Vanishing Inc. 2021 Year in Review
By Andi and Josh - Thursday, December 30, 2021
Every December we write our customers a letter summarizing our year at Vanishing Inc. This letter has always been a pull-no-punches, candid assessment of things we think we did well, as well things we’d like to improve. We’re inspired by Warren Buffet’s annual letter, in which he talks in impressively open terms about what worked and what didn’t in his calendar year.
2021 was supposed to be the return to normalcy. You might recall that in 2020, we did an impressive pivot to virtual: including the largest ever magic event—ShareMagic: Live. We also launched Masterclass: Live and Showtime, online subscriptions for lectures and virtual shows. In doing so, we saved our business from ruin, and, in fact, even improved our position.
When we looked ahead to 2021, we figured it would be a fiery return to live entertainment, huge convention attendance, and a welcome return to normalcy. How very wrong we were.
There was a return to normalcy for a while, and many magicians—from Vegas to New York to London—resumed their residencies and tours. But our sense is that professional magicians never really found their rhythm, and as we type this letter, the COVID Omicron variant is threatening to shut down live entertainment yet again.
Our business is in most ways majorly affected by the pandemic. Most of our books, tricks, and materials are printed in Asia, and high tariffs, supply-chain issues, and mind-boggling import issues have ground our robust release schedule to a trickle. Post office and courier service delays made some of our customers angry. There has been a roughly 30% increase on the cost of paper, which has necessarily driven up the cost of our books, and driven down our profit margins. Some of our staff contracted COVID-19 throughout the year and this left us shorthanded in times we most needed the help. And the live events sector of our business—Magifest, The Session, and The Retreat—were either cancelled or run at a loss. In those ways, we can’t say we’re sorry to say goodbye to 2021.
Yet, despite those complaints, this may surprise you: by most measures 2021 was our best year ever, and there is much to celebrate.
A Big Growth Year
Thanks to the pivot we blazed in 2020 to focus on things our customers could enjoy from the comfort of quarantine (Masterclass: Live, magic books, downloads, etc.), we saw not only our biggest sales year yet, but also our biggest surge in growth from year-to-year.
We also expanded our team considerably. And we’re not done. Our top priority in the first quarter of 2022 is to expand our warehouse operation in the USA and to double the size of our customer service team.
Speaking of customer service, last year in this letter we mentioned that this was the specific area of improvement we wanted to focus on. And we’re proud to say…we have! The average response time to solve a customer issue over email was three hours, nine minutes. Our customer satisfaction rate for those who reached out with an issue is measurably better than last year, where our team scored on average 9.6 out of 10 from our customer surveys that we send out after most interactions. Earlier this year, we did a complete restructure of the customer service team (which we now call Vanishing Inc. Support Wizards), and it has clearly worked. We hope you noticed improvement in this area, too.
As members of our Vanishing Inc. family, you should know that, when you have a problem with an order or a question about a product, we’re just an email away. Round the clock, regardless of time zone, someone is ready for you to give you honest, helpful input to solve your issue. We hope that’s something you notice, and a big reason that you continue to do business with us.
Our other weakness that we knew we wanted to improve on was our Black Friday Sale. Every year we tend to fall behind on orders because, frankly, it’s our biggest sales week of the year and we simply don’t have the capacity to get orders out when we’re experiencing 10x the normal order volume. We commented last year that our problem was because we estimated order volume based on previous year’s sales. This year, we estimated them based on our growth, and put into place new systems to manage that.
Andi and George flew over to our US Warehouse to stand arm in arm with our team there. The result? Records broken all over the place. It was our highest-grossing sale ever. We broke our single-day record of packages shipped by almost double the previous record, as well as our yearly package record. Our Support Wizard team worked tirelessly to manage any issues that arose. And, the average turnaround time on orders throughout the sale was just less than 48 hours. We can live with that, and we hope our customers appreciate it.
One other thing we’re proud of at Vanishing Inc. is that we have navigated these challenging times very little government assistance. It’s now in the public domain (and searchable) what businesses received in terms of PPP Forgivable Loans. These loans were supposed to be used on payroll and operating expenses only, for struggling businesses. We accepted about a tenth of what our main competitors took (which was just enough to cover our payroll expenses for approximately 8 weeks). We know times were tough, but we’re proud that we were able to pivot and optimize our operations without accepting an infusion of cash from the government.
