Krystn Keller with Keller Works

Krystn Keller with Keller Works

On this week's podcast, Marcus is sitting down with Krystn Keller. Krystn is the founder of Keller Works Naturals, a business focused on creating all natural soaps and skin care products. Listen to this episode to hear her story about building a business after a battle trying to help her son fight eczema.

Produced by Blue Fish in Mobile, Alabama

Transcript:

Krystn Keller: I'm Krystn Keller, and I own Keller Works Naturals.

Marcus Neto: Welcome to the podcast, Krystn.

Krystn Keller: Thanks for having me.

Marcus Neto: Yeah, well to get started, and I think everybody that listens to this podcast knows what I'm about to say, but tell us the story of Krystn. So where are you from? Are you originally from Mobile, or did you move here from somewhere else? Where did you go to high school? Did you go to college? And any other pertinent information about who you are.

Krystn Keller: Yeah, I'm originally from Mobile, born and raised. I went to Theodore High School, and then I actually didn't graduate. I got a GED, which most people don't know that. So fun little fact. And I went to South Alabama early at 16 years old.

Marcus Neto: Wow. So you didn't get your GED because you were flunking out or anything, you got your GED because you wanted to get on with life, and go to college?

Krystn Keller: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: Wow.

Krystn Keller: Yeah, I just wasn't into high school too much at that point. And decided to go to college early. Went to South Alabama, and two years in I decided to move away to Birmingham. And I went to UAB for a couple years. And then moved back to Mobile.

Marcus Neto: Okay. Did you graduate from college?

Krystn Keller: No.

Marcus Neto: No.

Krystn Keller: I'm two semesters shy of a degree in entrepreneurism.

Marcus Neto: Seriously?

Krystn Keller: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: You would think that they would just give it to you considering what you've done.

Krystn Keller: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: But, we do that to highlight. There's no rhyme or reason, there's no path to success. Some people graduate from high school, some of them don't. Some of them have master's degrees, or doctorate, and some of them don't.

Krystn Keller: Right.

Marcus Neto: And so that's why I ask, it's not to put you on the spot or anything. But I think as entrepreneurs, we need to be honest with people that maybe listen to us about what it is that our life experiences have been. Because it shows a way to those that are behind us, that may be looking for ... Maybe they're looking for an excuse to not do what it is that they're wanting to do. Like, well I didn't go to college, so I need to do that first. And it's like, no not really.

Krystn Keller: Yeah, you don't have to. Most people don't know that about me, but I like sharing it. I don't find it embarrassing or anything that I did not graduate high school. Because I still went onto, I went to college, and I still went on to be a successful person running a business now.

Marcus Neto: Yeah, no that's awesome. Well, so you went to Birmingham, and what brought you back to Mobile?

Krystn Keller: I had a baby. I had my son Elliot, who's eight now. And I needed help with him from my parents. So my husband and I moved back to town.

Marcus Neto: Very good. And Elliot is the reason for Keller Works, right?

Krystn Keller: Elliot is. When he was three months old, a rash appeared on his face, which turns out to be caused by food allergies, and chemical sensitivities. And they told us it was eczema. And so after a nine month journey with that, and seeing 14 different doctors all over the country, I ended up making a soap, and a cream that cleared up his rash.

Marcus Neto: Wow. And just the studying this online and trying to figure out what people were adding to ... how do you do that? Like just concoct this potion that solves this? Because I mean obviously, I want mentioning before, I suffer with eczema too. I've got a spot on my wrist right now from my watch band. I have to watch if I leave water of any kind on my body, then I tend to get eczema wherever that is.

Krystn Keller: Yeah, that's pretty common for people with eczema to deal with issues like that. Bracelets, or whatever, irritating it, and then water exacerbating the problem.

Marcus Neto: Yeah, and so like I know enough to know that most of the time people are like, moisturizer to get the skin to not be so inflamed, and maybe some hydrocortisone cream to promote healing in the area, and stuff like that. But it's like, if you created a product that clears up eczema, then you have the magic elixir for people like myself, that suffer with this stuff. So how do you come up with that?

