By AML Staff Writer
Photos courtesy of Kevin E. McPherson
Main Line Mom, Minority Business Entrepreneur and QVC Model Monica Walker Miraglilo Talks Business, Babies and Beyond.
I am flying down Route 30 in Bryn Mawr at 6pm on a Friday evening in mid-September, hastily buckling my seatbelt in the passenger seat of Monica Miraglilo’s sleek SUV. It’s a great night, about 70 degrees, sunny with the perfect hint of fall in the air and every Mercedes, Lexus and BMW on Lancaster Avenue has somewhere fabulous to be. So we are weaving and moving and Monica is being Monica as I will soon learn: the multitasking machine is shifting into high gear as Miraglilo answers text messages and makes phone calls simultaneously. I’m trying to figure out when exactly in my sudden adventure we will find a good time to talk.
Monica and I have been scheduling and rescheduling our thirty-minute interview for weeks—I’ve been swamped with writing assignments and work, Monica has been juggling her two full time jobs, two young children and a steady social life with husband Michael, an insurance executive. But, now here we are, and before I know it, we are back on Route 30 headed east at fifty percent of the previous speed and I’m no longer looking in the rear view waiting for ‘those guys’ with their red flashing lights. Phew! Did I mention this is an interview not a roller coaster ride?!
Monica Walker Miraglilo has been a QVC model for sixteen years, on a shopping channel that boasts 7 billion in net sales in 2007. When Miraglilo is strategically poised on the home shopping channel’s set, her stunning looks are broadcast to more than 166 million cable and satellite homes worldwide. It seems like such a glamorous life—wearing designer duds from the likes of Bradley Bayou and Chloe Dao, modeling eighteen karat Italian gold and Kenneth Jay Lane pearls, hob-knobbing with the slew of celebrities that walk through the doors of the West Chester headquarters. But while millions know her as one of the longest on-air names and faces on set, most don’t know anything about her.
Beautiful and bright, and mom to a two-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter, Miraglilo is hardly basking in her local celebrity status or resting on her success with QVC. Instead, since 2005, ‘Monica,’ as millions of viewers know her, has been steadily building a unique brand of her own with a successful company, Fill-a-Pillow (www.fillapillow.com). The Haverford store is full of fabulous fabrics and trims that allow Main Liners to build and design customized pillows and linens or young girls to host their own Fill-a-Pillow parties. In less than three years, the 40-year-old’s entrepreneurial spirit, undisputed work ethic and dynamic personality have made a success of the startup business. After a series of short errands that evening in September, I was able to sit down with Monica in her cozy boutique, located a stone’s throw away from Haverford Station. I was curious to find out from a woman who seemed to have it all what inspired her to take on the task of becoming a successful entrepreneur.
AroundMainLine: Ok, let’s start from the beginning in the fall of 2005. Where did you get this idea to start a company based on customizing and building pillows?
Monica Walker Miraglilo: Well, I was working on trying to open up a business with my husband and we were considering opening a Build-a-Bear on the boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey. And, we went there one evening and we found out there was already one there and we were kinda bummed out. But, my husband said we would think of something else. At that time, I had started doing some home decorating and interior design consulting on the side. And then I started to give my clients a thank you pillow when the job was completed. It was very creative—I made them out of vintage scarves that complimented their décor.
So, when we brainstormed further my husband said, ‘Why don’t we take that Build-A-Bear concept one step further and make it into a custom pillow company?’ And I said, ‘Yep, that’s it that is genius!’ So, I slept on it, dreamed about it, researched it to see if anyone else was doing it and nobody was. I didn’t tell my husband I was running with this. I thought about it further, and thought–with the way Americans are into instant gratification, it would be a big hit to be able to give someone a custom pillow in one day.
So, six months later I came to my husband and said ‘Guess what honey, I found a location, got incorporated, have my logo and design, did all the paperwork…I did it!’ And he said, ‘I was kidding about the pillow thing!’ At that point, it was too late to look back because I was serious about doing this and moving forward. So, I did.
AML: That’s true focus and purpose. So, since the store has taken off, what other areas are you branching out with in the same idea/concept?
MWM: Our motto is ‘If we can fill it, we can do it.’ That has created some exciting new areas for Fill-a-Pillow and what we can do. Now we do bedding, we do window treatments, outdoor cushions, linens, pet cushions and pillows, wine bags, holiday stockings, you name it. One of our most successful pillows is a secret pillow–some gentlemen have bought them as a way to hide the ring and propose to their fiancé. We are starting to do home parties, where we come to your home and do a vintage pillow party with girlfriends. Those have been a huge hit because it is something different and fun and engages everyone to interact and be creative themselves. I think it brings out people’s own taste and talent and that’s something anyone of any age can enjoy.
AML: What it’s like to work as a QVC Model?
MWM: It’s great, I love it—it’s a fantastic company of course. But, people probably don’t realize how many hours we (QVC models) work. A lot of times I work overnight shifts and then come into the store straight from QVC and have not had any sleep and I have a full day of work ahead of me. The customers don’t know I’ve been up all night at the studio and they expect bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and an owner who is on point. Meanwhile, I’m so exhausted because I have a full work day ahead of me and a family to go home to be a good mom and wife for. But, my family is my support system and they make it all worth it. Without my husband and children, I would not get through the day.
AML: Honestly, if I turn on QVC and see you on air it seems like you are just hanging out modeling the jewelry, hair and makeup professionally done to the tee, smiling without a care in the world—piece of cake, no?
