An American dream: what it takes to launch in the US

iwoca customer Sharon McGillion has been working to launch her product in the US for 10 years. She tells us her experience of building the business, from the eureka moment to pitching it to Walmart, and the sacrifices made along the way.

8 August 2019

Plenty of people have tried to crack America, some less successfully than others. Tesco, Fawlty Towers, rounders: all have failed to cross the Atlantic. Sharon McGillion, founder of Pressie Pouch, from Omagh in Northern Ireland, is on the verge of making it. “I love these days,” she says. “I’m knocking on the door of great success.”

Pressie Pouch is the salve of last-minute gift-buyers and time-strapped parents alike. The ‘peel-and-seal’ gift bag is a simple solution to that familiar panic we’ve all felt when struggling to find tape, or simply don't have time for fancy wrapping.

But beyond its time-saving uses, Pressie Pouch also benefits an underserved demographic – people who have difficulties with their mobility.

McGillion’s founding story takes us back 10 years, when she was bedridden with a long-term illness and her son was due to go to a birthday party, with a present for his friend.

“I couldn’t think about getting wrapping paper, so I thought, ‘I’ll just go to the shop in the morning and sort it.’ I wrapped it then and there in the local SPAR, taking my sellotape and scissors with me. I didn’t care because I was so unwell.”

It was then McGillion had her self-professed eureka moment. “I thought, ‘This is going to happen every time my son goes to a birthday party.’ And I imagined how great it would be if there was something out there you could just take off the shelf, that was made of paper and would just hold a gift without tape, scissors, or anything apart from a pen.”

After she started the business in retail in the UK, Pressie Pouch is now being distributed in the US through a catalogue company called Starcrest, which serves older demographics. “People at home who may have issues with their hands, or can’t get to the shops – my product is perfect for them,” she says. “Or for someone who can’t handle scissors. If it’s ordered from a catalogue then you don’t even have to leave the house.”

McGillion’s product has come full-circle, from her own illness to serving those who may also be in difficulty. She's candid about how tough the last 10 years have been. “If it was easy,” she says, “everyone would do it. There’s a certain type of person who does succeed because they can stay at it.”

The change from retail in the UK to online and catalogue distribution in the US has come with its own financial challenges. McGillion didn’t have the funds to leave her full-time job, and was juggling her job with motherhood, as well as getting her business off the ground. She says that if she ever writes a book, it’ll include a response she says she was given by bank: “Come back to us when you’re on your feet again. You’re just a single mum with an idea.”

Pressie Pouch is now slated to be presented to Walmart.

“I’ve battled through a lot of lean winters, because I believed in myself and my products,” says McGillion. “No clothes, no fancy holidays. You put any extra funds back into your business in order to launch a product. My son is my priority, if he wants he gets, and I do without. I keep him posted every day on developments in the business, and we’ve had to sacrifice luxuries to make it work.”

Sacrifice has been integral to the success of her business. “Even my accountant said to me that anyone else would have thrown in the towel years ago,” says McGillion. “But I could see my end goal even 10 years ago, and now I’m knocking on the door.”

The mother of one is keen to emphasise the hard work that’s gone into the venture – one that’s only now starting to reap rewards. “The harder the climb, the harder you go at it,” she says. Her own personal American dream.

Words by Victoria Gawlik

Vic Gawlik writes articles, tweets and the 9 to when? newsletter. 9 to when? brings news and views from the world of small business straight to your inbox.

Article updated on: 8 August 2019

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