Krystn Keller: With my son, he was three months old when it happened. And we went to medical doctors first. That was my first route, and it was really severe, it would bleed and ooze, and everything. So we had to do something about it, we couldn't just let it go. And their solution was always a prescription cream. And the cream would work for a few days, but there were always side effects with these creams. Like it thinned his skin out, and if you barely nicked it, it would crack and bleed. And then it also caused him to grow little peach fuzz beard. And so you don't want to deal with the side effects of that. Some of them even had black box labels on them that cause Leukemia. And you don't want to put that on your infant, you don't want to put that on yourself, much less your baby.

Krystn Keller: And so I started looking into non-toxic skin care, allergy free skin care, doing all the research on Google University basically, until I concocted my own formulation that was nourishing for his skin, but also free of his allergens.

Marcus Neto: Wow. No that's really cool, I need to get some.

Krystn Keller: Yeah, I wish you would have told me, I would have brought you a jar.

Marcus Neto: Anyway, so tell us what was your first job? Your first crap job as I put it, where there any lessons that you still remember from that?

Krystn Keller: Yeah, definitely. My first job was at Cleveland the florist, on Old Shell Road. That was a really interesting experience. I was 15 at the time, I think. And my job was to clip the stems off of flowers, and prep them for the florist to be able to use. And then also kind of help run the gift shop, in front. And I remember on my first day of work, and I still wonder about this sometimes, if this was a test to see if I was going to make it or not, but I was asked to get into the dumpster and retrieve something. And I was kind of a finicky person at that time. So it was a big deal to me, but I was like, you know what? This is my first day, I'm just going to do it. Because I feel like it's a test. So I hopped in the dumpster, and got whatever it was that they asked me for, and ended up really growing with the company, and I think theo owner really liked me, and really took me under her wing, and taught me a lot of stuff. So yeah.

Marcus Neto: So were there any lessons learned from that experience? Other than people will pull your leg and make you do silly things on the first day of work?

Krystn Keller: No, that was basically it.

Marcus Neto: That was it, yeah. Maybe not to take life too seriously, right? And relax a little bit. Well you told the story about Elliot, but also there's a lot of structure that needs to be put into a business when you first get started. So can you tell us anything about your experiences in starting the business, and kind of forming it as a true entity verses coming up with the product?

Krystn Keller: Yeah, the business aspect of it was kind of foreign to me. Whenever I started the company, I was in the middle of getting my business degree. So I did a get a lot of help from that, and then through the Business Center in South Alabama, and I also reached out to the Women's Business Center here, and they helped a ton. But formulating a business plan, I didn't know how to do any of that. I didn't know anything about marketing strategies. I just knew how to make this body cream. And so it just kind of steam rolled into what it was. I never intended for it to be a business, but I made the soap, the body butter, and the salve, and people were saying, "Well we want to buy this from you." And so it just kind of turned into a business. And then, what was the original question?

Marcus Neto: It just kind of went from there. You answered it, I said, "How did you start the business?" I mean, I'm sure it just kind of grew from there. And you've recently had some neat successes, and the release of a YouTube video, why don't you tell us about that?

Krystn Keller: About a year ago. We did an article with aol.com. And I mentioned in it using YouTube to learn how to create my products. I would watch soapers make cold process soaps, and see all their techniques for it, and stuff. And I mentioned that in the article, YouTube's researchers saw it, and they reached out to me, and asked if they could do a marketing campaign featuring out story and our business. So I sent a film crew here about 25 people from LA.

Marcus Neto: Golly.

Krystn Keller: I think two weeks after they contacted me. And they followed us for five days, and just captured our story, and neat little thins about Mobile. And six or so months later, about a week ago, the video came out on YouTube, and in the first week now, it's gotten 80,000 views.

Marcus Neto: Wow. And that's a global audience too.

Krystn Keller: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: So just out of curiosity have you seen an increase in sales to go along with 80,000 people now knowing?

Krystn Keller: Yes.

Marcus Neto: Yeah, that's really cool.

Krystn Keller: We've seen an increase in sales, but also the exposure has been incredible. We've gotten a few PR things lined up.

Marcus Neto: Nice.

Krystn Keller: In the coming weeks that I don't think we would have had the opportunity to do if we didn't do that.

