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The Legend of Poo Panties the Cat and the Autism Expo

On April 2nd, Autism Awareness Day, I was a vendor at the York Autism Expo. For what reason? I was selling children’s books. My own! Along with my dad, I am an author of these books. I will tell the story of writing these books, and then selling them at the expo.

My dad and I wrote The Legend of Poo Panties a series of books. They are about a boy with autism named Willie and his orange cat, Poo Panties the Cat. Poo Panties the Cat goes on many adventures throughout the series with his animal friends. Although Willie has some signs of autism, it is not dwelt upon in the books.

What a person may not know, is that the original stories were created by Dad and me every evening for many years before Dad went to bed. It was Dad’s bedtime routine. The plush Poo Panties the Cat is kept in my parents’ room, and we used him as a prop.

The actual Poo Panties is a plush orange cat Mom received as a Christmas gift. His original name was actually Flash, the name of a past beloved pet cat of ours. Many story basics were included in what would become our current stories.

It was on a cruise to the Bahamas last fall that the stories started on their path to becoming books. My dad even snuck Poo Panties the Cat into my suitcase, and brought him along as a prank. We were talking to my brother, Dave, and after hearing about the stories, he thought there would be a market for them if they were published. He was also working on some of his own pieces, and discovered how to get books published on Amazon. So, beginning in October of 2021, my dad and I started writing down these stories. We also had to find and hire an illustrator for them. During the beginning of 2022 the first book, Willie Meets Poo Panties, was published on Amazon. Later on, we released the second book, Poo Panties and Froggy.

Amazon is a large platform. There are many books being sold there. It’s hard to get your product to come up with a search such as searching for “children’s books.” So, I wanted to find a way to get publicity for my books. People can’t buy something they don’t know about. By the way, search “Thomas Allwein” on Amazon to find my books.

My first opportunity to showcase them came via my e-mail inbox. I discovered that Autism York was having their Autism Expo and Walk again. So, what did I do? I went to their website, and filled out the form to become a vendor at their event. This would be a way to get a large audience to have a chance to view my books. The date of the show happened to be on Autism Awareness Day. By looking at the calendar, I discovered that the show was a couple of weeks before Easter. So, we wrote Poo Panties Saves Easter for the show. It would be perfect. People would want to buy this book as Easter gifts for their kids or grandkids.

Preparatory work for the expo would be stressful. We ordered three hundred books (one hundred of each) from Amazon for the show. We had to wait for them to come. Each set of books took about two weeks to come. I designed two sets of business cards. One card was about me the author, and has my blog and email on it. The other card is Poo Panties the Cat’s business card. To get the cards made required several trips to Staples (including two late in the evening). We also pre-autographed the books, and did a mock-up of our booth. We had a large poster created showing Willie standing with Poo Panties the Cat. We found and purchased an orange cat “air walker” mylar balloon that looked like Poo Panties the Cat that we filled with air.

On the morning of April 2nd, Dad used a hand cart, and everything was hauled to the car to take to the expo. I took my manual balloon pump along, as I noticed the air walker seemed to have lost a bunch of air due to the cold temperature outside. The expo was held at the York Revolutions Baseball Stadium.

When we arrived, there was a big sign in the parking lot for Autism York. Another sign directed vendors in the direction they were supposed to go. Set up time for vendors started at 8:30 AM. A man helped us take our items to our booth using a bigger cart. Before we went too far, we also had to sign in. Young volunteers were helping with registration. We were given our booth number, which was seventy-five. The man hauled our stuff on the long path to our booth. We lucked out as we were under the roof. Being held at a stadium, some vendors were stuck setting up outside. Although the sunshine should have been a plus for them after all.

Something we noticed right away was how cold it was. We might have been under a roof, but being a stadium, it was still open. It was to be cold that morning, and a wind was blowing. I wore my winter coat and gloves the whole time. For a while when I wasn’t doing anything (at the beginning), I huddled under a blanket to stay warm. My mom also used the blanket at times later during the expo. I don’t know what the wind chill was, but it was quite cold!

We had until 9:45 AM to get the booth set up. The booth actually was a rectangular six-foot table. The expo provided two chairs, so we needed to bring a third. We covered the table with a new green cloth table cloth. On the far left of our booth we had an Eastery display. We had a copy of our Easter book in a purple basket. The basket also contained colorful plastic Easter eggs and two plush bunnies, one blue and one pink. A stack of the Easter books was placed in front of the basket. I was planning to have three latex balloons (green for Willie, orange for Poo Panties the Cat, and yellow to look Eastery) standing in the back of the basket, supported on tall white sticks. The green balloon was to be in the middle with the yellow balloon first and the orange balloon on the other end. This didn’t work, as the wind kept blowing the display over, so the balloons were put behind the table until the end of the show.

We had two plastic containers on the table. The smaller one had animal puzzle erasers. These were the family friendly giveaways that were required by Autism York. All booths had to have either a giveaway or an activity. We also had a larger white container that looked like a bunny. This container contained latex balloons of various colors and Tootsie Rolls, which also were giveaways. Plus, Mom had some leftover autism charms from my support group that she gave away. On the right was our poster that showed Willie and Poo Panties the Cat. We also had the orange cat air walker balloon. We filled it at the expo, using the manual air pump as it was too heavy to float with helium anyway. In front I had a pad of paper for getting people’s emails to put on a distribution list. Poo Panties the Cat will send a message to those people when each subsequent book is released. I also had the containers of business cards. Poo Panties’ business cards had all his social media accounts listed. Buyers of the book may go to the various social media websites, and see updates that Poo Panties the Cat puts up on the respective platforms. Finally, we placed the two stacks of the other two books. The original, Poo Panties Meets Willie was on the end, and placed by the poster and air walker. Poo Panties Meets Froggy was in the middle.

