Monday, 30 March 2015

An exhibition learning curve

Thursday the 19th March was my first indoor disability exhibition as a stand holder!

A stand at the Kidz In The Middle exhibition in Coventry.

It was exhilarating and exhausting - it's taken me until now to get back to my usual level of functioning, but it was worth it.

It took a lot of planning - I spent most of my time for the 4 weeks up to it deciding on freebies, designing posters and leaflets, and coming up with ways to display my products for sale without causing total information overload.

After much deliberation I decided to go for having 1 of most things on display except the keyring cards and car stickers, which I featured in a brochure instead, so people could browse through and we could get the ones they wanted from storage out of sight.

The plan was to have 4 of us, so we could each have a couple of long breaks, as well as being able to go for a wander and meet other stand holders.

Deciding whether to opt for lighting or not was a huge decision: would it make much difference? Would it make me overheat and crumple? Was it worth the extra cost? - opting in the end for a single strip light.

What I learnt, as a stand holder targeting a combination of brand-awareness-raising and sales:


  1.   Less is more: having sample products out and stock hidden worked.
  2. Two people is not enough for a busy stand. (2 of my assistants had to drop out due to unpreventable stuff - it was just bad luck it happened to be half my team!)
  3. If you want to get round to see other stalls, bring more staff! I only saw my neighbours and a few en route to the loo!
  4. Bright, interesting, relevant, new products draw a crowd (between 11:00 and 15:00 we probably had a total of 5 minutes without people at our stand!)
  5. I don't need as much stock next time - some people will buy, but many will just browse and get information.
  6. Always have additional light. It makes a huge difference! (And if you overheat easily, get a striplight/fluorescent tube light NOT spot lights)
  7. Have packs ready made to hand out. When people are standing 2 -3 deep at your stand and waiting to get to the table, being able to pass a pack through the crowd to them means you reach them even if they decide to move on before the crowd clears.
  8. Iron your table cloths. (Or get someone else to. I forgot and regretted it)
  9. By 3pm everyone has a glazed look. Don't try to engage exhausted customers in conversation- instead acknowledge it's been a tiring day and hand them some info to be looked at later.
  10. If you are selling, make your prices easy. Give discounts so that all values are easy to add up! (no items with pesky 99p in them, and have a calculator as back-up)
  11. Keep a 'lie on the floor' space behind the stand. This proved to be an invaluable pacing tool for me as lying down is an important way I manage my POTS. 
  12. Set everything up the day before, so on the actual morning you arrive fresh and full of energy, ready for your customers - trust me, you'll need it!
  13. Check out where the toilets are the day before (- and the quickest route to them)
  14. Enjoy it! - people like speaking to people who are enjoying what they are doing. 
Oh, and there were no wheelchair access issues! - which is high praise indeed :D but make sure you plan your own stand to let you get around it as you need to.

As a small business just testing the water, it was reassuring to see that the most popular items were ones I love too:
The 'Today is' wristband set, and the 'Sensory Overload' keyring card. (followed closely by the pink 'differently normal' lanyards!)

    

All in all, it was a very successful day.

It was also lovely to get to meet some of the KIM team  - well done guys, it was a great event, and I look forward to doing more.

My personal highlight?
Winning the 'stand selfie' competition 


Yes, I am a responsible adult. That is why I draw stickmen for a living.

Friday, 13 March 2015

More exhibition planning

'Kidz in the Middle' is approaching far too fast!

And so is a cold. Which I am hoping speeds up so it passes before the 19th.

I have leaflets printed.
I have freebies sorted (sticker sheets, carrier bags and pens)
I have staff....well, almost. I have essential level staff, but am working on 'make this sensible rather than survivable' level staff. (These exhibition stands really aren't designed to be manned by people with fatigue-inducing disabilities!)
Today I sent my stand posters off for printing.
And (thanks to a friend for the idea) I've sent a brochure of keyring cards and stickers off for printing too - so people can quickly and easily browse through the entire ranges without having a super-cluttered stall.
And I've planned where everything might go (subject to change of course.) (I rather like maps and floor plans. Can you tell?)

I've decided to take almost my full range of stock, but only put samples out and keep the stock hidden so my table doesn't turn into a huge overwhelming mess. Instead a nice, clear table space with interesting things on, and helpful staff will fetch the products for the customers.....at least that is the theory.

