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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Tricky business » » Why do you think magic shops don't last long (4 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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B.W. McCarron
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Seattle, WA USA
242 Posts

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As a former owner of a brick and mortar shop in a downtown, theatre area location, the things that led up to killing it are as follows:

1. Hard to find good employees. I had three paid employees, plus myself (I didn't draw a salary). It was hard to find good demonstrators for the minimum wage I could afford to pay.

2. Mail order (and Internet) competition. Everyone understands this. People would come to the shop to see an effect, try to handle the props, then buy it elsewhere for the best price. Or they would try to make up their own version at home, once they had a chance to see it live.

3. Location-location-location. My shop in a downtown location was cool for the vibe. But local (potential) customers I met at conventions and magic club meetings told me that having to pay for parking was a deterrent. I think it was more of an excuse, but OK.

4. Ability to stock the latest and greatest. Everyone wants to see something new. Once the novelty wears off, it's stuck in the showcase. Obviously, I couldn't afford to stock everything. But I made what I hoped were good buying decisions and tried to sell what we had.

5. Poor quality control from manufacturers. I couldn't tell you how many times merchandise came to us in a broken state. We repaired what we could, but the ability to return items was an added expense (since we had to pay the freight in, out and often back in again on returns). This is obviously not an issue for those who live in a big city close to a distributor, where freight is either free or greatly reduced because of proximity. My recourse was not to buy those problem items again.

6. Insurance costs. Risk management is always an issue with small shops. Do you have everything covered with a comprehensive policy (even coverage for glass breakage was required by my lease) or do skip it and hope for the best? We were in the process of being sued when I closed the shop. (Someone didn't follow directions with a flashpot product.) I believe that my insurance company settled the claim.

7. The money just wasn't there. I believe it was Al Cohen who once asked, "Have you ever met any rich magic dealers?" I wasn't one of them.

8. My heart wasn't in it after awhile, because of competing interests. At the same time that I had the shop, I had a fulltime job, I performed my mentalism act, I was active in an IBM Ring, I was in a band that did tavern gigs, I was taking classes from the community college, and I was dating (and ended up marrying her). When the band was performing 3-6 times per week, I was only at the shop on weekends and weekdays just long enough to ring out the cash registers. 2-3 hours of sleep a night isn't sustainable; at least, I couldn't do it.


Lessons learned:

1. Take advantage of any programs in your state for hiring high school kids. While you'll be limited to a set number of hours per week, the program offers financial incentives to the employer (either reduced taxes or you don't have to pay the employee as much). The enthusiasm of youth is infectious. I think it affected the other staff in a positive way.

2. Try not to order items that YOU think are funny, especially if it's something you saw in a novelty catalog when you were a kid. Many of the hackneyed novelties and magic items are pretty lame by today's standards.

3. Be cautious with minimum quantities of items at wholesale. Do you really want to be stuck with a dozen of an item, no matter how inexpensive?

4. Books are slow sellers, but some magicians are book buyers, so it's a balancing act. If you can shrink-wrap books to keep them fresh (even from your own employees), it'll be appreciated by the purchaser.

5. Employees are buyers, too. A discount for employee purchases is a good idea. Be sure your employees don't sell items they buy at a discount to customers. I had one employee that did this. I gave him a warning the first time. The second time, he was gone.

6. The ability to manufacture your own line of products really helps the bottom line. We had a dozen or so easy-to-manufacture items that I had the staff assemble during slow times. They liked to be kept busy, and they enjoyed trying to best each other with their pitches of the same items.

7. Halloween and Christmas selling seasons are the best. Consider being open extra hours, especially the day or two before Halloween and Christmas.

8. Don't have sales, especially half price sales. People come to the shop to look, be entertained, and (hopefully) buy. They don't come in the door for sales. I cringe when I look at my early sales flyers. I was way too generous with prices.

9. Make friends with the local newspapers. Free publicity, due to newspaper coverage, was priceless to my shop. News releases are also golden.

10. Create an event. Is a friend of yours coming to visit? Have your buddy make a personal appearance at the shop. Photos, lobby cards, news releases, a meet and greet with autograph session, etc., are newsworthy and provides another reason to visit your store.

