How We Launched The World's Biggest Magic Store

Back in 2009, there were only a few online magic shops to buy magic tricks from. Penguin Magic was a successful startup run by two ambitious university buddies, and a few brick and mortar stores like Alakazam Magic, Merchant of Magic, and Davenports had launched websites to help expand their business. Online only stores like MagicSmith and Elmwood Magic had recently closed down their websites in favour of offering their own exclusive products only. A few boutique stores like Theory11 and Ellusionist had found strong footholds amongst beginners and young magicians. But other than a few smaller online only stores, the magic world was still transitioning to an online model.

It was never the intention of our cofounders to build the biggest magic store. Actually, they had intended Vanishing Inc. to be a boutique that published mostly their own line of products (such as magic downloads, magic books and DVDs), along with a select few hand-picked effects.

But just how did two young magicians from different corners of the world (Andi Gladwin from the United Kingdom and Joshua Jay from the United States of America) join forces to create Vanishing Inc. Magic, now the world’s largest magic brand, with hundreds of exclusive products, multiple events and magic conventions around the world?

The pair met in their teenage years filming an episode of Young Magicians Showcase; a television special by Las Vegas legend Lance Burton. Burton had intended to bring together the most promising young magicians in the world, and at the time, he had no idea that he’d be forming a friendship that would change magic forever; the introduction of two young close-up magicians, Andi Gladwin and Joshua Jay. (They told us that the footage of the pair on the television show was destroyed and that it will never see the light of day again. But we found the clip and you can see it below in all its glory.) Lance later told us of his pride of introducing the pair.

Young Andi Gladwin & Joshua Jay

After their week filming in Las Vegas, Andi and Josh kept a long-distance friendship for many years, hanging out at the occasional magic convention such as The Second Deal convention, a small gathering of serious card magicians. Then, when Joshua Jay became the trick editor for MAGIC Magazine in his early twenties, he knew that his friend Andi Gladwin was a constant source of good ideas so recruited him to submit some of his original tricks to the magazine.

Over the years, that collaborative friendship blossomed as they shared tricks, ideas, and even guided each other in the writing of their own magic books. And when Joshua was booked to do a multi-month lecture tour of the United Kingdom, Andi was working as a computer programmer in London on the weekdays and would return home to the South of the UK over the weekends. This made him the perfect person to couch-hop with.

During that time, Andi and Josh spent many hours talking about their magic, their shows, and their aspirations. Josh wanted to find somewhere to help produce his own tricks and Andi wanted to move away from full-time employment to become a professional magician. While Josh was already one of the most sought-after magic lecturers of that time, Andi’s work schedule meant that he was less able to perform than he wanted to. He worked extremely long hours for a startup, and was even flown to meetings in private jets and helicopters when new clients called. While fun, this schedule became quite tiring and difficult to work around the occasional magic performance.

So, there and then, on a walk through London’s busy streets, the pair formed the groundwork for Vanishing Inc. Magic. Their vision was that the store should take inspiration from old-school magic shops that only stocked the best products, all while keeping a firm eye on the advancements of technology and ecommerce. This helped ensure that the website was inclusive and easy to use. Plus, the pair committed to themselves right from day one that they would focus on teaching magic in written form to ensure that magic books were kept as alive today as they once were. All whilst finding a way to offer the best customer service the magic world had ever seen.

As unbelievable as it sounds, that very night, Andi woke up from a dream with a name in mind: Vanishing Inc. The name cemented the idea and so they very quickly decided to actually make it happen.

The Early Days

The plan was never to create a massive online brand. Instead, they focussed on producing a small number of products, working with friends like Pit Hartling, Gregory Wilson, and Caleb Wiles. Josh sourced the new magic and worked with the creators, while Andi spent almost six months coding a website from scratch that had a clean interface, and an attractive design. The logo was crowdsourced through 99Designs and amongst many terrible designs that were submitted, the logo you now know and love shone through. That same logo is still in use today.

The plan was to launch the website at the end of April 2009 but in order to soft launch it, Andi put the website live and sent the link to a few friends. If it’s not promoted, nobody would see it, he thought. But that wasn’t to be; news of the site couldn’t have leaked at the worst time: while Andi was snowboarding on top of a mountain in Australia! A well-known magician had thought he would be helpful and promote the website on his Facebook page…and orders came surprisingly flooding in!

Andi left the slopes of Austria that same day, and got an early flight home so that he could help navigate the early launch of the website. Vanishing Inc. was live and much to our surprise, was already thriving! With Josh on sourcing new material, and Andi running the website, things were working surprisingly well.

After six months, Andi’s goal was achieved: Vanishing Inc. had already grown to the size that allowed him to quit his day job. “I talked to my boss about working part time so that I can do more gigs and run Vanishing Inc.,” Andi says. “But he encouraged me to go all in and focus entirely on magic, so I did exactly that.”

When Disaster Struck

To celebrate a year in business, the pair decided to take their first “Annual General Vacation.” They booked a trip to Cyprus for a week where they would regroup, film some new magic, and plan the future of Vanishing Inc.

But something bad happened three days before their trip. Perhaps the worst thing that can happen to an online magic store: the server crashed and everything got deleted. In order to save money, Vanishing Inc. was originally launched on a discounted web server at Andi’s old job, but after he left, an employee had assumed those servers were no longer needed and deleted them all. In a frantic panic, Andi drove to his old workplace, and begged his old colleagues for the harddrive to be removed from the server and given to him. If he wasn’t able to pull this favour, it is likely that Vanishing Inc. would no longer exist as it would have been set back a further six months while everything was recreated.

After three days with a specialist harddrive restoration company, most of the data was restored and the website was relaunched—on a server with daily backups! The Cyprus vacation went ahead and everyone breathed a massive sigh of relief.

(And as you might imagine, we learned our lesson pretty hard. We no longer cut corners on tech expenses and our database and website are now backed up hourly.)

The Growth Years

Over the next four or five years, Vanishing Inc. experienced slow but steady growth. “We knew that if we kept working hard, and produced great magic, Vanishing Inc. could become a viable business,” Joshua Jay said. And that’s exactly what happened. The pair took on their first shipping clerk, and customer support person, and together set the groundwork for what we now believe is the best customer service in the magic world.

During the first few years, orders were shipped not from a warehouse, but from our shipping clerk’s garage! But when order volume increased, the first (of now, three) Vanishing Inc. Warehouse was purchased in Sacramento, California. The purchase of this warehouse allowed us to ship more orders quickly, and to manufacture our own products in house.

It was during this period that customers told us that they enjoyed purchasing our exclusive magic products from us, but that they wanted us to offer a much wider range. So, over the following few years, we made arrangements to stock thousands of products instead of just a few hundred. This meant that customers could get the latest Vanishing Inc. release, whilst also picking up the brand new tricks and books from other magic creators and publishers.

This meant additional shipping team members were employed, and as we grew, all parts of the company were expanded.

The Future

Now in its second decade, Vanishing Inc. is still run by the same two cofounders, who remain best friends and magic collaborators. With a much larger team spanning three continents, multiple warehouses, and multiple magic conventions that we organise, we’re more visible than ever. But yet, our core values remain the same: amazing customer service, with one eye on the old style brick and mortar magic store and another on the future of technology and magic (with backups).