How We Reinvented the Magic Shop
Vanishing Inc Magic is, of course, an online magic company, but it’s also many other things: a story of two best friends. A passion project. A laboratory. A charity. An event-planning company. And...a family. This is our story, and how we found a way to be a completely unique entity in the world of magic. Our spirit--and our ability to learn from our mistakes--has made us one of the largest magic brands in the world. This is our story.
How Magic Stores USED to Be
Everyone laments the loss of the brick and mortar magic shop--and with good reason. But as so often happens, nostalgia tends to create blind spots. We romanticize brick and mortar shops and transform them in our minds into things they just...weren’t. But let’s speak candidly about the great assets of magic shops, and the many ways things have IMPROVED with online magic shops.
When we were kids, magic shops were on their last legs. Still, most large cities still had magic shops. Great magic shops were filled with books and quality magic. What you used to get in a great magic shop was curation and personal attention. A good magic shop owner would stock his or her shop with books instead of fad effects, and could suggest the right resource for the right magician. The shop was a place you could see and touch a prop before you bought it. It was where [/props/articles/how-do-magicians-learn-about-new-tricks/](magicians learn about new tricks) as they were released.
All those things are true...of GREAT magic shops. But I traveled all over the world and for every great shop there were twenty terrible shops. Often magic shops were run by non-magicians, or greedy amateurs who cared only about selling magic and not about magic as a craft. Most magic shops then, as now, were more costume shops than magic shops, and had a weak inventory of broken and bad-quality material. So when people lament the loss of the magic shop, they’re often remembering the truly great magic shops--Tannen’s, Denny’s, Ken Brooke’s--not the HUNDREDS of shops that were, frankly, detrimental to our craft.
The Advantages of Online Magic Shops
In the same breath that old-timers tend to remember fondly the brick and mortar shops, they love to cast aspersions on online magic shops. But let’s take a moment to think about the many advantages to the modern age of learning magic. I can think of five EXTRAORDINARY and irrefutable advantages:
- Instant access. Magic taught online allows you to purchase magic and learn it immediately in the form of downloads. Want to learn a gambling routine at 3:30am? Do it. The online shop never closes and is always accessible.
- Wider selection. What put brick and mortar shops out of business was online retailers who could list thousands of items without actually having them in their showrooms. And that’s a shame. But on the other hand, good shops (and I believe Vanishing Inc. is a good one) carry THOUSANDS of items. You’ll find what you need.
- Round the Clock Customer Service. If you walked into a magic shop and had a question about a prop that the proprietor didn’t know, the chances are good that they would never know. Perhaps they could call a manufacturer to find out, but that was unlikely. When you shop with Vanishing Inc., you usually get a response to an email within an HOUR, no matter what timezone you’re in. We have contact with all of our manufacturers and can get answers to even arcane questions very quickly. And because we're all magicians, we always know [/props/articles/the-best-magic-tricks/](the best magic tricks to recommend).
- Get it Quicker. Even the best magic shops could never carry as much magic as online retailers can carry. That’s not a knock on brick and mortar shops...it’s just reality. No shop can carry everything that an online shop can list. So much of the time, even at a great magic shop, you need to have something ordered (and often pick it up). With only shops, you order an item from the convenience of your home, and it arrives a few days later. Seamless.
- A Better Demo. There’s nothing better than a live demo from the creator of a trick. But in even great magic shops, the trick you’re watching is only as good as the demonstrator. Online, the trailer attached to each trick shows the IDEALIZED version of each trick, most often performed by the creator. Now, in fairness, there’s a plague of unfair trailers for tricks, but, speaking for ourselves, we work very had to NOT post trailers that show chopped up or altered performances. For the trailers we produce, we like to show an unedited, single cut of each trick we produce. This way, viewers at home get to see a great and FAIR demo of a trick.
Our Origin Story
We (Andi and Josh) met as teenagers when we were filming Lance Burton’s TV special “The Young Magician’s Showcase.” We stayed in touch from long distance as Andi pursued a career in tech and Josh began his performing career. Then, while Josh was touring the UK, he met up with Andi and they discussed the idea of forming their own kind of brand.
The idea, put simply, was to start the kind of magic WE would want to have. We invented it because it didn’t exist. So we created it. We go into this in way more detail in [/props/articles/magic-shop-origin-story/](the Vanishing Inc. origin story).
What We Do Best
We’re not a perfect business by any means, but on a fundamental level, we have one advantage that some other brands don’t have: we are performing magicians FIRST. Our first love is performing and creating magic, so we’re drawn to those sorts of magicians, and we draw the kind of customers that also value creativity in performable magic.
We’ve passed on some magic tricks that have gone on to become “hit tricks,” but we believed then (and now) that some of those tricks are of poor quality. So rather than sell a lot of something that isn’t good, we would rather focus on producing the kind of quality materials that people will study for years to come, or use in their shows for many years.
We’re also able to anticipate what our customers want. Our first questions are exactly what most magicians ask: “How are the angles?” “How long will that last?” “Can I customize that?”
