Why it Started
I am affected by RP (retinitis pigmentosa) which steals peripheral vision, light sensitivity, acuity and eventually most or all of one’s eye-sight. So reading text on paper without assistive technology is impossible unless it is large, clear and uncluttered.
In late 2014, I began looking for my 2015 weekly planner. After checking several local “big box” stores I saw the same offerings that while claiming to be “large-print” didn’t come close to meeting my needs.
I then started searching the internet because we’re told that everything you need can be found there. I took a chance on one that looked good online, but when it arrived, it clearly wasn’t much better.
The Beginning of the Beginning
By the end of January of 2015, I accepted that if I was ever going to have a weekly calendar that I could easily use, I’d have to make it myself. So knowing what I needed, I took marker and ruler in hand. It took less than an hour to lay out my “ideal” calendar.
Some weeks later, I showed my work to a neighbor who had a home-based graphics business. She liked what she saw and agreed to help me get it to a point where it could be printed. Within a month we had an electronic file ready to take to the local quickie print. Then came the first of two shocks.
The first shock came when the counter person opened up the file. She told me that that due to the black page borders, their machines wouldn’t print them correctly. She said I’d need to use an offset printing company.
The second shock came from the counter person at the large printing company. He checked his computer and then turned to look at me. He paused for a moment and I got concerned. He then told me that printing my one little calendar would cost over $100! I’m sure the expression on my face said I was shocked. After a long moment, he said that printing a few more, would only raise the price a little more. Thinking if I printed a few more and could find some buyers, I could reduce the cost for my copy a little. So I told them to print 5 more.
I was a little concerned that anyone besides me would want to buy them. After all, the calendar only started in April, lacked any monthly pages and had no laminated cover. I knew it was a gamble, but one I was willing to take.
Me Start a Business!?
I loved what I had produced and used it every day. I occasionally showed it to other seniors or folks dealing with low-vision. I was overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response I often heard. By May, the extras were sold.
Buyers told me that this calendar gave them back some of the independence they had lost. Now they could once again manage their schedule themselves and not depend on a spouse or through various clumsy ways. When they learned that I only made a few of them, many urged me to start a business so I could help more people.
But starting a business was the furthest thing from my mind. I retired years ago and have a busy, fulfilling life. Plus I had little business experience. Yet I couldn’t shake the memory of the enthusiastic reactions and how much they said the product helped them. I slowly saw this as a tangible way to give back.
By June of 2015 I had long decided to do it and was up to my elbows in the ever lengthening list of what needed to be done.
Marketing became my focus. While some local stores and my website would help, I searched out well known online handicap-product companies who might want to sell them. While it took a lot of work, eventually all three companies I approached placed orders for over 125 calendars. This was a real confidence booster.
But they also told me that they would only be interested if they could get delivery in October. That meant I had less than four months to meet their conditions.
Nearly all of my routine obligations ended. Time with family and friends and personal time pretty much vanished. Endless hours on the phone and computer were the norm. My poor wife faced a steady stream of proofreading requests. Thank goodness I married an English major.
The Bottom Line
I met that first deadline and all that have followed. I sold all 400 of that first 2016 edition that were printed. Through continued outreach efforts, sales of the 2017 were double that of the 2016.
In June 2017 I printed over 1,200 – 2018 editions. Two-thirds were pre-sold to a growing list of Lighthouse organizations throughout the U.S. It is even available on Blind Mice Megamall, Calendars.com, Independent Living Aids, Amazon and eBay.
And yet, the greatest reward is the wonderful feeling I get when customers report how helpful they find it. What could be better than that? I don’t know where all this will lead, but as long as health and circumstances allow, I’ll keep at it.