Now the wind was still blowing, and would start to blow the books off of the stacks. We had brought hand sanitizer bottles, and we used the bottles to hold the stacks of books in place.

The booth was set up! I was able to rest. I sat in the chair behind the booth observing the happenings of the venue. I wanted to see what was going on so I could sell books to customers when they came. I noticed we ironically were across from the Urban Landmines booth which was a company that sends their workers to scoop dog poop. They had various realistic looking dog poop props. Straight ahead beyond the booths, was the field where the walkers walked around the track.

It seemed to take forever for the expo to start once I was set up. People were milling around the premises, but these were the people operating the other booths. When I saw people, I had to decide whether they were other vendors or people who came for the event. At 10:00 AM the show started, and people showed up at our booth.

Initially, I started to try to sell books from behind the booth when people came to the area. I felt this was ineffective, so I went to the other side of the booth where all the people were. From in the mix of things, I called out, “Children’s books!” as I saw prospective customers. I sold books for an even seven dollars (compared to the $7.26 on Amazon, to make it easier to make change). I also sold bundles of all three books for twenty dollars which was a cost savings of a dollar for the customers. Tax was included as we already had to pay tax on them ourselves. Each book came with Poo Panties the Cat’s business card. Though the books were pre-signed, on several occasions I wrote a personalized message in a few of the books.

Some people looked at the books without touching them, and some simply took giveaways. Some looked at the booth, and walked away without taking or buying anything. Either way, one thing was true. I knew how to sell! I told people that I was the author of the books. They seemed impressed by that, often looking at me in surprise, and saying, “Very cool!” I would pick a book up off of the stack, and hand it to them to look at. Being in April, I worked especially hard to sell the Easter books since they were time sensitive, but also would make good Easter basket gifts. While people were looking at the book, I would grab the other two books, and put them in their hands. Sometimes people would say they didn’t have enough money with them. In this case, I would ask them if they had a credit card. No pressure though. Some also said they didn’t have money on them, and that they would come back later. Only one did. Most didn’t. Dad said that it was one of the oldest tricks in the book for not buying a product. He said not to expect their return.

As Dad told me, I was a natural sales person. Putting the product in a prospective customer’s hand is a technique they teach in sales school (which I had never been to.) Dad on the other hand worked at a box plant since December 1984. Two of his jobs over the years was being a sales rep, and a sales manager, so he would know. He took many sales classes over the years, and trained numerous sales reps.

I believe in our books. The pictures are bright and beautiful. The stories are cute. I was completely focused on selling them. I didn’t even take time to eat my lunch (which I ate on the way home) or get anything to drink. I forgot about being cold (it didn’t warm up either)! Thus, my performance was deemed great. I looked around trying to find people to stop at the booth. Usually they came from my right, occasionally I would get them on their way back.

Of course, people can be unpredictable. Some people initially thought the book was about potty training. We told them Poo Panties is the name of the cat, and the first book explains his name. Several times children wanted either the plastic Easter eggs or plush bunnies in the Easter book display basket. Some of them would try to play with the air walker balloon. One child cried for his grandparent to buy the balloon for him. The parents and grandparents actually watched the kids’ behavior pretty well.

When it came to the books, I tried extra hard to promote the Easter book, which did well. Another popular book was Poo Panties Meets Froggy. I’m not sure if it was the cover that promoted this book. Maybe because of fishing season?

Many people came to the expo. The crowd was large, though I didn’t know many people. A worker from FOCUS did recognize me, and I saw a friend. Interestingly enough, the day before I had told him about the expo, and about having a booth there. He actually came!

With prosopagnosia (face blindness), it was hard at times to know if I had tried to sell books to people or not. Occasionally, I tried to sell to the same person twice. A few people had unique hair styles that made them stand out which was helpful. I also used the balloon animals such as a pair of bunny ears made by the balloon twisters that the children were wearing as hats as a way of telling families apart.

Autism York provided other events besides vendors and the walk. Star Wars characters roamed the premises which reminded me of my previous blog. Princess Elsa and Princess Belle were there for a story time, and also walked about the event.

The time for the raffle tickets to be drawn seemed to come all too quickly. This meant that it was soon time for the expo to end. When this time came, I knew that the steady stream of people would be slowing down, and that soon I wouldn’t be selling any more books. I suspect my parents were getting tired of being there though. As mentioned earlier, it was cold. Mom went to buy herself a hot chocolate and my dad a coffee to get warmer.

At 2:00 PM the expo was over. It was time to put everything away, and start the long trip back to the car. As it turned out, I sold sixty-three books that day. All these sales were mine (Dad sold some books other places prior to the expo). Included in these sales were some individual books and some bundles.

As I look back, I was very happy with my progress. I think my FOCUS staff (people from an agency who help work with me) would have been happy to see my progress if they would have been there. It’s amazing how well I can do socially, if the situation is correct. Or maybe, I’m doing better as a whole, and I just don’t realize it. Either way, I sold many books, distributed many business cards, and have some emails to start a distribution list when my fourth book comes out. It’s currently written, though I am waiting for the illustrations. I intend for it to be published by the end of April, so I can sell it at my next event at the Biglerville Apple Museum held on May 14th!

Special note: We will be selling and signing books at Mamma’s Pizza in Biglerville on, Saturday, April 16th between 4:30 & 5:30. Stop and say hello!

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