11. The retail location can be helpful for those who want to dispose of magic, books and jobber lots of novelty items. I bought two truckloads of magic and novelties from a Seattle magic shop that closed down. Nobody knew that this shop had a warehouse that was also filled to the brim with merchandise and books, until an antique store bought the contents. I put out 15- to 20-page mail order lists for years, selling the various offerings (all gone now) in smaller lots.

12. Buy used store fixtures, especially display cases and racks. Stores go out of business all the time. Don't pay more than you can afford, as you'll likely also be buying merchandise on credit. I think vintage display cases look cool--your customers may think so, too.

13. Reproduction magic posters help fill up an empty wall and add to the ambience. Blue-tack can reduce the need to put thumbtack holes in the wall, but depending on the brand you buy, it may leave a greasy stain on the poster after a few years.

14. An attractive window display is a must. Red-colored inks will fade in the sun, so rotate your stock often. Make the window look fun and inviting, which means things like a guillotine, large-size Chinese Linking Rings, etc. will add interest.

15. Novelty items pay the rent. While it would be nice for the ego not sell fake vomit and cigarette loads, you'll sell more of these than the magic stuff if you're in a "touristy" location.

16. Demo-demo-demo! Standing around to let the customer browse is OK, but a demonstration is what brings 'em to the counter.

17. Pay your taxes on time. Set aside an estimate of the tax due, all through the month. Take every deduction you're allowed. Taking an accounting course at your community college is money (and time) well spent.

18. Try to have fun with it. If the idea of being a shop owner loses its luster, it's time to pack it in.

19. If you close down entirely, don't store your fixtures in a warehouse. Chances are, you're never going to be in business again, so why pay even more money for the rest of your life by keeping them in a storage facility. Instead, donate them to a charitable organization in return for a tax receipt. Even without the deduction, you'll be saving $150-$500 a month by not having to pay for storage.

That's enough for now. Smile
--Brett



That's enough for now. It was a love-hate relationship with the shop. If I was retired at the time, I'd probably still have the retail locatio
B.W. McCarron
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Loyal user
Seattle, WA USA
242 Posts

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I should clarify my #5 under reasons I killed my shop. Not all manufacturers had poor QC for wholesale customers. MAK Magic produced exceptional props, from pocket magic all the way up to their French Guillotine. Items from Sterling Magic Creations were also exceptional. Sorry, but I won't "out" any of the larger companies with whom we experienced problems. Suffice it to say that some of your time will be wither sending back defective products or trying to fix them yourself. You can always sell them as used or put them in a grab bag. We did both.
Mindpro
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Inner circle
9764 Posts

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Great insight in your posts. It is always great to hear business inside from the inside rather than how it looks or appears on the surface to others. While I understand there are many great memories and the customer experience that many have, it is often different from the owner, management and operational point of view.

The same holds true for performers. It isn't always as it appears on the surface. Good information, thanks.
Bill Hegbli
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Eternal Order
Fort Wayne, Indiana
22243 Posts

Profile of Bill Hegbli
The magic dealers I know and have known are Multi Millionaires. Yes, they are just like the old farmer, things are always down and not making any money with the crops. They are cold heart-ed as well. I worked a whole year for a magic dealer, he would only buy me lunch for may services, computer designs, computer repair, magic demonstrations, sales clerk, business suggestion, etc.

One year the magic department had a sales gain of over ten thousand dollars, that was the year I was ordering magic effects, ordered by the effect, and not the profit margin. Well, he gave everyone a bonus that year, except me. Then said how he was responsible for the gain in sales, when he was not anywhere near the store much that year.

Refused to pay my bus fair to and from work. So, I had to walk 2 hours to his shop in all kinds of bad weather as well. He told me he got his advice on running a store from Jay Marshall and Al Cohen.
Vietnam Veteran 1967, Sgt. E-5

Graduate of Chavez College of Prestidigitation and Showmanship

"Magic With A Twist Of Comedy"
Senor Fabuloso
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Inner circle
1247 Posts

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Bill, your story reminds me of those "back in my day stories" we heard form our elders. Thanks. You must really love magic to have gone through so much just to work for free? But I suppose it gave you an appreciation for the art, most of us can only dream of? Like the person who has to go through the thorn bush to get to the apple tree, when he finally get the apple, it taste oh so sweet. I think talking magic with you, would be a very worth while experience and one I'd like to partake in Smile
No matter how many times you say the wrong thing, it will NEVER be right.

If I'm not responding to you? It's because you're a TROLL!
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