Literally Building for Our Future
When we (Andi and Josh) bought our warehouse five years ago, we looked at each other and then gazed back at a huge, cavernous building and uttered, “How are we ever going to fill this?” Just five years later, we’ve had to invest in off-site storage for dozens of pallets that no longer fit in our space. As a result, this year we purchased what we lovingly refer to as “MegaWarehouse,” and we have very ambitious plans to put it to use.
“MegaWarehouse” isn’t actually a new space: it’s the warehouse behind our current warehouse, which shares a wall that will soon come tumbling down. We’ve commissioned a builder to connect these two spaces, making one giant warehouse that will double not only our storage space, but also our packing center and headquarters. We now have proper office space and will largely manage our operations on site in Rancho Cordova, California.
The best part though, is fulfilling a dream that we have had since we founded: to build the ultimate magic shop. We’re building an Emporium on site at our warehouse this year: it will be part magic shop, part workshop space, and all about possibilities. Eventually we’ll offer tours and welcome guests in this space. This will be where we’ll do in-person “product drops” and launches. We’ll broadcast virtual events from this space, and magicians visiting northern California will be able to have what we hope is the industry’s most state-of-the-art shop for magic, decks, and items from our Wonders store. We can’t wait for you to see it.
A New Look for Our Site, Wonders, and Masterclass: Live
Now that we’ve shared our hardware expansion, let’s chat a little about the improvements you would have noticed online.
Our site got a major facelift earlier this year. The slick design better matches the inviting, modern aesthetic we strive for, and Andi, Michal (our in-house graphic designer), and Dave (our newest developer) unveiled all sorts of new features, like our changing masthead, our new carousel, and new landing pages for our marquee books and products. We hope you noticed how lightning fast the site is right now. That’s no accident. The site now loads, on average, four times quicker than this time last year and during our sale period did not slow down at all (as compared to previous years when the site would often crawl to an embarrassing halt).
We introduced our latest brand, “Wonders,” which is the area of our site for the magic-adjacent. This is such an exciting segment of the marketplace, and it has proven to be wildly popular with our customers. This is where you find puzzles, decor, and original artwork. If you haven’t yet seen it, check out Vanishing Inc. Wonders here.
Thanks largely to the efforts of George Luck, our Masterclass: Live program got a major upgrade, too. When we launched in the thick of lockdown, we knew that the program itself was the focus. We all tolerated less-than-ideal connections and backgrounds because, well, we were all figuring this out together. But after two years, we felt like it was time to push our guests and ourselves to produce the finest quality videos in the industry. And we’ve done just that.
We recorded Mike Pisciotta’s Masterclass at the Magic Castle. We recorded Jason Ladanye in a custom-built studio. And we’ve gotten creative on how to film each month’s guest somewhere interesting, in the best possible quality. We’ve rolled Masterclass: Live into a larger program called VI+, which gives free shipping with no minimums and an entire library of streaming products. We also did the unthinkable: we lowered the price. We started at $70 per month, and have brought that down to $50 per month, which includes access to an exclusive download library, and free shipping on all orders to the US and UK. If you haven’t subscribed, you really owe it to yourself to join the party. It’s a blast. (And we just added a three-hour Juan Tamariz lecture to the VI Studio, for members to stream for free.)
Our efforts have been rewarded: VI+ (and Masterclass: Live) continues to grow, and it continues to be the best bargain on our site. Find more info on VI+ Plus here.
We did discontinue our “Showtime” program as the world eased out of lockdowns. We saw record attendance for the virtual shows of names like Justin Willman and Ben Seidman, as well as our own Joshua Jay. But as magicians returned to work in the real world, we felt like the attendance for virtual shows was waning. We may bring it back for specific performances, but, for now, “Showtime” is on ice.
Our Biggest Hits, and What’s Coming Next
Trying to predict what’s going to be a “hit” product is like trying to predict what card a spectator is going to name: there are certainly trends we can point to, but ultimately it’s pretty random. This year we feel lucky to have had a few monster hits that propelled us to our best financial year yet.
“Switch One” started us off on amazing ground. We sold out within a few days, and have been playing catch-up since then, in a constant game of back and forth with shipments of various components from Asia. This marks the second major hit we’ve collaborated on with creator Christian Grace. His named card under glass routine has proven to be hugely popular, and it continues to sell well. Expect more from Christian in 2022.