MWM: Not exactly! I can’t tell you how many times my mind is racing. I might be sitting there doing a jewelry show smiling and modeling but I am thinking about when or how my kids are going to get picked up from school, who needs what fabric at the store, what accounting works needs to be completed for Fill-a-Pillow, where my husband and I are going that weekend, what I need to make for dinner tonight. It is a hundred and one things all at once. I don’t have time to relax and kick back because as soon as I am out the door from QVC…it’s on.
AML: What advice can you give other female entrepreneurs–women who have an idea and are thinking about starting their own business?
MWM: You can’t be everything in this business. You have to designate jobs to other people in order to succeed. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned now, two and a half years down the line. If you don’t do that, you can wear yourself out and lose your enthusiasm because you are taking on too much. But, my big advice is, if you have an idea and you believe in it, GO FOR IT! Do not wait for someone else to do it, just do it.
And if you try it and it doesn’t go as planned, oh well, no one is going to look down on you because you had the guts to try something different and you took a chance. I took a chance and look what it is now. I took a risk. My husband kept telling me that he was joking about the whole idea. And, granted, my business from the start was based on a unique idea and a dream, something I envisioned for myself. The very first day I opened up my store, I took a deep breath and propped open the front door and hoped someone would walk through. I was persistent and consistent from the start and never looked back. This business is an extension of me.
AML: That’s great advice, well stated. One thing I wanted to touch on that I know we chatted about before this interview is the fact that you are one of only a few minority entrepreneurs on the Main Line. Why do you think that is, where are all the minority business owners in the western suburbs of Philadelphia?
MWM: What you are saying is so true, I’m really not sure why there are not more minority business owners on the Main Line. But, I never really think about it from my own personal perspective. But, if we are going to be totally honest here–sometimes it is brought to my attention (in a nice way) by my customers who will say, ‘So you own this business, a beautiful black girl like yourself?’ And I know they mean well and they are just curious and also trying to be politically correct in some fashion. So, I just smile and tell them yes, I am the owner and creator of Fill-a-Pillow and yes this is my store. I just want to make an impression as a successful businessperson as me, Monica, myself—instead of ‘Monica, the African-American business owner.’ I want to be the successful entrepreneur and want everyone to view my business that way. At the same time, I do embrace the opportunity to inspire other young women of all backgrounds to open up their own business and be an opportunist and that’s what I want to focus on.
AML: Honestly Monica, I think you are inspiring and enlightening to many people and you do not even know it. The way you carry yourself, your enthusiasm for what you are doing and you are so genuine and nice. I bet you’re making a difference and breaking down social barriers–big and small–every day and not even knowing it. In fact, I’d bet on it.
MWM: That is very nice of you to say! This is a good question, a good topic and I am very glad you brought it up. Many people would not want to ask me about being a minority business owner on the Main Line because, well, they just wouldn’t want to ask that question and talk about ‘it.’ I don’t know if I even know how to answer it the best way I should but it is hanging out there as an important topic and I’m glad we discussed it. Thank you.
AML: Me too Monica, I was personally curious and wanted to know. Thank you as well. Changing focus, do people ever say to you, ‘Come on, this is a pillow company, what is the big deal?’ Because they don’t see a great business model, they can’t appreciate the creativity and guts involved in a venture such as Fill-a-Pillow. You know, I just love Donny Deutsch on CNBC, I’m a huge fan of his show “The Big Idea” and something he says on his website is ‘Creativity is the greatest form of commerce.’ I just love that.
MWM: I actually tried to contact Donny Deutsch not that long ago and he didn’t return my email. I’m sure he gets thousands if not tens of thousands of requests, though…maybe I should send him a picture pillow of himself and he would respond?
I did that for Paula Abdul and she called me to thank me and then she ordered a dozen customized pillows for her friends! She was so nice, I was impressed she personally called me to talk — it was very nice of her and she was very encouraging of my business.
AML: That’s cool that Paula reached out. As far as Donny…well, hello–did you send him a picture of yourself Monica? Because you know if you watch the show as much as I do, he loves beautiful, successful women. Maybe you should try again! Anyway, the pillow thing…is not just about choosing a pretty fabric and putting a pillow on your couch, right?
MWM: It’s not. This is not the store you walk into and order ten pillows for your daybed and we hand them to you and you leave. You have to do the work when you come here, we have the fabrics and custom pillow capabilities and certainly we can help you out, that is what we do! But Fill-a-Pillow is for you to become the creator and the designer of what you want. That can mean a five year-old little girl makes a pillow for her grandmom for her birthday or a woman can come in here (with her own interior designer on hand) and we can help advise them on the best fabrics and pillows and everything in between. We make it for you, yes, usually that exact same day. We can help you but you have to create and design your own. It’s all here for you to choose from. That’s the best part of Fill-a-Pillow and that is why I love my store and my customers.
AML: So, wait, I so get this now, its all coming together for me! You created a company out of your own gifts and creative spirit and that store in itself is inspiring people, especially women, to empower themselves—make their own pillows, use their minds and embrace their talents. It’s not about making a pillow; it’s about knowing or figuring out what you want and putting it together on your own. It’s just like you have done with your store and business model. That’s pretty awesome!
MWM: (Clapping and laughing with me) I never thought of it like that, wow. This is really such a neat moment that you put that together, I have chills! You are so right. My business and my vision for what I am creating and now doing have come full circle. I so get it now too. This is incredible, I love it!
Fill-a-Pillow is located at 403 Berkley Road in Haverford Station, PA and is open Monday through Friday 10am to 5pm. Saturdays the store is open by appointment and Sundays are reserved for private parties. For more information about parties, showers and the store hours call 610-649-5040. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.