Pastime to Profit
Rachel Mielke, Founder & CEO of Hillberg & Berk, always knew she would be an entrepreneur. What she didn’t know, however, was that one of her favourite pastimes would become a lucrative business venture. But when friends and local buyers began to show interest in Rachel’s craft, her entrepreneurial spirit kicked into high gear.
What began as a hobby of making jewellery at her kitchen table is now a million dollar business based out of a converted three-story house in downtown Regina. Formally launched as Hillberg & Berk in 2007, the company forecasted approximately $1.5 million in sales in 2011 and grew to $5 million in sales in 2015. So what differentiates this Regina-based jewellery designer from the competition? Rachel attributes her company’s strong growth and success to two key differentiators: unique, high-quality products and commitment to philanthropy.
Hillberg & Berk’s handcrafted, artisan jewellery products are made using the finest semi-precious stones and metals, Swarovski® crystals and freshwater pearls that are sourced from around the world. Designed to be timeless pieces, Rachel’s jewellery caught attention in 2013 when Hillberg & Berk was commissioned by the Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan to design a brooch for Queen Elizabeth II. To date, the Queen has worn the piece on four occasions, garnering increased company sales and celebrity clients that include Celine Dion, Michelle Obama, Carrie Underwood and Barbara Walters.
In addition to jewellery design, Hillberg & Berk holds a strong, core value of empowering women. In launching the company, Rachel’s vision was to utilize the success of the brand to support women who face discrimination, viewing entrepreneurship as her platform to generate positive social change. Currently, 2.5% of the company’s profits go towards not-for-profits that support women through the Hillberg & Berk Foundation. “We don’t just cut cheques for different organizations,” Rachel states. “We really partner with them and live and breathe women empowerment within our company culture.” To date, the Hillberg & Berk Foundation has contributed over $500,000 to national and international not-for-profit organizations including the Global Enrichment Foundation, International Centre for Research on Women and Habitat for Humanity.
As a female entrepreneur, Rachel notes that one of her biggest challenges is being taken seriously by international vendors. “I have to prove myself because vendors see me as this young, female entrepreneur. When I travel with my husband, often times they will talk to him first and it can get frustrating,” she explains. “The key is to be culturally sensitive and fully understand the social environment of where you’re conducting business. We’ve worked really hard to build a good rapport with the vendors who treat us well. Those are the relationships we want to continually foster.”
Rachel believes the key support factors that all successful entrepreneurs, regardless of gender, can benefit from include having access to mentors, a peer network and financing. “TEC has been great for professional development and MBA-level learning,” she says. “The support I’ve received from the TEC community has been excellent, the speakers are outstanding and I always leave meetings taking new gems of information away.”
So what’s next for this high-performing female leader? “I’m really focusing on scaling my business to the national level,” Rachel states. “We have a big, audacious goal to reach $100,000,000 in sales within the next five years. For myself and the industry, that’s the indicator of being recognized as a national brand in Canada.”
Her advice for up-and-coming leaders is to “Dream big, don’t take no for an answer and don’t undervalue yourself.”
Member Fact: Rachel appeared on CBC’s Dragons’ Den in 2008, scoring an investment of $200,000 from Saskatchewan-native Brett Wilson for 30% of her company – an offer she couldn’t refuse.
- EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women™ Class of 2015
- PROFIT | Chatelaine W100 - Canada's Top Female Entrepreneurs 2015
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