Our own cofounder Joshua Jay had two big hits this year: his book How Magicians Think turned out to be our best-selling book ever, thanks to the attractive, low retail price of just $25. And recently we released “The Trojan Deck”, and all units from all magic shops were gone within a week. In this trick a spectator shuffles a blue deck while you shuffle a red deck, and a moment later both decks entirely match. The best part? No deck switch. This easy-to-do effect is a holy grail for many magicians, and we’re supremely proud of Joshua Jay’s offbeat solution.
We released Asi Wind’s Before We Begin to terrific testimonials and reviews, and it remains the most comprehensive book ever written on “pre-show.” Asi also pointed us toward his friend John Graham, whose book Stage By Stage has just been released to great fanfare. Early indications are that this book, too, will be a best-seller.
We released Ben Seidman’s “The Oracle System,” in January and it has been one of our best-sellers of all time. This simple tarot-card matching effect really resonated with our base because performers see the possibilities for cold-reading and how strong and personal this trick is in performance. “The Melero Rings” offers a new twist on close-up linking ring routines, and our “Cube in Bottle Project” has been, perhaps, the biggest holiday effect that magicians are using this season.
We’re not major deck producers (yet) but we knew we had a hit on our hands when we landed Guy Hollingworth’s bespoke Hollingworth Deck designs. We always loved his artwork, so when we had a chance to enhance and build upon his original deck designs, we jumped at the chance. These decks are proving highly collectible, and our supply is now almost entirely exhausted. Very soon, the only way to score these decks will be at inflated prices on the second-hand market.
While that rounds out some of our biggest hit products last year, what about next year? Glad you asked.
Next year’s big release is called “Emergence” and it’s by Tim Hill. Those who attended Magifest last September got a sneak peek. For now, this is what we can say. “Emergence” is an innocent-looking card box that—and we’re not joking here—secretly propels a coin into the air and then into an empty glass or receptacle. This means you can end a Coins to Glass routine by causing a real coin to land into a borrowed glass with an audible clink, all the while standing away from the table. It’s one of the most astounding illusions we’ve ever seen, and it marks our first foray into electronic magic. Coming very soon.
One other thing we’re excited to release is our “Card Display Cabinets.” We have designed an upscale, stunning collection of card shelving that you can customize to your space. It’s a series of drawers and display cases to show off your magic collection or store your most collectible decks of cards. The units are mix-and-match as well as stackable, and it will create the ultimate exhibition of your favorite collectibles. There’s nothing like this on the market, and they will be priced affordably so you can buy several at a time.
We have all sorts of new partnerships for deck designs, including us securing the rights to the PEZ Deck (based on the classic candy brand) as well as with an artisanal chocolate company called Olive and Sinclair. Finally, we have a vibrant new line of apparel coming your way this spring as part our Vanishing Inc. Wonders brand. There are shirts and hoodies in designs we think you’ll love.
Our Charity Work
We couldn’t hold our annual youth program at Magifest this year, due to the fact that young people were not able to be vaccinated. But that didn’t stop us from our other charitable endeavors.
We relaunched ShareMagic.org, our charity site, full of interesting content from leading magicians. Our aim with this site is to push forward the craft of magic at no charge. If you haven’t yet seen the videos from Werner Reich, Michael Vincent, and us (Andi and Josh), you should check it out on our new ShareMagic website.
We also helped one of our creators, Ernesto Melero, buy a new home! He and his family are living happily in Costa Rica. We’ve previously raised money to help Ernesto get his family out of a difficult situation in Venezuela. And thanks to your support of his products and some help from our charity, he and his family have begun a new life in sunny Costa Rica.
The Session, The Retreat, and Magifest
We canceled The Session last year due to the hotel being taken over as a government quarantine hotel. And while The Session should have been held next week, we had to make the unenviable position of attempting to predict the restrictions that the UK government might put into place early January. Therefore, we have postponed it to the summer. Similarly, we pushed back our South Africa Retreat to April and are excited to take 20 magicians on that adventure of a lifetime.
But Magifest happened in September, 2021, and it was, by many accounts, the best Magifest we’ve ever put on. Limited to just 500 attendees (down from our usual 1000), the convention had a very, very special feel to it, and to know what we’re talking about, you had to be there. After so long apart, it felt great to be together, and the crowds were just electric. Nearly every act on our gala show received a standing ovation, and we had major hit events with Asi Wind, Nate Staniforth, Carissa Hendrix, the Passing Zone, and too many others to list individually.
