Like Father, Like Daughter at Berk Enterprises

WARREN, Ohio – Launching a new distribution center for Berk Enterprises is just the first step for Reilly Berk, the company’s newly minted CEO. The oldest of company president Robert Berk’s five children, she assumed her new role three months ago.

“From a very young age I knew that I wanted to get involved with the family business,” she says.

The Warren-based company has three divisions: Berk Concession Supply, which provides products such as souvenir cups, paper plates and novelty drinkware; Berkley Square, which focuses on disposable cutlery; and the newest, Environ, which offers environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic-based cutlery and plates, bowls and containers.

Although Berk declined to provide specifics, she reports sales increase at least 10% each year.

Among the products Berk Enterprises sells are items it has developed, including the plastic lemon shake cups that are “found coast to coast,” Robert Berk says, and French fry buckets that are ubiquitous at fairs and amusement parks.

“We dominate the [concessions] market,” Reilly Berk says.

She began working part time in sales for the family business in 2013, eventually transitioning into operations, she says. She often attended industry trade shows and visited factories with her father and went on client calls with the sales team.

Part of the attraction was seeing her father and “the amazing things that he’s done since his dad started the business” more than 60 years ago, she says.  

“I also love the industry that we’re in,” she says. Where some people might think the company just sells forks and cups, “to me we’re bringing people together to create memories.”

Berk graduated from Kent State University in 2020, majoring in business management and minoring in marketing and international business. She earned her MBA last year from Cleveland State University.

After she graduated from college, “she had the fire and the passion to such an extent that I figured this is the time to hand over the reins,” says Robert Berk. “She’s taken hold of it and run with it.”

The company has a pair of expansion projects in the works: a distribution center set to open Nov. 1 in Jackson, Miss., and a warehouse it plans to build on property on Ridge Road near Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Vienna Township.

The Jackson distribution center will serve the company’s growing customer base in the South. “We have a nice piece of business in that neck of the woods,” Robert Berk says.

It will service customers within a 500-mile radius, Reilly Berk says. Berk Enterprises stores “a little bit of product” with third-party logistics providers. But the personnel who work at them are “not our people” and “not using our processes.” So items occasionally are missed.

“We realized that we needed to have distribution centers across the United States in order to be the most efficient and service our customers the best that we can,” she says. Jackson itself is “a growing distribution hub” with many companies locating there and is close to the ports, she adds.

Closer to home, Berk Enterprises entered into an agreement last year to purchase 36 acres of land from the Western Reserve Port Authority for $295,000. The company intends to construct a warehouse of up to 200,000 square feet, Reilly Berk says. The property transfer awaits approval by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The new building will “definitely” be more efficient, she says. The existing warehouse and headquarters, 1554 Thomas Road SE, is 183,000 square feet and previously housed a Packard Electric plant. “It’s not really set up for distribution,” she says. Features of the new building will include higher ceilings to permit merchandise to be racked and more automation to improve efficiency. 

Like most companies, Berk Enterprises has had to cope with supply chain issues, she says.

“Product was coming in late, and it was hard to meet certain customer deadlines. It was a very unpredictable time because you didn’t know what was going to happen next in regard to supply chain issues,” she says. Ocean freight costs have decreased and the company has “a much better grip on supply chain” issues, with plenty of product coming in and “a team in place to ensure everything is running smoothly.”   

Now at 89 employees, the company had 23 when Robert Berk started with the business, he recalls. The Mississippi facility will add another 30 to 40 jobs over time.

Reilly’s sister is an account manager at the company and her mother works in human resources, she says. During summers, her brother, who is studying at Ohio State University, will work there as well.

Reilly Berk said she appreciates having her father and other members of upper management ready to  guide her. At age 24, she stands out in her industry in terms of both age and gender. 

“That’s actually something that came up when we were just visiting a big customer of ours in California,” she says. “You don’t see many young female CEOs, especially at my age.”

Among the main lessons she has taken from her father are how to treat people and to never give up.

 The Berks see growing demand for the Environ line, as environmental concerns filter from the East and West coasts to the entire country. Opening a distribution center in Nevada “or at least something on the West Coast” is being pondered, she says.  

“There’s definitely things I have in mind for the future,” Reilly Berk says. “I’m always thinking about 10 years from now what could we do. Maybe it’s more retail, maybe it’s more e-commerce.”

Robert Berk expresses confidence that his daughter is ready to take the reins.

“The number one thing she’s got that gets me excited is the passion,” Robert Berk says. She is tenacious and has “a bright and solid vision” for the company’s future. Plus, as he does, she “thinks business 24/7 in one form or another.”

Having his daughter take over at Berk Enterprises frees Robert Berk to focus on his other passion: pinball machines. He plans to open a pinball museum and arcade in the former Santisi IGA grocery store building in Girard. It will showcase pinball machines – including many manufactured for the European market – and video games.

Pictured at top: Robert Berk and his daughter Reilly hold two of the company’s most popular disposable products.