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Profile of DarryltheWizard
It seems that no matter what I buy, a table, a tube, a box, it always needs that something extra. For example, a few years back, I bought a roll on table with cheap casters that needed to be replaced so that wheeling out my table would not scare small children.

Quite often, boxes do not have felt glued to their legs or bottoms. Even the rope on my duck bucket had to be replaced with more expensive cord. When I purchased Pavel's Walking Knot for over $300.00, I thought he'd use a more lasting and expensive nylon rope, but no.

I've had no trouble from Viking, Owen Magic and Collector's Workshop. I guess with prices like that, they can afford to finish off the piece of equipment properly. Would it not help if the magic companies had some rating system: collector's edition, basic model, etc. What do you think?
Darryl the Wizard Smile Smile Smile
"Life without mystery is like a candle
with a snuffed out flame." Albert Einstein
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Profile of Magicduck
I agree with you nearly completely. That is, in fact, why I build all my own props with the exception of silks, bulk rope or machined metal. It seems that, with almost no exceptions, whatever I buy I end up changing in some significant way..from fixing a lousy paint job, to a poor mechanism. I have even seen very expensive magic props with this same problem.
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Profile of Payne
I too end up reworking andor reworking nearly every prop I buy. Even the one thing from Collectors Workshop I purchased had to be severely reworked to make it function properly. I find the so called "little guys" have the best quality in their prop construction, people who actually put their name on their product. People like Babcock, Riser and Lassen all produce extremely high quality equipment that can, and most likely will be passed down to the next generation of magi's.
"America's Foremost Satirical Magician" -- Jeff McBride.
Michael Messing
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Knoxville, TN
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Profile of Michael Messing
I agree with you for the most part and I agree that a few manufacturers make products that don't need work. In particular, Chalet Magic makes props that are very carefully thought out. Now, mind you, I am a little biased because I've known George Kimery, the owner of Chalet, for more than 25 years.

If one of Chalet's pieces of equipment has a flaw, George will fix it and change the design. He's constantly improving his equipment.

It's true - you get what you pay for!
Steven Steele
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Hesperia, California USA
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Profile of Steven Steele
I agree with everyone. But one thing we've missed. So do our clients! It struck me once when after I performed a show, when the client approached me and told me that they knew they had a professional performer when they saw my tables and stuff. They said they had a magician the prior year and they said his stuff was cheap looking. I don't know anything about his performance, but it certainly biased the client...and look who didn't get the repeat booking.

This lesson was initially given to me by Les Smith of Owens Magic. Once I improved the quality of my apparatus (among other things) things started to improve for me. Smile
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Profile of martini
As a builder and manufacturer, may I add a couple of comments.

If you are dealing direct with a builder who does custome props, you will find that most of these things are taken care of, that is the idea behind a custom built prop. But even with that said, many times props are still altered to satisfy the client once he gets them, that is the individuality of the performer.

On the subject of standard props needing this, as a manufacturer, we have for years dealt with dealers who always wanted the props a little cheaper in cost, or as they were known to always say, "I got to get a lower price to satisfy my customers". Never in all the years of trying to keep these guys happy, did we ever see the savings passed on to the customer.

To understand the economics of magic manufacturing, would take a lot of space, unless you guys would want me to post it, then I would be happy to do so using a single prop as an example, it may shed some light on the subject as well.

The bottom line is that age old saying, that you get what you pay for, and obviously if you are buying from a magic dealer who is not the manufacturer, you are going to have to make adjustments to suit your needs and ideas on how a prop should be finished. That is one of the reasons that Chalet, Owen, and many others have dropped the wholesaling of props to dealers and are dealing direct now.
hope this has shed some light on the topic.

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Profile of Vincent
I also agree with Martini. You get what you pay for.
Especially in a market which often times is considered a niche or boutique market, most items are not mass produced. Thereby increasing cost to the manufacturer, especially if they are using high quality materials, tooling and manufacturing methods.
In the long run I can always hear my father's words: "Vincent, if you buy cheap, you buy twice!" Pete D. knew about these things. But then again, I thought that he knew about everything. For what my 2 cents is worth.
Vinny D. Smile Smile Smile
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Profile of Magicduck
Regarding Martinis post. I, for one, would be interested to see you post information on the economics of making magic: from builder to shop.

Whit Haydn
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Profile of Whit Haydn
I agree with most everything said so far. Early in my career, I worked in a very small capacity and for a very short time for George Kimery of Chalet Magic.

He impressed upon me the importance of quality in materials and workmanship, and when I did an illusion show a couple of years later, it was entirely with Chalet products. They always looked good and stood up well even under the intense use of amusement park performing conditions.

As Gazzo likes to say, a professional can't afford cheap props.

A lot of times, though, it seems that magicians don't understand the expense of manufacturing quality items in such limited numbers.

My company, the School for Scoundrels, produces a number of fine items intended for the professional. We offer a full guarantee on everything we sell.

But the expenses are such that we are unable to sell many of our products wholesale. We can only afford to sell them retail because of the cost--often more than half the retail price that the market will bear.

I laughed once with Rich Marotta about how most magicians think that magic comes from big factories. The truth is, an awfully high percentage of it is constructed in kitchens and assembled on the living room floor by unpaid family members.
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Profile of Merlin!
When I buy a magic product, I always think twice about altering it in any way, (I think, I bought this, I don't want to wreak it, even though I'd just be making it better) I usually just end up making a double to experiment with. (If I can)
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Profile of martini
This is for Magicduck and the many who have requested this info by E-mail.