As we write this letter, our next Magifest is just weeks away. We know that Omicron may affect attendance, but we’re proud of the fact that our convention in September had zero reported cases of Covid, and zero recorded instances after the fact. The vaccine and mask policy clearly worked, and we hope we can have similar success at our next Fest. We’ll be working just as hard to keep everyone safe at Magifest 2022.
At the Magifest in September, cofounder Andi Gladwin spoke about our team’s strangest trip of 2021: a covert operation to infiltrate magic’s biggest pirate. Through a long and complex set of traps, we were able to identify one of the biggest pirates in magic. This entity has ripped off many of our best products and creators, and has, in effect, stolen a significant amount of money from us and other magic companies and creators. What’s worse, this pirated website has caused a major disruption in the magic marketplace, and it has de-incentivized some of magic’s biggest names from releasing their magic at all. Illicit sites like these also steal customer data, which compromises the identities of the people who use it. In short, magic pirates are very, very, very bad news. And they operate anonymously, above the law.
Our own Andi Gladwin (working with Michael Murray and several others in our industry) was able to help identify the biggest offender. Andi, Josh, and George traveled to Serbia, where this person lives and runs his operation, to plead with them to stop selling our materials illegally. The story is far from over, and some amazing steps are being taken behind the scenes. Just wait until you hear about it later this year. We can’t tell you any more just yet, but let’s say that right now is not a good time to be a magic pirate!
A Big Year for Joshua Jay
2021 has been an outstanding year for our cofounder Joshua Jay, who has had a steady stream of TV and live appearances in support of his new book for the public, How Magicians Think. He is currently in the midst of a 45-city book tour, where he is performing and speaking on the book in venues all over the United States. In many of those cities, he is also lecturing for magicians. He’s only halfway through the tour, and you can find more tour dates here.
In addition to his book, Joshua has recorded a How Magicians Think podcast. All thirteen episodes are out now, and this is an exceptional podcast, with far better production values and content than most other magic-oriented podcasts. The Masked Magician, Teller, Jamy Ian Swiss, Mike Caveney, Jim Steinmeyer, Richard Wiseman, and many, many more magic luminaries are guests on the show. Check it out here.
As mentioned, Joshua finally released what we here at Vanishing Inc. consider to be his signature effect: “The Trojan Deck” Whether or not you will use this trick, watch the incredible storytelling on display in the trailer, here:
Andi Gladwin's Busy Year
2021 was a big year for cofounder Andi Gladwin, especially surrounding The Boy Who Cried Magic, his debut book of card effects. That book has now seen three sellout reprints, and it continues to garner praise from all major magic outlets.
As this is being written, Andi is about to appear on this season of Fool Us with a routine created just for the show, never to be performed again. How did he do? You’ll have to tune in on January 7th to find out.
Whilst also navigating us through many of the improvements to our business we’ve already listed, Andi has completed his next book, 52 Explorations (Jack Parker’s final legacy) for a May 2021 release, laid out over 4,000 pages of magic books for our upcoming publications, and perhaps has his most exciting year in 2022 with some incredibly intriguing mainstream projects outside of the magic world. More to come on that soon.
We’re Going to Vegas!
After two+ years of extremely hard work, we know our team could use a break. So, we've decided to take our entire team to Las Vegas for a company retreat next summer to celebrate together. We have some great surprises planned for them, and intend on giving everyone some time to relax after a busy few years navigating the pandemic. We’ll update you as the date draws closer so that we can cause as few disruptions to your magic purchasing as possible!
We say it every year, but it’s worth repeating. All of these achievements are only possible because we’ve cultivated a community of extremely supportive magicians. We could not do this without the support of Vanishing Inc. family. Thank you for that. We’re equally fortunate to work with such a great team. Our staff are the sweetest, most united, team-first group of magicians we could imagine, and we’re lucky to call them our friends as well as our employees. And we know that we couldn’t do any of these conventions or projects without your consistent support. We know you have a choice when you buy magic, and we’re going to continue to work as hard as we possibly can to exceed your lofty expectations.
Happy Holidays to every single one of you, and here’s to a new year filled with magic.
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