We’ve used this same philosophy when organizing our conventions: it’s as simple as this: we try to organize EXACTLY the conventions we would want to attend. We book the magicians who excite us, and...they tend to excite other magicians too.
This same approach guides our way in the original magic we produce. We tend to gravitate toward professional magicians who are willing to share hard-earned secrets with us that they glean from years of work and THOUSANDS of repetitions.
We tend to shy away from someone who wants to market a trick they came up with “last week.” We are pitched ideas every single day--sometimes a dozen submissions a day--but nearly all of them are just ideas or prototypes. What we’ve discovered is that ideas tend to evolve best in front of audiences. So what we’re looking for most of all is evidence that the idea is worked through. We cringe at most “2.0” or “Ultimate” versions of tricks that are really just updates and improvements that the creator didn’t think of before.
In the beginning, we were in a race to include EVERY magic trick ever released. We wanted to carry every trick and title from every brand. And much of our competition take exactly this approach.
But we quickly understood that what our customers want most of all is curation. As professional magicians, we know what a quality prop ought to look like, and how long it should last. We believe we can identify winning tricks, and--as the case may be--terrible tricks. So we’ve found that the tricks we don’t carry or promote are as important as those that we do emphasize.
This approach has paid major dividends. While it might not seem like a smart business practice to talk a customer OUT of a purchase, we will often suggest a customer buy a less-expensive product or shift away from an expensive trick and instead invest in an affordable book on the topic, if we sense it’s a better purchase for them. It’s a short term loss for us as a business, but in our experience, that customer will come back again and again because of the trust we’ve established.
We also seek out the kinds of creators we admire, and solicit ideas from them. In our experience, often the best effects and books come from those who are least likely to share them.
Instant downloads have transformed the way magic is taught, and we’re pleased to be at the forefront on this now-established technology. We’ve heard older magicians grumbling about downloads as a learning format, but we look at it like this: it’s a chance to spend time with some of the best magicians in the world, whilst still working at your own pace. How often do we have that opportunity?
And in an age when most downloads are 5-10 minutes, most of our downloads are nearer to an hour because we stress detail and precision in the products we promote. We want the end user to understand not only how a trick works, but how it can be reset, maintained, remade, and what to do when all else fails. Once again, this comes from our love for and emphasis on performing.
One thing we’ve realized is that having magicians in all aspects of our business has been a great asset. Again, I’ll bring up this notion that we run the kind of magic company WE would want to shop at. And while it isn’t essential that the people packaging orders or doing customer service are actually magicians...it has come in handy so much of the time.
It comes up in little ways you might not expect or think about. Someone who understands magic is able to roll up a close-up pad instead of folding it into a box. This way, it doesn’t show up with an unfixable crease in the center. Someone who understands magic will know the answers to questions other than shipping issues or tracking information: they can actually give our customers tips on performing with a prop...because it’s likely our team members have the trick, too.
Selfishly, it’s also a relational perk; we, Andi and Josh, are magic dorks. And we relate best to other magicians. Company dinners are more fun when we can talk shop with everyone, and meetings are more productive when every single team member can weigh in on a new product idea or watch an early cut of a new download we’re releasing. EVERYONE can pitch in at conventions to help at our booth or to assist a performer. Many businesses refer to their team as family, but with every single team member loving magic, we really are as close as family.
One perk of shopping with Vanishing Inc. is that we offer free returns with NO QUESTIONS ASKED. Here we take what we feel is an obvious approach, but one few of our competitors adhere to: we’d rather a customer trust us long-term and shop with us ongoing than get a quick fix with a particular order. So if someone orders something from Vanishing Inc and decides it’s not for them, we allow them to send it back to us with no questions asked. As long as the item is in new, working condition and can be resold, we WANT our customers to perform the magic they receive, and so we have instituted a VERY liberal return policy.
This was a tough decision for us to make. As you can imagine, offering free shipping is sometimes a mathematical impossibility, since it sometimes COSTS us money to fulfill an order. Fortunately, more often than not this isn’t the case, and we can offer this sensational perk to our customers, and gain this competitive edge.
When we started offering free shipping, one thing became immediately apparent: many of our customers prioritized getting an item FAST more than getting it free. And we understand that: last-minute gigs, taking a new book with you on vacation. Sometimes you just need things right away.
So upon checkout, we offer a premium service to upgrade your shipping to expedite a delivery. Often, domestically, for just a few dollars more you can minimize the shipping time to just a few days. And we’re proud to work with all the major couriers so we have several options.
Keeping it Fun
In closing, I’ll mention the real secret to the success we’ve been fortunate enough to have so far: the work is still fun. We LOVE what we do and we’re still wildly passionate about magic. We love playing cards, we love card tricks, we love chatting magic, we love producing great products. We love it ALL. And when you love something as much as we do, it doesn’t feel work. When you work with your friends, it doesn’t feel like work. And when you have a common interest with your clientele, it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like...fun.