There is LOTS to love about Liz & Lottie. The East Village shop has only been around since July 2016 but is quickly building a reputation as the go-to place for high style goods at unexpectedly reasonable prices. The store features a beautiful and cheeky collection of housewares, home décor, paper goods, jewelry and so much more. Everything from “gangsta napper” baby onesies to “good in bed” pillows can be found at the store. If it’s sassy and classy, you bet you can find it at Liz & Lottie.
The shop is the brainchild of owners Nikki Maas and Heidi Blanchette. Their brand of fun and femininity shows up in spades all over Liz & Lottie. You only need to watch one of their Instagram clips to see this in action. The idea for a store was years in the making as Nikki and Heidi took on a new career path to realize their retail dream. Now, Liz & Lottie plays a big part in the revitalization of one of Calgary’s most up-and-coming neighborhoods. Putting together a new retail store during the midst of an economic downturn isn’t ideal, but these industrious ladies didn’t let that dissuade them. I chatted with Nikki and Heidi about what it’s like to start a new business and the inspiration behind “Liz & Lottie”.
- What did you do before starting Liz & Lottie?
Nikki: I started my career in finance working at a bank for and ended up in mortgage underwriting.
Heidi: I also worked in the finance industry and ended up working as a mortgage underwriter.
- How did you get to know each other?
Nikki: It’s a pretty small industry so before we ever met, we already knew about each other. Apparently we had a lot in common with our love of wine and tequila! We wound up working for the same mortgage lender and that is when we first met.
Heidi: We developed a solid working relationship and friendship.
Nikki: We had a very similar sense of humour.
Heidi: You know – the sarcastic, teasing and mildly offside kind.
- Where did the idea for the store come from?
Heidi: Nikki and I were having drinks one night.
Heidi: And we got on the topic of what I was going to do for work as I had been unemployed for a few months. The thought of opening a store is great and all but where do you even start?
Nikki: I said I would be interested in doing something together and that literally was it. We hunkered down and started researching how!
Heidi: Luckily we have a similar work ethic. Though it was an all consuming project, it helps when somebody is just as invested as you are.
Nikki: We talked a lot about what we wanted the store to look and feel like, trying to streamline our ideas into a brand.
Heidi: In doing that, we realized what a large role our grandmothers had in our lives. I had always wanted to own a store and name it after my grandmother. Lottie is such a different and fun name. When I found out Nikki’s Oma’s name was Liz, it really felt like it was meant to be. It fit perfectly with Lottie!
- Why did you choose the East Village?
Nikki: The East Village has this vibe and energy that is hard to explain. You have to come here to understand it. The whole concept of ‘building up, not out’ has done amazing things for our city by creating the urban lifestyle that many craved. With that, you need the amenities to support the urban dwellers. We couldn’t resist the thought of being the first retailer down here knowing what the EV development has in store for Calgary.
- How do you decide what to sell? You have such a diverse range of products!
Heidi: Haha, almost too diverse! It’s an ever-evolving thing.
Nikki: We made a few commitments when we started buying. The first is that it is a two-person democracy. We both need to agree on something before bringing it in. The second is that we wouldn’t bring anything into the store that we wouldn’t buy ourselves. The third is it needs to be affordable. And lastly, when we find something we like, we make efforts to source locally so we can help another small business.
Heidi: To say that we have a carefully curated selection of product is an understatement! We sit down and talk about every item we want to bring in and whether the value is there for the money. The questions we always ask each other is ‘would you buy this?’ and ‘what would you pay for this?’
- I love that you try to balance the local with other brands too.
Nikki: We are always trying to find more ways to access the diverse community of local makers. [We use] Instagram and visit local markets. We want to make it easy for Calgarians to support local and shop local.
- How have things been going with the store?
Heidi: So far we have been extremely fortunate; our expectations have truly been exceeded in every way.
Nikki: The EV community of businesses and residents play a large role in that and we are so grateful.
- What advice would you have for other business owners looking to get started?
Nikki: If you are scared of starting your own business, try finding a partner in someone you have worked with and trust. The weight of the decisions, failures and successes are shared equally which makes taking the risk a little bit easier.
Heidi: Take the time to research the business and develop your brand. Unfortunately there isn’t a how-to guide that encompasses everything, but the more you know, the less overwhelming it will seem.
- Your store opened in July 2016 during what is considered a economic downturn in Calgary. Did that hinder or change your plans at all?
Nikki: In the four months leading up to the store opening, Heidi and I were 100% committed to working on the store. Neither of us were earning an income and needless to say, our own personal finances were really tight. This allowed us to become even more sensitive to the economic climate in Calgary and further supported our commitment to fair pricing.
Oddly enough, the economic climate didn’t make us pause. It only pushed us to open. Yes there was a lot happening to people around us, our own family and friends, friends of friends. But celebrations don’t stop. Birthdays still come every year, babies are still born, you are still invited to witness people commit their lives to one another. And you do still treat yourself, even if it’s to something small.
- What else should Calgarians know about Liz & Lottie?
Heidi: We are obsessed with our customers – existing and new. We wouldn’t be able to do what we love if Calgarians didn’t choose to spend their hard-earned dollars at local neighbourhood businesses like Liz & Lottie.