Vermilion Regional Breakfast’s guest speaker Rachel Miekle at the Regional Centre on February 7. Photo Shawna Chernichen
The Vermilion Regional Breakfast commenced on February 7, at the Regional Centre. After a delicious breakfast, ‘Oh Canada’ was sung and a blessing was given. The main event was guest speaker Rachel Miekle, CEO & founder of Hillberg & Berk.
Born and raised in Regina, Miekle showed early sign of entrepreneurship by taking rocks from her neighbour’s flower beds, washing them and then trying to sell them back to those neighbours. She also had a paper route and attributes a lot of her company’s foundation pieces to this job including customer service, supply chain management, efficiency and ethics.
“If you have what it takes to deliver papers in the prairies in the winter you might have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur,” said Miekle.
After high school Miekle decided on business school at the University of Regina but was unsure of what direction she wanted to apply herself. Being someone who is passionate about working with her hands, she taught herself to sew and started making jewellery but never considered it as a career.
“Living in Saskatchewan, the concept of starting a fashion based jewellery company and it being successful didn’t enter my mind,” said Miekle.
After graduating from university, Miekle took a position at Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan intending to learn what to do to become a successful entrepreneur. After seeing a pattern of failure she came to understand more what not to do in business.
During this time Miekle was still making jewellery and giving it away, still not thinking that she could be selling it.
A friend suggested she attend a nursing convention as a vendor and try selling some jewellery; she sold out of all her product in three days and was busy with orders for three weeks. This was the turning point when Miekle decided this is what she was going to do.
One year later Miekle was able to quit her full time job and focus on the jewellery business full time. She had a couple wholesale accounts, one employee and was working at the kitchen table.
Miekle was invited to the gifting lounge at the 2011 Oscars. It was a tough deciding whether she should go. It was a huge expense and she had to give away all of her jewellery, it was a big risk but in the end Miekle decided it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Unfortunately, the gifting lounge did not go as planned. While in the end Miekle did end up with one piece of jewellery being worn on the red carpet, the publicity her PR agency was able to generate from the story was what really increased her business.
Miekle auditioned and succeeded in pitching her company on ‘Dragon’s Den’ in the show’s third season. Initially she was turned down but later that day she received a phone call asking her to come back and pitch it again as they had changed their minds, and she was able to close the deal. This is the first and last time that this has happened on the show.
After this success, Miekle suffered a few setbacks with the turn in the economy and a few bad choices in business. She decided to take a different look at the business and decided what they worked well was their appointment only show room, which was always busy. This led her to believe that opening a retail location should be her next step.
The year the retail store was built was also the year Miekle’s father was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS). This caused her to step back from the business in order to spend as must time as possible with him. A month after he passed away, Miekle’s daughter was born, giving her something positive to focus on during that difficult time.
Being away from the company for almost a year, Miekle realized that things were starting to fail. When she came back, she decided to change the way she marketed her brand, using the strategy of women for women who tell amazing stories. Changing the way jewellery was marketed to something so different, encouraging women to buy jewellery for themselves and women empowerment caused her business to flourish. In the next four years, Miekle’s business went from $1 million to $20 million with seven retail locations in Saskatchewan and Alberta. She is hoping to cross Canada one market at a time.
With Miekle’s new approach, she was even asked by the lieutenant governor of Saskatchewan to design a broach for Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.
Miekle ended her story saying “look at your future with optimism for opportunity, for sharing your sparkle and just believe your sparkle is important and need to be shared.”