about a year. When my first store opened in the back alley/basement of my friend’s pet shop in Mt. Vernon, I was still working full time. I attacked social media furiously in order to get the word about my business out. I also started doing workshops and events to get the community excited about my store and products.
Today, Kae Apothecary’s retail shop is a blend of all-natural self-care and community-based soul care. We’re now in a 1,400-square-foot space — the back of the store is a book shop, and we took over the second floor and turned it into a community meditation/yoga studio. What was once just a retail store is now “The Apothecary Community.”
Question 2: What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
I like to think of myself as entrepreneurial by nature. Both of my parents are small business owners, so entrepreneurialism is “in my blood.” Little did I know, growing up in this environment would end up encouraging me to quit my corporate job and start my own business.
Question 3: Did an Iowa resource provider or your Iowan community help you refine your business?
When I moved to my new space in downtown Mt. Vernon, I asked the community to perform a fire brigade line to help move all my products to the new store, and around 75 people showed up to help me move into my new space. This exemplifies how, even from the beginning, my store has been bringing the community together.
Although I didn’t leverage any Iowa-based recourses or organizations in the beginning, I did utilize the COVID-19 relief for small businesses by applying for loans and grants to help stabilize the business financially with sales down. And I got most of the assistance I applied for!
Question 4: What did you see that was missing or that you felt you could solve by starting your business/creating your products?
I truly believe my mission in life is to bring people together. I wanted to create a place that feels safer than others; an environment for all walks of life. The apothecary has built such an incredible network — even if I don’t have something available or don’t know something, I can get people connected with an expert to help get them educated on whatever they may be interested in.
Question 5: How have you adapted your business to such unexpected change during COVID-19?
Like most small retail businesses, my store has suffered a great deal. Pre-COVID, I would host three or four workshops at Kae Apothecary a week. I made the decision not to have any more workshops for the rest of 2020 because it was impossible to plan. Now, all my workshops are virtual, so people from all over the country able to join, not just the Mt. Vernon community. When I closed my doors in mid-March, I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to open again. But the weekend of June 13, we opened for appointment-only shopping, which has been going extremely well so far.
Question 5: What advice would you give to people who are interested in starting their own business?
We’re sort of living in the wild west right now — you need to be able to change and adapt quickly in order to survive.
Question 6: How have you helped support your community during these trying times for small businesses?
I’m lucky that Mt. Vernon is a special place because all the small business owners are lifting each other up. I’ve been promoting other small businesses on my store’s social platforms; there are a lot of older small business owners in the area that aren’t as social media savvy or don’t have websites. I also started a Facebook group for small business owners in Mt. Vernon, giving people one place to go to find out what’s happening with the community and its businesses. I’ve always been a workaholic; now I feel as though my work is the community, and it’s a beautiful, symbiotic relationship.
Question 7: What are your words of advice or a key takeaway either for fellow Iowans or small business owners in general?
Support small businesses that you love and cherish in any way you can because they need it right now. Small businesses create the colorful fabric that is this state — it’s important that Iowans (and all communities, for that matter) stick together during this time. Mt. Vernon truly wouldn’t be the same without the shops on Main Street.
About Andrea Gorsh
Andrea Gorsh is the founder and owner of Kae Apothecary, located in Mt. Vernon, Iowa. She specializes in consultations and the development of custom tea formulas for problems like anxiety and insomnia, as well as lines of bath and skin products for customers who appreciate her high-quality ingredients and local sourcing practices. Try out one of her free guided meditation sessions on Kae Apothecary’s Facebook page or learn more by following Kae Apothecary on Instagram.