While working at Neiman Marcus, Kathryn Jackson saw a void in the market for a product to protect women’s expensive shoes. Jackson explained that she founded Protect Your Pumps “to be the premier shoe care company for those who invest in nice shoes and want to keep them looking nice.”
Founded in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 2011, Protect Your Pumps helps women and men keep their shoes from getting scuffed and reduces the effects of general wear and tear. Jackson relies on two part-time employees and several suppliers and fulfillment centers around the United States to run her business.
“Our international market is big,” said Jackson, estimating that overseas buyers make up 30 percent of overall sales. Jackson highlights the EU – especially the UK – and Australia as her largest markets and proudly notes that she has shipped Protect Your Pumps to over 80 countries.
“I attribute our international success to the power of the web and social media,” said Jackson.
Once the company was up and running on Instagram, orders unexpectedly arrived from all over the world.
Jackson explained that, “Our product is a visual product. People want to see what it is and what it does and Instagram was instrumental for that.”
Jackson highlighted the role that tools such as Facebook, Google AdWords and YouTube play in reaching customers in different countries. YouTube, for instance, provides bloggers and journalists with a visual forum to share demos and tutorial videos, as well as to share reviews.
Protect Your Pumps offers three payment gateways: Stripe, PayPal and Amazon Pay. “Having that variety of payment gateways have been good for consumers. Not everyone wants to put their credit card in. I get that,” said Jackson.
She also uses a variety of apps and software including Evernote, Dropbox for file sharing, Trello as a task manager and email marketing software, to power her global small business.
Jackson noted customs and shipping as the biggest pain points for Protect Your Pumps internationally. “Getting your packages overseas can be a major headache,” said Jackson, adding that they can occasionally get lost in transit or end up generating customs duties for customers that can cost more than the goods themselves.
She advises governments that small businesses like hers would benefit from improved access to information and a better understanding of the resources available to help them succeed globally.
Reducing barriers to new international markets would also improve the Protect Your Pumps journey. Jackson suggested that, “some of the tariffs are too high and discourage trade.”
Jackson said that international sales “just kind of happened for me,” and advised other small businesses that, “if you have a good product, continue to share and the world will follow.”
More broadly, Jackson observed that, “I didn’t have a lot of money but I had an idea and a lot of enthusiasm so I got started. My website looked horrible, but the business was up and running.” She took away from that experience that,“you don’t need Uber’s budget. Just start where you’re at and grow into your success. You’re not going to know everything in year one, but the journey is the cool part about it.”