How it all works out in practice remains to be seen.

And having sounded all organised, I have yet to sort stock for taking, print price tags and price lists, pack all the exhibition randoms that are always needed. And scissors. And do all the other stuff I haven't thought of yet.

I am really looking forward to seeing how it all turns out!

But slightly less looking forward to seeing what this cold decides to do.



Friday, 6 February 2015

Posture problems

Today is a slightly unexpected floppy day (but not wholly unexpected if I am totally honest.)

The kind of day when, as I sit here at the computer, after a few seconds I find I'm sitting like a sack of spuds. And exhausted. And brain-fogged. And generally rubbish.

Sitting like this really isn't good. It causes me all sorts of back and neck issues (some of which worsen my fatigue and brain fog), but I simply can't keep remembering to sit upright. I'm too tired and it just isn't happening!

Then I had a brainwave - switched my office chair for my gym ball.

I now have to sit up and engage my muscles.



And when I decide I've had enough - I go and rest - e.g. lie down supported in a good position.

And then return to upright when I can.

And actually, it seems to be working!

Short periods of active but gentle muscle usage, with rest periods of however long is needed.

It might have taken me 3 rest breaks to complete this blog and picture, so yes, this blog has taken longer than if I'd sat on my office chair. But instead of having gone the 'push through' route, and now reached the 'cannot funtion, but at least I did that one job' state, I am now wondering which task to take on after my next break - because the little bits of upright aren't turning me into a zombie, and I also know I'm giving important core muscles a gentle but effective workout.

The years of core exercises are paying off - I couldn't have used this technique a few years ago, but I guess the philosophy would be the same - little bits of sensible have a much greater effect than longer patches of desperate.

I declare this to be a win-win gym ball situation!

(And in case you haven't seen them already, have a look at my leaflets on common misunderstandings between patient and medical staff in the areas of Pain and Physiotherapy - cos I guess a lot of this is stuff medical professionals try to tell us...they just don't always speak the same language as we do!)

Monday, 19 January 2015

Exhibition planning!

It's official.

Im going to the 'Kidz in the middle' exhibition on the 19th March 2015 at the RICOH arena in Coventry.

My first major indoor disability exhibition.

I'm listed on the website and everything!

I went to the one in Reading as a visitor a while back and absolutely loved it. So now I'm starting to plan the stand and work out how to get the most out of the day.

I turned to google for advice -  'Top tips for exhibition stands' and the like.

But most of it was either stuff I'd already thought of - or not applicable. My favourite being "Don't sit down because it looks unprofessional". Chuckle. If you think my sitting is unprofessional, you should see my standing!

So I have returned to stand planning my way. Getting everything sorted early on so that when I arrive to set up the day before everything is planned, and everything has a home.

So far I've drafted a brochure showing all my keyring cards, sorted by topic, which will be displayed on a flip-poster stand-y thing. (I know what I mean!) A positive side effect is that I also now have a downloadable brochure of cards for customers to download and browse through or show to others.

If I sell all my products I'll clutter the stand, so I'll take samples of most things that people can play and hand out 10% off vouchers for online orders. And just have a few key items for sale. Like:

  • the Autistic Spectrum keyring card pack because I have had really positive feedback recently from parents and school teachers.
  • And the 'Positive Accessibility Symbol' stickers. Because happy, lively depictions of disability that are relevant to kids are few and far between - what better place to sell them than at a kids exhibition? Which probably means that most of my 'differently normal' stuff might need to come too.
  • And my children's books 'Welly Walks' and 'Biscuit Baking' - again, the general lack of positive, joyous, normal depictions of disability makes me want every child to read them,
  • And the 'Today is..' wristbands because these are one of my favourite (and best selling) items - so simple and yet such an effective communication tool.

And design posters showing my product types....

....and probably change my mind in 2 weeks.

All without visually overloading my 2x3m stand....I think I have my work cut out!








Sunday, 11 January 2015

"My kingdom for a fork!"

Not long ago I tried out some adaptive cutlery at my local Independent Living Centre.


It is one of those things that will probably only make sense if the pain and effort of picking up your knife and fork to eat dinner makes 'curl up and whimper' seem a sensible thing to do.

Suddenly a whole new world of actually eating dinner without having to down-tools every few seconds was tantalisingly close.