Marcus Neto: Yeah you're capitalizing on success. Success often begets success. People want to see those positive stories, and then they want to share them, and want to be a part of it, and they want to buy from people that are successful, and stuff like that. So it's really cool to see that that one article has spawned off so much.

Krystn Keller: Definitely.

Marcus Neto: And that's really cool. Now do you remember the first sale that you made, with whatever product it was that you created first, that made you think that there might be something to this?

Krystn Keller: When I originally created it, my chiropractor at the time, showed interest in it. And he wanted to buy some, because he was very holistic minded. And he expressed to me that he was opening a coffee shop which is now REDBAR Espresso, out in West Mobile. And he wanted to carry our products, if I would make them for them. And that ended up being our first wholesale account, and it was like the makings of my business, basically. I built my customer base off of that group of people.

Marcus Neto: Nice.

Krystn Keller: So yeah.

Marcus Neto: Yeah, it's interesting how just one person can kind of open the door for business to succeed. Now if you were talking to someone that wanted to get started in running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?

Krystn Keller: Ask for help. That was something that I didn't like to do, I felt like I was asking too much of someone. But there are people and places out there that really want to help other people. So just ask for it when you don't know something.

Marcus Neto: Yeah, well that's a great lead in to my next question, which is are there any books, podcasts, people or organizations that have been helpful in moving your forward?

Krystn Keller: Yeah, like I said earlier, the University of South Alabama, Mitchell College of Business, their business program has helped me get on my feet from the beginnings. They introduced me to Kiva Zip, which is a crowdfunding loan program. And that's how I got my first business loan. And it's great for people that don't want to use a traditional bank, and it's interest free. So that's an organization that I really love to support. The local Women's Business Center, if you're in Mobile, they're a great help for women starting a business. They helped me formulate my first business plan, and learn about things like marketing strategies, and they also helped me network with people that I normally wouldn't meet in everyday life. Books, I am reading ...

Marcus Neto: Can't remember the name of it?

Krystn Keller: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: Is it something-

Krystn Keller: The Art of Not Giving a ...

Marcus Neto: Okay, yeah, yeah.

Krystn Keller: That one.

Marcus Neto: She's not wanting to say The Art of Not Giving a Fuck, which is, I'll say it for not safe for work, we'll put some label on it or something. But I actually have started that book, and I haven't finished it yet, because I'm in the process of reading six books. And so far though, I mean it's incredible, but everybody that's read it has said the same thing that it's incredible as well. So yeah, that's too funny. I'm sorry, if you're out there and you have sensitive ears, I do apologize, but that is literally the name of the book. So you're just going to have to take it up with the author, not with us. So what are you currently working on in the business? And is there anything that you can share with us that as a business owner you're kind of facing that you're working on?

Krystn Keller: Right now, we're really focused on PR, and just pushing out YouTube video, as far as we can take it. And then, of course our biggest wholesaler is Whole Foods Market, and so we're working on growing with them and expanding regionally. And we have a Southeastern tour planned, to hit up all the Whole Foods, and as many of the mom-and-pop organic holistic type shops around those places. And Tennessee, Georgia, the Carolinas, Florida, and try to expand our wholesale market.

Marcus Neto: Very nice, I would imagine, I mean how has it been, because I think people hear about a video like that, and increase in sales, but what they don't think is that one of the biggest things that affects a business owner that produces a product like you is the manufacturing of that product on the backend of that. Because sometimes it can literally kill a company. Because if you can't get the funding, or you can't increase the amount of production that you're able to do in order to meet the increased demand, then it can really create a bad taste in people's mouths. So has that been an issue for you at all?

Krystn Keller: It has not, because we were ahead of it.

Marcus Neto: Okay.

Krystn Keller: I knew whenever we filmed the video-

Marcus Neto: That it was coming.

Krystn Keller: That I needed to grow the business really quickly. And so we actually went from making it in my house, to getting a warehouse on Government Boulevard that's just over 2,000 square feet.

Marcus Neto: Nice.

Krystn Keller: And then I hired another employee, so we have two employees now, and they began prepping immediately. And so we were ahead of the game before the video actually launched.

Marcus Neto: Nice, yeah. But this is the new norm, right?

