Carla Worth started Aunt Key’s Apothecary in 2013 as an all-natural cleaning company. She’s since expanded to include a variety of all-natural products she makes by hand.
A business’ name is the introduction to what the company is about.
For Aunt Key’s Apothecary, the name goes right to the soul of this Crosstown-based cleaning and natural products business. Carla Worth founded the business in 2013 naming it for her Aunt Catherine who went by Key.
Growing up, Worth watched her aunt use natural remedies for a number of everyday items. And as she decided to create her own cleaning business, it was important all-natural products were at the core.
“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.”
A sample of Aunt Key's homemade cleaning products.
Today, the business has 13 employees with the plan to hire more. Those employees are responsible for the commercial and residential cleaning clients. Worth keeps her focus on growing the products line.
Business was strong in 2016; Worth said there was about a 40 percent increase in housekeeping and product sales compared to 2015. That was in part because of the launch of more products. In February 2016, the business added items such as lip balms, candles and body butters to the already existent line of cleaning products.
In all, there are eight cleaning sprays, four scents of body butter with a fifth seasonal scent, three scents of beeswax melts, lip balm and two scents of dish soap. And Worth stays busy making them all by hand in her home.
Two jars of the body butter, for example, take an hour and a half to make. But it’s that care in preparation that Worth hopes her customers appreciate.
“It’s trial and error and research,” she said, referring to how she finds ideas for natural ingredients to include in a product. “We take all-natural recipes and put our own Aunt Key’s spin on it.”
That might include using Banamine, an essential oil that also gives products a shelf life of a year instead of the typical three months.
To continue that product growth, Worth plans to add dish and laundry pods in early 2017. All products are available at Curb Market in Midtown. They also will be on the shelves of the new Curb Market at Crosstown Concourse when it opens this year.
Worth said her biggest seller at the moment is the body butter, a thick lotion made with a beeswax base and mixed with an aloe Vera gel that gives it a natural SPF of 40.
Mallory Elkins, part owner and manager of Aunt Key's Apothecary.
Worth’s natural products also are used by her in-house cleaning crews who will work for customers throughout Shelby County as well as outer areas including Fayette County. Most of the customers are in Midtown or East Memphis and tend to be people who have young children and are conscious about what chemicals are in their homes, Worth said.
For now Aunt Key’s Apothecary is housed in a Crosstown office space. But Worth said she has outgrown the space and needs something larger that would allow her to move production out of her house and would also have room for retail sales. Worth actually envisions a larger space that could house a new flea market-style business that she said would be “for women by women.”
“It’s things you see at pop-up shops,” she said. “A collective where women can put out their products.”
The business has grown, but it’s not because Worth spends a lot of resources on advertising. In fact, she said, most of the business comes from word of mouth and the occasional boosted Facebook post.
“I think it’s working for me,” she said. “It’s better than spending a bunch of money and blindly buying a billboard. Any extra money goes back into the products.”
Mallory Elkins is a co-owner and manager who works closely with many of the clients. She said many of them seek the company out because it’s an all-natural alternative to other housekeeping services.
“I love that using chemical-free products in your home is becoming a more mainstream thing,” she said. “I’d venture to say that 90 percent of our clients have pets, and making sure they aren’t licking or inhaling bleach after we wipe something down is very important.”
Building relationships also has been key to Aunt Key’s growth, Elkins said.
“We go a long way to make our clients feel comfortable with someone cleaning their home,” she said. “That’s a very personal thing. A lot of clients are friends and become friends after they hire us. Once someone uses us – and hopefully loves us – they refer us to more friends, and the cycle goes on and on.”