Unsurprisingly, I placed an order with the CompleteCareShop, opting for the Newstead angled knife and fork, and an easigrip sharp knife. (And a garden fork - but I haven't tried that out yet.)

But I had to wait for delivery - with every meal after placing the order accompanied by a little song of hope in my head perhaps soon the parcel will come! Perhaps tomorrow I can eat without so much pain!- A song which I admit became increasingly desperate.

Then yesterday, after a few days away, my hands were in a bad state...and the rest of me was an exhausted zombie. I had to eat but the only microwave meal in the house had a chicken breast in it. The very thought of cutting it made me want to weep. Oh well, I'd just have to eat what I could....

In that 8 1/2 minutes between putting it in the microwave and hearing the ping, my cutlery arrived! And yes, it really is that fabulous!

It felt a bit weird to start with, and takes a different technique, but for probably the first time in weeks I was able to eat a whole meal without a) getting someone else to cut it, and b) having to keep putting my cutlery down.

Ok, so cutting an overcooked chicken breast isn't exactly chopping up steak, but for someone who has been defeated by a mushroom, it's a near superhuman feat :D

[Note to any members of the Hypermobility Syndromes Association: The company PETA UK have some cooking utensils with similar grips, and the gardening tools too. HMSA members get 10% off! (I only remembered this after buying them elsewhere. Duh!) ]

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Two offers of help

The other day in town I had 2 offers of help.

The first I was about to put my chair into the car. A man approached and asked "Would you like some help?"

Something about his body language and sincerity of expression rang all my alarm bells. In that split second I knew, just knew, that he would be one of those who tried to insist on helping even when it wasn't helpful, and wouldn't listen to my answer.

So I steeled myself for a fight and gave my first line of defence "No thank you. I'm fine thanks" with a confident smile. I could almost feel the more assertive lines queueing up ready for use.

And then...

He smiled back, wished me good day and carried on past without a pause.

It was perfect.

It was unsettling. I must not make snap judgements about people!

The second was in a small shop. A really tiny space. A 3 metre long, 1 metre wide corridor of floor between the door and the till. I had just paid and was leaving. A gentleman entered and was standing by the door.

The door is fabulously light and easy to open. I wish more doors were like that one.

I approached the exit and the gentleman said "Allow me" and opened the door.

"Allow me". Such a charming old fashioned saying! No pity, no assumption of inability, just respect - and as he was standing by the door it made sense to hold it open.

There was only one possible response: "Why thank you!" accompanied by a slight bow and a huge grin.

And there you have it. 2 perfect offers of assistance within an hour. One offered sincerely but listening to and respecting my answer. The other was simple charming politeness, with no connection to my disability.


Thursday, 20 November 2014

To the young lady responsible

To the young lady responsible for the diabetes cards,

I would like to thank you on two counts:

Firstly for asking for these cards - your Mum was really fun to work with and I am glad you like the results.

But secondly, and more importantly: For reassuring me that when people don't listen to me, it isn't my fault.

You may not know this, but when I was chatting to your Mum she said how you were bright and perfectly able to speak up for yourself, but that sometimes you found it difficult because people would assume they knew better, or just not listen.

Well, ME TOO!! Sometimes it's like I can't get people to understand, even though I know what I'm saying is right. I hate it. It makes me feel small inside, and it can be a bit scary when what I'm saying is important and if they do the wrong thing it could hurt me or make me worse. Do you find that people not listening makes you feel less confident about speaking up next time you need to? I do.

So it is very reassuring to find that someone else with a completely different condition finds the same. It isn't because of us, it isn't because of our conditions - it's because people are people. And sometimes people aren't good at listening.

I am really glad that your keyring cards help other people listen to what you have to say, just like mine do for me. I think perhaps the fact that they are written down and look official makes people take what they say seriously. And perhaps the little stickmen make the message happier so it gets into people's brains more easily.

Either way, I hope you are proud of yourself for your part in creating these cards which can help lots of other people like us be heard and to approach life's challenges with confidence.

Thanks again,

Hannah Ensor.

[Note: photo used with kind permission of the young lady's parents.]

[See here for the full range of keyring cards, covering a wide range of topics including diabetes, pain, fatigue, hearing difficulties and autistic spectrum disorders.]