Entrepreneur in Glass
entre Wellington lost a successful entrepreneur when Elke Kitras succumbed to leukemia on July 27, 1999 after a three-year battle. As co-founders of Kitras Art Glass Inc., Elke and Stephen Kitras established Canada’s largest production glass-blowing studio in Fergus. Although Stephen’s ability to handle molten glass is certainly pivotal, much of the company’s success can be attributed to Elke’s natural entrepreneurial spirit.
Elke had an instinctual understanding that people need beautiful things in their lives. As a child she collected shiny rocks from a neighbour’s driveway and peddled them throughout the neighbourhood. As an adult she founded two successful giftware companies, both of which continue to thrive today. According to Elke, “It is the mission of Kitras Art Glass Inc. to design and produce beautiful glass objects for the enjoyment of the general public. It is our belief that beautiful things enhance the enjoyment of everyday life. When surrounded by beauty the spirit is uplifted. We feel that beautiful objects should be affordable, not only to the elite.”
A difficult home life forced Elke to drop out of high school and she spent her early adulthood working as a waitress struggling to make ends meet. She entered university as a mature student, studying ethics and philosophy, concepts that she was later to apply in the business setting. At university she met and married engineering student Stephen Kitras. Elke’s achievements grew from a modest home-based craft business. As a young mother at home with small children, Elke experimented with a series of retail craft enterprises. She finally found success with salt dough Christmas ornaments. In the meantime, Stephen still searched for his calling, until Elke encouraged him to attend a workshop on glass-blowing at the Harbourfront Studio in Toronto.
We feel that beautiful objects should be affordable, not only to the elite.
Elke’s teddy bear salt dough ornaments generated sufficient income to support the family and send Stephen to Sheridan College, where he studied the art of glass-blowing. This first business experience taught Elke the importance of good product design, efficient production, and consistent quality. One-of-a-kind artwork is admirable, but Elke realised that to generate consistent income a craft needs to be reduced to a formula that guarantees consistent quality. As her retail salt dough business grew, Elke eventually moved into wholesale trade shows and set up shop in the old firehall in Fergus.
Elke began to carry Stephen’s blown glass as an additional line in her booth. Eventually she was faced with the enviable problem of choosing between two booming businesses. She made the decision to let the salt dough business go. (That business continues to flourish today; it is based in Vancouver and still has many of Elke’s original designs.) Elke chose to enter into partnership with Stephen to form Kitras Art Glass Inc. Her natural marketing savvy combined well with his technical design expertise.
Over the last six years Kitras Art Glass Inc. has developed a highly successful giftware line including pressed, cast and blown glass products. Under Elke’s guidance, the focus has been on creating beautiful, high-quality glass ornaments priced so that they may be enjoyed by the average person. What began as a one-person operation, with Elke shipping product from the dining room table, is now a busy production studio employing over 30 people. The company does business all over North America, as well as in Great Britain and New Zealand.
Elke wrote, “It is the goal of Kitras Art Glass Inc. to be recognized as an excellent Canadian glass-blowing studio that produces beautiful and affordable decorative glass objects. We strive to foster skill and pride in the glass-blowing by offering opportunities to learn the art and to develop a local tradition for glass-blowing.”
Elke was the personification of a ‘90s businesswoman. She managed the household, raised four children, and was an active community volunteer, as well as the driving force behind a successful giftware business. Many people knew her from her work with St. Joseph School, the Centre Wellington Children’s Drama Club, Fergus and District Soccer, the Fergus Flippers Swim Club, the Saultos Gymnastics Club, and the Guelph Synchronized Swimming Club. She led Kitras Art Glass Inc. not only in its creation of a top-quality product, but also in the development of a high standard of customer service. Her prime objectives were always to facilitate sales for her retailers and create a safe and stable work environment for her employees. She and Stephen managed to make artwork that they loved into a financially successful business. Elke Kitras will be missed, but her legacy will survive.
In Memoriam by Marion Reidel, Winter 2000