Hillary Feder calls herself an “over the top, Type A” person. She’s focused, disciplined, knows what she wants and will go after it (her words, not mine). Her ambitious retail career includes being an assistant buyer for Filenes department stores and senior buyer for Dayton Hudson department stores. She now owns Hillary’s, a personalized gift store that makes “people that matter, feel like they matter” in downtown Hopkins, MN.
Hillary’s creates one-of-a-kind personalized gifts for both corporate (70% of sales) and personal (30%) clients. And when I say one-of-a-kind, I mean it. Nothing is drop shipped. Every item that comes through her store is touched by team members for its “wow”- which could be a personalized, hand-painted message, a custom commission, and special touches to the packaging.
Feder cites her number one accomplishment as raising her two well-rounded children and calls Hillary’s her 3rd child. Being a mother to Hillary’s has involved helping it “learn to walk” and nurturing it over the years.
It’s only fitting that the business concept began to unfold in 1989 as the result of a 3-year-old birthday gift conundrum for her son, Joel’s, friend. Trying to imagine the perfect gift, considering her own 3-year-old and household, Feder said that she knew that she didn’t want to add more stuff. She came up with the idea to paint a t-shirt with Joel to give to his friend. It was such a hit that soon after, other moms were asking her to make hand-painted t- shirts for them to give away as gifts. From there, things grew, Feder continued to make personalized gifts and Hillary’s was born.
What Hillary’s provides is more than just looking good to a client, business partner, family member, or friend. It’s about the ability that she and her team have to understand people to get to their core to create special moments through gifts. As far as corporate clients go, Feder says they want to know how fast she can make them look good and that it’s handled.
Revenue streams include corporate clients, individuals, e-commerce, and walk-ins. Corporate clients primarily include companies in the financial services, medical device, non-profit, manufacturing, and information technology industries. This year, Hillary’s is also expanding to the local sports entertainment industry by way of the Super Bowl. Hillary’s survived the application process to be named one of the Super Bowl LII’s Business Connect Program to the NFL hosted here in Minnesota. See the picture below of the super “bowl” that Hillary’s commissioned for the event.
One of Feder’s favorite stories and one that launched the business to a new level: In 1997, Medtronic enlisted Hillary’s help in creating a commemorative piece for the 50th anniversary of the first external pacemaker. She thought about it for a few days. She thought about what she knew about that audience. “Male dominated. 50 plus. And, to them, the heart is a piece of art” she tells me. The idea came to her- drop a replica of the first pacemaker into lucite in a creative shape and accompany it with what Hillary calls a “romance card”- a mini card with the story of Dr. Lillehei’s request to Earl Bakken that sparked the first self-contained pacemaker. Each lucite replica was signed and numbered. This is one example of how “at the end of the day someone receives a gift where they think ‘Someone really thought about ME.'”
Another pivotal moment for Hillary’s was in 2001 with 9/11. Hillary’s experienced an uptick in business. “Our world has been shaken. We need to be grateful for what we have, and take care of each other” was the sentiment. Hillary found that corporate clients were struggling with their holiday gifting plans. Orders placed one day were canceled the next and a call the following day to reinstate. Hillary and team went to work – how can we help people with holiday gifting that would be meaningful and appropriate for this moment in time?
The result was “the nucleus of our Gifts that Give program” stated Feder. The team put together red, white, and blue gift baskets with tags donning a poem, “United We Stand”, authored by the Hillary’s team. 10% of the proceeds went to a fire station in lower Manhattan. Hillary’s was careful in the execution of the promotion- the only clients that had been done business with Hillary’s for a minimum of a year were informed of the program. This ensured that the clients already had a relationship with Hillary’s and would trust the intent of the program. Those who purchased the baskets thanked Hillary’s, bought more, and thanked again.
From there, Hillary’s similarly created items in response to Hurricane Katrina and again in 2008 due to the financial crash. And once again, the team put their heads together. “Reacting felt bad”, said Feder, “We asked ourselves ‘How can we be proactive?'” In 2009, Hillary’s founded partnerships with Second Harvest Heartland and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the Gifts that Give program and is currently considering a third organization to partner with. The motto of the program is: “Compassion for those in need; People helping people, In the spirit of giving.”
The recession of 2008 hit Hillary’s particularly hard. The business environment had changed. This required a significant shift in how the business presented itself to the business community. Hillary and her team spent time asking strategic questions about how they were supporting the clients they served. The result was their realization that their clients all had marketing plans, financial plans, and strategic plans. What they did not have a “People Plan”. Feder acknowledged “When clients looked at recognition it was “event” driven vs. built into a plan to engage their employees or nurture their clients. A plan that would contribute to lowering unintended turnover and creating conditions for greater productivity”. And so, the next evolution, corporate consulting, was born under the name Ask Hillary’s. According to Feder’s LinkedIn profile, Ask Hillary’s provides “strategic process development and products around internal employee branding, communication and marketing to executives, human resource, marketing and sales leaders.”
So, what’s next for Hillary’s? Feder is looking to the future and knows that the next step for the business is creating the processes, building solidity, and infrastructure for someone else to someday take it over. And as always, keeping the business relevant, important and meaningful to its next evolution.
As for Feder, in the near future, she is speaking at the Retail Rally put on by the Minnesota Retailers Association on October 4th and to the Association for Accounting Marketing in November.
National Retail Federation Retail Champion Finalist (2016) The America’s Retail Champions program honors retailers who make their mark on public policy debates directly affecting the industry. Feder was recognized for her work in engaging elected officials on issues important to consumers, retailers, employees, and communities.
PPAI (Promotional Products Association International) Pyramid Award winner: (2014, 2015, 2016) Pyramid Awards recognize solution-based initiatives that demonstrate the effective use of promotional products, packaging and copywriting to create integrated marketing communications programs with measurable results.
Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal Women In Business Award (2013) Feder was selected for her professional achievements, leadership qualities, and contributions to the broader Twin Cities community.
NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners) Established Woman Award (2012) Feder was selected for her expertise in recognition strategies that guide companies to create better connections through practices that express appreciation in ways that are both meaningful and closely aligned with the company’s values, brand and business objectives.
MAS (Master Advertising Specialist) This certification is an advanced-level designation for promotional product industry professionals.
Certified Woman-Owned Business Since: 2004
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