Krystn Keller: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: You hope, at least. I mean, so it'll be interesting to see where you kind of go from here. Well tell us what a typical day looks like for you, when you're in the warehouse and working on things? Like what does your day look like?

Krystn Keller: Well normally I have to drop my kids off at carpool first thing in the morning at eight.

Marcus Neto: There's a lot of moms out there that can relate.

Krystn Keller: Yeah, and then I head off to the shop, I actually don't make the soap anymore. My manager Kristy makes it, and she's phenomenal. She actually does a better job than I do now. She's a really hard working lady, and I'm really thankful to have her. But so she makes pretty much all of the product, and I'll jump in and help if we're behind on sugar scrubs, or essential oils or something like that. And I help with labeling product, but I mainly do the backend stuff. I help with running the website, and do the marketing, and go out and be the face of the business, try to do a lot of demos at places like Whole Foods, and our different vendors. And I'm on the phone all day long, and I check email way too often. But that's my day.

Marcus Neto: So we're recording this for the future, so you're listening to this, and we recorded it in the past, whatever, you get it. But when I woke up this morning, I realized that I had plugged my phone into my phone cord, but the phone cord was not plugged into the wall. And so I was at 3%, and I was like, I have no idea how I'm going to make it through this day. It's not necessarily an addiction, but the reality is, if you're a business owner, you conduct so much business on your phone nowadays, whether it's responding to an email really quickly, or the truth is, we're all on social media for promotion of our business, and connecting with our audience and stuff like that. And then phone calls, all kinds of stuff. And so, fortunately I was able to plug it in, and just getting ready it got up to 50 or 60%, so I'm good. So I'm not having a panic attack about that, but for a moment there I did.

Krystn Keller: Did you know that if you put your phone on airplane mode it'll charge way faster?

Marcus Neto: Yeah, yeah. And unfortunately with the new iPhones, when you move it at all, it comes on, because doing that face recognition bit. And so yeah, even just setting it down, and just leaving it alone, but that's really hard.

Krystn Keller: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: So, who is the one person that motivates you from the business world? And I'm not looking locally, I'm thinking globally. If there was a business owner or an entrepreneur that you see on a magazine, you're like hey, I'm getting that magazine, because I really want to hear what that person has to say. Who would that person be, and why?

Krystn Keller: I really like the company Herbivore Botanicals. They used to sell on Etsy, maybe seven years ago when I started getting into this business. And I reached out to them when their business had just began to really flourish. And I've seen them become cover of Vouge type, in the beauty industry. And they're in every Urban Outfitters now, and all over the market. And watching them grow into that, but still take the time and contact me back, personally. Yeah, I really appreciated that, so there one group that I followed.

Marcus Neto: Very cool. And they're still in the same industry, so it's almost like you can kind of watch their steps and maybe not copy it, but kind of go along that same route.

Krystn Keller: When I originally reached out to them, I was asking about product photos and how they started their Etsy Store, and they told me everything about it, and gave me tips and tricks on getting more sales and stuff. And it wasn't like a competition type thing, they just genuinely wanted to help me get my business going. And so-

Marcus Neto: That is so cool. So we recorded Carla from Cakes by the Pound before this, and she mentioned the idea of we're often times given information by those that have been running a business for longer than us, and we have to absorb that and execute on it. But then we also have a duty to pass that information to somebody that is just getting started.

Krystn Keller: Right.

Marcus Neto: And so, how long have you been doing this?

Krystn Keller: Since 2012.

Marcus Neto: Okay, so seven years ish. Six or seven years?

Krystn Keller: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: And so, I mean you've been at this long enough, like are you also being asked now for information about-

Krystn Keller: I am.

Marcus Neto: So, and how are you finding that?

Krystn Keller: Yeah, it's cool. I get messages all the time from local people, mostly, that are starting up ... I have a friend that started a candle business recently, and she kind of picked my brain about some things. And it was incredible to be able to help guide her a little bit, and give her some direction on where to go, and what not to do. Like to retrace mistakes that I had made, and tell her, "Maybe don't do this, because it didn't work out well for me."

Marcus Neto: Yeah, that was important.

