100 First Street SW, Mount Vernon, Iowa 52314
Owner: Andrea “KAE” Gorsh
Hours: Monday 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Thursday 10am-8pm, Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 10am-3pm. (Winter Hours: Monday-Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday 10am-4pm, Closed Sundays)
Year Opened: 2016
Square Footage: 1700 square feet main level, with additional upstairs space dedicated to practitioner rooms
Products in stock:
Natural self-care (bath products, essential oils, skin), healthy alternatives to modern medicine or support for the body – such as pain salves, tinctures, Fire Cider, elderberry syrup, CBD tinctures, our own line of over 30+ custom herbal tea blends (with the option of creating custom blends for customers by request), crystals + specialty stones, books with topics as diverse as astrology, lightworking, spirituality, tarot, chakra-healing, meditation, and homesteading; An extensive collection of Tarot decks – specially curated to support independent artists and creators, tools and trinkets for the modern mystic or spiritual practices, incense and candles. A variety of wares that is always changing.
Inventory Method/ Software Use: QuickBooks & Square
Inventory Turn: 6.2 days
Sales by Category: CBD, herbal tea blends, books, tarot, self-care, crystals
We also offer COMMUNITY through our comfy chairs and a long farm-style wooden table for gathering and to encourage a welcoming, safe space, walk-in tea bar with our custom herbal tea blends, as well as a well-sourced variety of international tea leaves. Weekly free guided meditations, workshops – as varied as our books! Embroidery and knitting, astrology, runes, magical home spaces, and so much more! Events – energy shares, sound healing meditations, musicians, political discussions, Readings – psychic, tarot, astrology, palmistry, aura photography, Discussion groups – parents’ tea groups, Buddhist teachings, book clubs, and more.
Learn how Kae Apothecary, a charming local store in Mount Vernon, Iowa is promoting conscious living for health, wellness, soul and beyond through its wholesale and online businesses. The store’s business is grounded in its history of custom herbal tea blends that promote healing from within, and it is further committed to raising the vibration of its community through self-care practices, meditation, holistic health, and tools for modern mystics and varied spiritual practices. It places high value on local sourcing and sustainability. However, if a local supplier cannot be sourced, the store tries to find a socially and environmentally responsible alternative. In this little shop on the corner, it is easy to find unique gifts, a candle that makes you laugh, local honey and teas, as well as your next tarot deck or crystal. The philosophy is simple – to inspire, offer learning opportunities and answer questions, while not taking themselves too seriously… “inviting humankind to be both ‘human’ and ‘kind.’” Learn more details in our interview with Kae Apothecary below.
Why did you decide the open the store?
After beating cancer in her early twenties and living with celiac disease since, Andrea “Kae” Gorsh looked to more natural alternatives in her own self-care routines and health practices. Her back to basics approach lead to countless hours of learning and her own line of Kae Apothecary items – which have since expanded into so much more, including a retail space opened in May 2016. The space was housed in a former artist’s studio that was only about 400 square feet and only accessible from an alley down the hill from the local Main Street. It became tough to fit 25 people among products in that space on Saturday mornings for community meditation! As people found the space and created an incredible community within, Kae quickly realized that it was time for something larger. So, the shop moved to Main Street in January 2019. We just completed a full year in the new space, and it was a true learning experience – filling us with so much gratitude for this growth. The new space’s main level is over 1,700 square feet and has so much history, as the building was the original hotel in town in the late 1800s. It has a second floor that allows the upstairs space to house Reiki and healing practitioners, a quaint yoga and meditation gathering space, and even a small kitchen for employees to use.
How would you describe your store type?
We’re proud to be a small, woman-owned business in a very supportive town. It intentionally touches on conscious living on multiple levels in order to make it accessible for a broad audience. Our store is a bright addition to the corner of uptown, allowing passersby to often see an encouraging sign in the window and be enveloped by a welcoming atmosphere once they walk in. They find a variety of options for general health and wellness, but also encouraging opportunities to expand their spiritual practices or support their emotional health.
