Selling “Affordable Luxury” - Ottawa Sun

From cutback casualty to enterprising entrepreneur, Elizabeth Kilvert has seen the landscape shift in her first two-and-a-half years as a small business owner.

After 10 years at Environment Canada — "I had a fantastic eight years… but in the last two years there were just so many changes to the structure, the direction, the lack of direction…" — Kilvert was handed her walking papers.

"I signed a lease, opened the business with line of credit against the house — all that good stuff you’re not supposed to do — and said ‘I better have my best first Christmas ever,’ to knock down all the ridiculous credit card and line of credit debt."

With her Unrefined Olive shop thriving in the Glebe — selling what Kilvert calls the "affordable luxury" of flavoured olive oil and balsamics — she was rewarded as a finalist for Ottawa businesswoman of the year in 2013, her first year in business, and in May opened a second store in Kanata. "So I’ve gone from being a casualty of the civil service to employing seven people and running two businesses," she says. But Kilvert can’t deny the imprint left by her former employer’s austerity measures on the city’s consumer confidence. "When you lose civil service jobs, you lose a lot of mid-level income jobs that support so many things," she says.

"And when you have an employment base like the federal civil service that no longer is stable, people are being very cautious and they’re not consuming as much. "When I talk to most business owners, everyone’s been saying we’ve been in a recession on the retail side for the last year, and definitely since January. You can feel it. "Economists say we’re not in a full-blown recession, but there’s definitely been a change in consumption habits, and whether it be luxury goods, fine dining, high-end retail, those purchases have gone by the wayside."

That’s where Kilvert finds herself in a delicate balance, operating a niche market business with a model that meshes well with changing consumer attitudes. "I think I’ve been in a good position, because I’m food-based and I’m affordable luxury," she says. "People are tending to be doing more at-home experiences — buying finer wine, buying better quality food and meals and entertaining at home instead of going out as frequently. "I know other civil servants who took that sort of a risk, and just wanted to be more in determination of our own path and direction. And I’ve always been passionate about food, so if I’m going to jump in to a small business, it might as well be a passion.

"And it’s an edible business, so if things go badly, I can literally eat my business."

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Written By: Aedan Helmer, Ottawa Sun

August 01, 2015 — Elizabeth Kilvert