Krystn Keller: It was a good feeling.

Marcus Neto: Yeah, and it is, because you want to see people succeed.

Krystn Keller: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: And give somebody some information, and then have them come back six months or a year later and thank you, for hey, that information you gave, like I was really heading down the wrong path, and you kind of sent me down this other direction and it turned out great. I mean that's a really good feeling, because you want to see them on solid ground, and successful in making sales and stuff. So now, what's the most important thing that you've learned about running a business?

Krystn Keller: Being authentic, I was told by some people to just fake it until you make it. And when I had that mindset, I really wasn't going anywhere. And I was still scared to ask for help. But then when I became a more transparent person, and reached out to people and stuff, things started doing better for me.

Marcus Neto: Yeah.

Krystn Keller: And it's just like being real with yourself. Just be a genuine person, that's one of those things I've taken away from it.

Marcus Neto: Yeah, it's taken a while for people to kind of grasp that, but whenever I do a seminar, I say, "You really need to be your authentic self on your social platforms."

Krystn Keller: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: And the reason why, there's a couple of reasons. One I think it makes people understand who you are better. And they are somewhat attracted to that, right? So they want the authenticity. But also, the other thing too is, especially if you're in a service industry like we are, you want to work with people that want to work with who you are.

Krystn Keller: Right.

Marcus Neto: And aren't coming to you because you have put this front out there, that you're being this person that isn't ... you know what I'm saying?

Krystn Keller: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: So it's like, the more you put yourself out there, the more people know and understand who you are, how you operate, what your likes and dislikes are, and all of that stuff. And so they may choose to work with a guy that wears Air Jordans to work, or they may choose to work with a guy that wears Wingtips to work. Neither one's right or wrong, it's just their preference. But I want to work with somebody who wants to work with somebody who wears Air Jordans to work, and not Wingtips, right? So, that's my two cents, but ... How do you like to unwind?

Krystn Keller: I like to dance.

Marcus Neto: What is with the dance today? Carla said the same thing. She's like you know what's awesome ... what kind of dance?

Krystn Keller: By myself, in the mirror.

Marcus Neto: You got a little Risky Business thing going on here.

Krystn Keller: Yeah, totally.

Marcus Neto: It's just like, nobody's home and she's sliding across the wood floors with her socks on.

Krystn Keller: Yeah, that was me this morning.

Marcus Neto: That's too funny.

Krystn Keller: That and kayaking. I love to kayak.

Marcus Neto: Okay.

Krystn Keller: Like anything on the water, really, is my favorite thing to do.

Marcus Neto: I love it, I can just envision. Yeah, that is too funny. I don't even know how to recover from that.

Krystn Keller: Sorry.

Marcus Neto: I like to dance. What kind? Thinking she's going to say Salsa, or Ballroom, or something, and she's like, no, just like crazy dance, like I'm just by myself in my house. That's awesome.

Krystn Keller: Yeah.

Marcus Neto: Well, tell people where they can find your products, where they can find you on social media, that stuff.

Krystn Keller: Yeah, our office is at 3656 Government Boulevard, it's mostly workspace, so we have limited hours 10-2 Monday through Friday. But you can find our products at Whole Foods Market, at REDBAR Espresso, Aura Holistic, Red Beard's, Carpe Diem, Virginia's Health Foods, and then we have several more that are in the works. Also, online at kellerworks.com, we're on Facebook as Keller Works Naturals, and we're on Instagram as just @KellerWorks.

Marcus Neto: There you go, well I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast, wrap up any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share.

Krystn Keller: Thanks so much for having me, it was way more laid back and chill than I thought it was going to be.

Marcus Neto: Yeah, no, it's a double-edged sword, right? So if you're listening to this, I mean, it's exciting to I guess be invited on the podcast is what I hear, but it's also a little bit nerve wracking, because this isn't something that you do every day. And of course, I'm not asking easy questions, I mean these are questions that require some level of preparation, or at least thought. So anyway, so I know I appreciate being a willing participant in this.

Krystn Keller: Yeah, no problem.

Marcus Neto: Growing what's happening over here. So well Krystn I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur, it's been great talking with you.

Krystn Keller: Thanks so much.

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