How would you describe your group of consumers?
We reside in a pretty rad town! Our “community wall” near the tea bar is always full of posters for upcoming musicians, arts festivals, yoga retreats, fundraisers, and more. It’s a bustling community! Mount Vernon, Iowa is a special place to be and allows us a wide variety of customers. It is already an artistic, unique community of individuals that embraces shopping small, artisanal goods, and Midwestern charm. We welcome people from all backgrounds – although we’re especially glad to be a comfortable space for members of our local witchcraft and Pagan communities. Because we’re so close to Cornell College – a small, private Liberal Arts college that draws students from across the world, we talk to people from all over. Our repeat customers are spiritually aware, conscious, intelligent, and always looking for great products and events to help live their lives fuller or lift up others around them.
How would you best describe your store layout? Do you often move products around the store to create a better flow and encourage purchase behavior?
We move things around ALL the time! One of my employees has a background in psychology and loves making things look more aesthetically pleasing, so we have fun moving things on a regular basis to see what customers will gravitate towards. We’re open seven days a week, so we move things around while we’re open. We always wait for quieter days and moments to do so. It never fails! The Universe inevitably sends us a bunch of people walking through the door just as the shop is in the chaos of reorganization. It’s often very inviting for customers, as we all laugh together, and they seem to look at the piles we’ve made everywhere. Otherwise, we’ve intentionally left the space feeling open and airy, with lower shelves in the middle for greater sight lines through to the back of the space. As patrons walk in, they see a long herbal tea creation table with shelves of herbs behind and triangle shelves to the opposite side. Beyond that is our tea bar space, a long farm table for workshops and gatherings, as well as a comfy couch and chairs for tea drinkers to enjoy or customers to review books prior to purchase. Small encouraging notes are found throughout on the walls and shelves, and we’ve kept the general color scheme neutral with bright white walls, black accents (like the self-proclaimed ‘longest chalkboard in Iowa’), warm wood tones, and some hints of sparkle. It is a space we continually feel at home in and that feeling was quite intentional.
As a store owner can you share with us a little bit of your weekly routine?
The most consistent part of my weekly routine is change. Between volunteer organization meetings, hours working at the shop, and family obligations, there is never a full week in my planner that isn’t scribbled all over with changes. But, that’s just how I like it. I love being able to make my own schedule, to change it as needed for myself and others. This is such an important part of work-life balance. Keeping up with commitments, but also knowing where your boundaries lie and when to ask for something in your weekly schedule to move and shift in order for you to be at your best self for each and every task. Over the last year, I have learned to let go of the anxiousness for being “prepared” and trust that I am always prepared and focus on being present for whatever is penciled in for my days.
How do you promote your brand awareness and products to grow profit margin?
We spend a lot of energy on working within our community and we’re always glad to hear when a friend has told someone to visit us. Andrea has joined the local community development group and volunteers on many boards and organizations in town. We always enjoy hosting groups around the large meeting table space, as well. In addition, our social media platform focus on Facebook (/kaeapothecary) and Instagram (@kaeapothecary) has been incredibly beneficial. We find that sharing behind-the-scenes moments and new products on the ‘stories’ features of both are amusing, engaging, and our customers love responding to them. We’ve also engaged in local news and publications as contributors (which allows us to position ourselves as experts and is often inexpensive or free publicity), in addition to some small advertising. When you own a business, it seems that advertisers come from all angles. So, we try to weigh our options of return on investment in any print publications with information on who the audience is, the size/location of our ad for the money, and then we reevaluate often.
Do you work with consignment products?
Sometimes, but only on a case-by-case basis and only with local artisans.
Do you usually go to trade shows to look for new products for your store or do you frequently search for new products online? Which trade show would you say is a “must go”?
