The seeds of entrepreneurship are sown in interesting ways. For Melissa Aurora Adelbush, owner of Aurora’s Apothecary, it all began when she was 14 years old.
“I can’t swallow pills, so I had to make my own,” she said.
That led to a love for the healing properties of herbs. She began to study and learn everything she could about herbs and started an herb garden. When a friend came over with a headache, she pulled some peppermint from her garden.
She said, “I made a peppermint compress and his headaches went away. I thought, ‘I healed him,’ and it was such a great feeling.”
The love of herbs continued and Adelbush visited herb shops and studied botany in college. Jane Cole, the owner of a Green Bay herb shop, became her mentor and introduced her to Herbs in Thyme, a local group devoted to learning more about herbs. Over the years, Adelbush increased her involvement and became president of the group.
For 15 years, she dabbled in herbs while working at other jobs.
“I always wanted to work for myself,” she said. “My plan was to open an herb shop and become an herbalist.”
Eventually, while still working full time, her dream became a reality. An old general store in Morrison caught her eye. It had retail space for herbs, studio space for dance (she is also a dancer), a large area for gardening and living space. Although located in a small community, it met her needs and Aurora’s Apothecary opened in 2006 as a part-time business.
“My herb shop started out very tiny, but it grew and I needed more and more space,” Adelbush said. “The shop took over the dance studio space, and dance faded as herbs took over.”
Then, four years ago when she got married, her husband encouraged her to quit her other job and focus on the shop. Before long, a second shop was in the works and Adelbush decided to hone her business skills. She met with the UW-Green Bay Small Business Development Center, SCORE’s partner at the NWTC Green Bay Business and Manufacturing Center, and worked with a mentor, took classes and learned to write a business plan.
“The business plan was a challenge," she said. "It was very hard for me; I am not a numbers person and I hate typing. My mentor really helped me understand what I needed to do. We talked a lot about our purpose and what would set us apart.”
With most herb shops ordering products from someone else, it was easy to find a niche.
“We pride ourselves that we grow our own herbs and make our own products,” Adelbush said.
The next step was planning a second store. A competitive analysis showed that there were 13 herb shops in the Green Bay area, but only one in Appleton. With this information, she and her husband selected a location in Appleton and opened a second shop just over a year ago.
The businesses continue to grow with a wide array of classes, including a popular apprenticeship class that runs for a year. It is so popular that students asked for a second year and Adelbush has developed an advanced curriculum for those students.
She markets the businesses with active participation in local farmer’s markets (she can be found on Wednesdays on Broadway), on social media, and by presenting and teaching throughout the area.
“People still don’t know a lot about herbs, and I hope to change that,” Adelbush said. “I like that we take the time to talk to our customers personally and have hands-on discussions with customers about the benefits. I give my telephone number to everyone so they can give me a call, and they do all the time.”
Her husband now manages the Appleton shop while she runs the Morrison shop.
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.