Why it All Started
I am affected by RP (retinitis pigmentosa) which steals peripheral vision, light sensitivity, acuity and eventually most or all of one’s eyesight. 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. The print was not very large, they used colored text that was not high contrast and was hard to see plus, there was little room in which to write.
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 than what I’d already found.
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 the features I needed, I took marker and ruler in hand. It took less than an hour to lay out my ideal calendar design.
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 at the quickie print opened up the file on the thumb drive I brought. She told me that due to the black page borders, their machines wouldn’t print them correctly. She said I’d need to use one of those large, offset printing companies.
The second shock came from the counter person at the large printing company. After looking at my thumb drive, 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. I knew my wife standing next to me was as well and probably thought that was the end of this.
After a long moment, he said that printing a few more, would only raise the price a little bit. Thinking that if I printed a few more and could find some buyers for them, I could reduce the cost for my copy a little. So after sharing this thought with my wife and her hesitatingly going along with the idea, I told them to print 5 more.
I was a little concerned that anyone besides me would want to buy one. After all, the calendar only ran from April to December, lacked any monthly pages and had no laminated cover. When ready, we picked them up and the adventure began.
How it Went
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 surprised and overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response I often heard. By May, the extras were all 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 using various clumsy solutions. When they learned that I only made a few of them, many urged me to start a business so I could help more people.
Me Start a Business?
Starting a business was the furthest thing from my mind. I retired five years ago and had a busy, fulfilling life. While I had launched and managed numerous medium and large projects in my life, I had only a smattering of true business experiences.
Yet I couldn’t shake the memory of the enthusiastic reactions when other low-vision people saw it. Nor could I ignore how sincere they were when they said the product made a real difference in their life. I’d frequently hear people say they knew others who it would help as well. I liked the idea of making something that really helped people.
At that point in my life, I had been active in the blindness world for over 20 years. That experience told me that their comments about the potential demand for this product were likely correct. I came to see going forward as a tangible way to give back to the low-vision community of which I was a member.
By June of 2015 I was up to my elbows in the ever-lengthening list of what needed to be done. Marketing became my major focus. This included creating content for and researching and hiring a webmaster to make my website. Selecting and working with the printer was then also required.
While some local stores and my website would help sell my calendar, I searched out well known online handicap product companies who might want to sell them as well. 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.
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. Through continued outreach efforts, sales of the 2017 through 2020 edition grew 3-fold. Retail sales were growing at over 30% annually. At that point about 4,500 calendars had been sold nationwide and even some in Canada!
But as I waded into work early in 2019 on the 2020 edition, my fifth, I was exhausted . I didn’t look forward to devoting my life to doing a 6th edition in 2020.
Get Help or Close the Door
From the very start, I sought sales and marketing help. I thought I’d only have to make 5 editions on my own and by 2020 would have the help I needed. While some great people stepped forward and sold them in their local community or state affiliate, I never found the sort of major marketing and sales help I needed.
By the fall of 2019, I decided that if I didn’t find a partner, someone to license the product or buy me out, I’d sadly end this amazing journey. Luckily over the years, , I’ve developed a sizeable network.
It was through that network that in December 2019, I was introduced to a business attorney. He took a real liking to what I was doing and my success. He connected me with a company he knew who might be interested in some sort of relationship. It turned out he was right. And the amazing thing was that company was in my city and already knew of me and my calendar!
By April 2020, Prevent Products Inc and I had signed a licensing agreement created by an attorney at no charge. Their company made and sold products for seniors and saw my product as a good fit. The license agreement meant that Prevent would produce, market and fulfill all orders. They would deal with sales tax issues and web and phone orders. I would be paid a small royalty based on sales and focus on spreading news of the product. I won’t get rich out of this, but that was never the goal. I promised my wife that I wouldn’t lose money starting this project. So I’m safe on that point.
What’s Happened Since
Sales through retail stores dropped as they closed and people stayed home during the pandemic years. Yet sales through Amazon, our website and over the 800 number grew. As a result, each year since then we have printed and annually sold more.
With Prevent Products having lifted many tasks from my shoulders, time was freed up to devote elsewhere. One place to which that time was devoted was increasing my outreach and “marketing” efforts.
I also used that time to bring to life three new products I’d had in mind for years. One is an academic-year version modeled on the original calendar design. The second is called the Organizer and Address Book. It is far more than anything you can imagine. The third product is a pair of pens that won’t bleed through paper. One writes like a normal pen. The other leaves a mark even more bold than the discontinued 20/20 pen.
It has been truly great to have this working relationship with Prevent Products Inc. They have made it possible to bring my product ideas to life and to the marketplace.
Having read this far, I imagine you believe in the products I’ve made and what I’m doing to help others with vision challenges like me. You can help by simply sharing news about the EZ2See® Weekly Planner/ Calendar or any of my other products. You could even consider signing up to receive my once a month newsletter.
Thank you very much for your time and interest,