The new shop location has allowed us the opportunity to expand in many areas. We enjoyed a trip to Colorado for INATS last summer for the first time and it was a great experience. This was particularly helpful in selecting crystal providers, publishers, and other unique options because we wanted to connect with the people behind those products as we expanded. However, our most frequented place for sourcing new products is Faire – a platform for connecting retailers with many unique products and other small businesses. We appreciate their wholesale costs, free returns on products that do not sell within a certain timeframe, and zip code protection. We love an excuse to travel, but this allows us a great deal of diversity and flexibility in our product offerings while managing things from the shop.
Do you work exclusively with local artists and made in USA products or do you carry imported products including Fair Trade?
We are very aware of who creates the products we carry and especially love supporting local, Fair Trade, and other small business wares. In fact, the local honey we carry has been sourced from a farm less than one mile away from our shop. Our own line of Kae Apothecary self-care products and herbal teas are also created in-house in small batches and we carefully source those ingredients. Our most current concern as we continue stocking new products is to find items that have the least amount of packaging or are packaged in compostable/recyclable materials.
When choosing new products for the shop, what is your selection criteria?
We love finding well-sourced, unique and artisanal items. Packaging of the products is important – as we want the branding to fit well into our space and encourage customers to pick up the products off the shelves. We love when someone finds something that serves their needs. It also must fit the idea that it will improve someone’s life in some way. Another hefty factor is knowing who is behind the new products. When sourcing new items, we seek out the vendor’s websites or reach out to learn who is making the products. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT! I can’t tell you how many times one of our customers has asked, “Do you know anything about where this came from or who made it?” and it is really satisfying to be able to say “yes” and share the story of the maker.
Any plans to expand your business to attract a broader audience?
Our main goal in the new year is to expand our herbal tea blend wholesale program, as we already have so many great blends that are well-known by return customers – including Immunity Boost, Inflammation Blend, Bedtime Brew, Energy Boost, Detox, Kids’ Calming, Love Potion, and more…. 30 more to be exact. At the same time, we’ve already begun selling more items through social media and online. This will be expanded as the year continues. An off-shoot of Kae Apothecary is our new website www.IowaDoesntSuck.com where we’ll offer some of our more ‘irreverent’ (though geared toward humor) types of products – t-shirts, sweatshirts, and other wares with our Iowa Doesn’t Suck branding, as well as our “Impeach-Tea” (a tea blend that’s super tasty and going to be “HUGE”). It began as a t-shirt inspired by an out-of-state customer who boldly exclaimed the sentiment as she entered our store one day and the exclamations of agreement have continued since. This will be an exciting year!
What advice would you give retailers to help grow their businesses?
Running a business is hard and it comes with a rollercoaster of emotions, a never-ending list of tasks, work-life balance, and a fair amount of fears. The pay-off is that you get to work for yourself doing something you love and the goal is to work hard, but have it never feel like “work.” We especially love that what we do might help support someone else’s journey through whatever they’re going through too – whether that’s a head cold, a divorce, or a full-on existential crisis. Our advice to other business owners would be to surround yourself with other business owners that you can talk to. If you’re not sure where to start, you can find your town’s Chamber of Commerce and ask, or even ask a neighbor store owner out for a cup of coffee or tea. It may be as simple as committing to shopping more local in your own life – thereby leading by example, getting to know other businesses in your community. While you visit, invite people into your space and get to know them. Eventually, you’ll create a space where you can talk more openly about things that you’re not sure how to tackle. Andrea did this a few years ago and it has turned into an annual summer Shop Hop that is organized between all the metaphysical shops of Eastern Iowa!
In addition, do all you can to take care of yourself. You can’t spread love and light without sending yourself some. Andrea schedules regular facial and massage services with a spa and fellow conscious-living store a few doors down from our storefront. She’s able to connect with other local retailers, support their business, and also support her own health. Also – remember to eat and drink water, delegate tasks to your employees (or consider getting an employee if you’re feeling overwhelmed), outsource whenever possible – like having your accountant help with bookkeeping. When offering health and wellness to others, we must always be sure we are taking our own advice and filling our own cup every day!