I may have mentioned before (?) that I used to own a cosmetics retail boutique. This was in 2007-09, after I left my corporate job and had some big dreams about creating a job for myself. Honestly, that is an entirely different blog post because lots of learnings happened to me around that time! However, it was during this period in my life, 2007-08, that I was working with one of my wholesale suppliers and she told me that she was thinking of auditioning for Dragon’s Den on CBC. Up until that point, I had never heard of Dragon’s Den. Of course, immediately I started watching it! As an entrepreneur, I was interested in finding out how to get investor capital (I quickly learned that your company has to be MAKING money to get an investment!). As I recall, at this time I must have mentioned it to my friend Hillary in Regina (which is my hometown) and she suggested that I get in touch with her friend, Rachel Mielke, (another Regina-girl). Rachel had a successful line of original, handmade jewelry that she thought might be of interest to me to carry in my store. This was very interesting to me because a) Not many jewelry lines are based in Saskatchewan and b) This might just be the THING that I needed to differentiate me from other boutiques in the area. So I chatted with Rachel and she sent me some samples. Funny enough, around this time, SHE was going to appear on Dragon’s Den with HER jewelry business! I remember watching it and being so excited for her when she got a deal. And in the 6 years since her appearance, her business has grown exponentially. She has now married and become a mother too.
I thought Rachel’s story would be an interesting one to share with my readers. Ironically, I never did pick up Rachel’s jewelry for my boutique, but only because around that time I made the decision to try some different things (denim and dresses which was a minor hit, but ultimately, it didn’t save my business). However, Rachel and I have stayed connected through social media and I have a gut feeling that someday we will have an opportunity to work together.
Scarlett: You have a background in business from University of Regina (I think my stepdad, was likely one of your professors). Were you always interested in building your own business? How did Hillberg & Berk come about?
Rachel: Yes from a very young age I knew I wanted to run my own business, I come from a family of entrepreneurs so I always thought that would be the route for me as well.
Scarlett: How were you able to grow your business from a hobby-type business to what it is today?
Rachel: My mindset from the get go was that I was building a multi-national brand, not just making jewellery out of my house. That impacted every decision I made and has helped me to grow to where I am today. If you want to run a serious business you have to do that from day one.
Scarlett: You appeared on Dragon’s Den in 2008 (and got a deal with W. Brett Wilson!). How was the experience and how did the new partnership take your business further? Are you still in the partnership today?
Rachel: Brett and I closed our deal in 2008 and he is still a shareholder in Hillberg & Berk. It’s been an amazing opportunity to work with Brett. He’s been a mentor, friend and huge supporter of H&B. The partnership has certainly helped propelled my company and I look forward to continuing to working with Brett in the future.
Scarlett: Because I grew up there, I know that Regina, Saskatchewan is not a city that one would think would be a hub for a thriving, high-end jewelry business! How do you think that you were able to get consumer buy-in in your own, more conservative city?
Rachel: I actually think that people have a huge misconception about Regina and Saskatchewan in general. There is a demand for high quality good goods here and limited places to buy them so starting H&B from Regina was the perfect location to grow from.
Scarlett: Is your jewelry made in house or do you outsource the manufacturing? How many people are working at your company and in what capacity?
Rachel: We still manufacture about 90% of our collection from our location in Regina. We have about 20 staff now between retail, wholesale and private label sales, manufacturing, design, admin, financial and management.
Scarlett: What is your main source of distribution? (Retail, web, wholesale…)
Rachel: Our distribution is split between wholesale, retail, web sales, private label and special event sales.
Scarlett: You created a piece for the Queen of England this year! Tell me more about that.
Rachel: Hillberg & Berk was commissioned to design a brooch that was presented to the Queen in October. We chose to make an 18K while gold and Madagascar Tourmaline floral brooch that was encrusted with 300 diamonds. It was an opportunity of a life time and we were so honoured to have been asked to make this special piece. To commemorate the honour we created a special limited edition collection made from the same lot of Madagascar Tourmaline so that our customers can also have something in common with the Queen. That collection is available only until it is sold out and can be viewed on our website.
Scarlett: You are now married with a small child. How has this life change affected how you are personally involved with your business?
Rachel: I was single when I started H&B so I poured a lot of hours into the company then and was happy to do that, now I am married with a 14 year old step-son and a 1 year old daughter and the time I have with my family is more valuable than anything else. I love H&B but I am only willing to commit part of my energy to it now. Family is number one now.
Scarlett: Your company is very involved in the community and social causes. Tell me a bit more about that….
Rachel: When I started Hillberg & Berk I knew I wanted my company to have a deeper purpose that just making beautiful jewellery. Don’t get me wrong we LOVE making beautiful jewellery but we want to make women feel better and give back through that medium. Every season we chose an inspiring woman to feature through our collection and give back to a collaborate charity through the proceeds of the collection. Over the past 6 seasons our company has contributed well over $100,000 to organizations like The GlobalEnrichment Foundation, Miss Representation, Dizzy Feet, Stardale, Wings of Hope, Malala Foundation, ICRW and many others.
Scarlett: What has been your biggest hurdle in the business to date and what lesson did you learn from it?
Rachel: Every day I learn something new in business and that’s what makes it fun. Some lessons have been bigger and harder than others but at the end of the day you just have to keep going no matter the obstacles.
Scarlett: Where do you see Hillberg & Berk in 5 years? 10 years?
Rachel: From the beginning I have had the vision of being a global brand. I have been in business for almost 7 years and we are at the point now where we can start making that a reality.
Scarlett: If you could give a word of advice to other Entrepreneurs out there, what would it be?
Rachel: Keep learning and growing. Learning something new everyday to make your business better because if you aren’t then your competitors will. Don’t give up in the hard times, because there will be hard times that is a given. The good times in business make up for the bad times. Surround yourself with like minded people and find a mentor!
Twitter @hillbergandberk / Instagram @hillbergandberk
And there you have it! Another successful woman entrepreneur that started her business out of her basement and is now thriving and creating dreams for herself and other women. And what I find very interesting is that she did it in a community where no one thought it could be done. Rachel is and always has been an inspiration to me! Thank-you Rachel, for all that you do for women entrepreneurs!