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 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 large print calendar. 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 for vision impaired products. I did because everyone knows that anything you need can be found there. I took a chance on one big print calendar that looked good online, but when it arrived, it clearly wasn’t much better than what I’d already had.
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 low vision 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 to make low-vision products 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!
I had proven that this was far more than just a calendar for seniors or a calendar for elderly folks. People of all ages with or without some disabilities were customers. Even normally sighted people found it useful. It was thrilling to be helping all of these people.
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 the attorney had drawn up for us at no charge. The 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. I would be paid a royalty based on sales. I’d also get a small consulting fee each month in which I offered a certain number of hours offering guidance help.
What’s Happened Since
With the pandemic of 2020 negatively impacting many businesses who bought and resold my calendar and high contrast sticky note pads, sales of the 2021 edition to them were way down. But Amazon sales went through the roof. As a result, we are planning to print even more 2022 calendars.
Now, I get to watch Prevent take the product to the next level. In time, this freedom should allow me to pursue one of my interest that is designing and with Prevent’s help, bringing to market some of the products I’ve already sketched out that I think others would find helpful. Who knows, perhaps you’ll find them here in the not too distant future?
If you believe in the product and what I’m doing, please share news about the EZ2See® Weekly Planner/ Calendar and my other products.