The economics of manufacturing magic props is something that most builders never really used to take into consideration. But when they did, and started to keep track of the actual cost to manufacture, the prices went up, or the item was no longer available.

We have manufactured for dealers for years, being in business since 1971, so I speak from experience and will break down a prop for you here.

We used to make a livestock production cabinet with cage bar front. This box retailed at $100.00. Now standard wholesale pricing is no big secret, a dealer gets 40% off the retail price. So a dealer would pay $60.00 plus shipping for that box.

We have made this box for years, and never really gave a thought to our actual costs, we just figured we were doing well as business was good, the bills were being paid, and there was a little left over at the end of each month. Then my oldest daughter Bridget stepped into the business and started to cost out every item that we made by keeping track of how many props were finished from a gallon of paint, how many feet of pinstriping was used even down to the actual number of screws that went into each prop.

It took Bridget almost a full year because some items were being built in a single run once a year. We tried to build our props in runs of 50 to 100 depending on the popularity of the prop.

Here is the breakdown on that particular prop.

The costs involved per unit are:

$22.00 wood-cabinet birch finished both sides
$ 6.45 Brass hinges (3 Pr. Solid Brass)
$ 7.60 Brass Bars (Solid cage bars: Front)
$ 1.50 Paint
$ .78 Turned Knob (Cheaper to buy than turn)
$ .60 Pinstriping
$ .20 Felt
$39.13 Material costs.

Now we have to add the labor costs involved.
We did these in runs of 50 and it took two men 34 hours to make 50 from start to finish.
My cost being Pay/payroll, taxes/disability, ins/workmans comp, ins./unemployment ins. came to $11.40 per man per hour.

Now with two men each working 34 hours, my labor cost to make 50 of these came to:
$775.20 or $15.50 per unit.

Now, if you add the material $39.13 plus labor $15.50 My cost per unit finished and ready to ship was $54.63. That is without any profit at this point.

Now if the item sold retail at $100.00 we made $45.37 in profit for that sale.

But, if it sold wholesale which is where many of these cabinets went, The dealer paid $60.00 Wholesale so we only made $5.37 profit from the dealer, and then had to wait 30 days or longer to get paid for the prop as dealers expect to get a net 30 day billing when they buy wholesale.

When Bridget showed me this breakdown, I was shocked to say the least. The answer was to raise the price on this prop which we did to $125.00 and wholesale it at $75.00 that gave us a more reasonable profit on the wholesale end.

But then we had the dealers saying that they had to have them cheaper, how much cheaper did they want them? The dealer was actually making more profit on the item than we were and we did all the work in building it.

So what was the alternative here? Stop the wholesale of wood props to the dealers. We then would build between 6 to 10 at a time. and since we were building less units, it actually did not bring down our cost as it only shaved a few hours off the labor costs, the material cost was still the same.

But now we were still setting up the saw and machinery to make each cut, even though it was less units being passed through the machinery, it still took the same amount of time for set up. So where did we end up?

That box Now sold for $125.00 and our cost finished was $53.75 and we were able to put the extra detail and little touches into the prop that we were not able to do by building in the bigger runs. Yes it took longer to sell those few built, and money was tied up in material costs and labor costs until they were sold, but the profit margin now allowed the building of other items and newer releases, which we did not have the time for before. And by not having to tie up our working capital waiting for dealers to pay us, the business did fine.

Now remember that we have a factory and machinery and employees who get paid every week, rain or shine, so our expenses still are up there, as I did not add in building costs, heat and electric. That makes a difference as well.

For years, just about every magic shop had a couple of guys who made certain items for them, and these guys enjoyed doing it, had a basement workshop, and often got the material from their full time job, so rarely did they count their time, and only sometimes material costs. Well these guys have passed on, and people today are not going to work for little pay, that is why so many props are being made in India, and Pakistan and such, the labor costs are cheaper.

Is the quality there? No definitely not, but then again, you get what you pay for right?

I apologize for the amount of space that I took up, but it was needed to show where we builders are at today and why you see props as you do in the magic shops.

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Profile of RayBanks
Great post, Marty

Pick a card, any card...No. not THAT one...THIS one

Ray Banks
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Profile of Dano
I find that most stage props are that, just props. We must modify, change and reconstruct if necessary in order to perfect our craft. Any car will move you from point A to B, It's not how you get there, but what is perceived when you arrive!

True, nobody is in business to lose $
"Magic" is merely an illusion, but "Perception" is reality!
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Profile of ChrisZampese
[quote]I agree with everyone. But one thing we've missed. So do our clients!
Agree completely! Along this theme is the question of cost to the client. I went from being a 'cheap props' magician (childrens parties only at the moment) to a 'polished props' magician recently at some expense to myself. As all good performers do, I passed this expense on to my clients. You know what? I have not had a single complaint about the price increase. (even from my repeats) Don't sell yourself short!
The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are
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Profile of Magicduck

Good post. I have considered making and selling an effect or two that I have had success making for others on a smaller scale. As a result I certainly can visualize all that you have stated.
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Profile of martini
If you need any help or have any questions, please feel free to call upon me anytime. I have been there and can possibly help you avoid costly mistakes. If you need sources for anything, I will happily provide them.
wishing you the best of success.
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Profile of WolfgangWollet
Hey Martini, great post and thanks for taking the time to type all that down. It certainly reminded me of some experiences I had in the past as well. I am into manufacturing magic for the last 15 years (most of them in Germany - for three years as the owner of "The Magic Hands" - and the last three years here in Las Vegas (magic is now more of a sideline to my display business).

One big problem in manufacturing is that when you do the first to or three runs of a prop your calculations might come out were you need them to be, but then screws go up a penny, no big deal 8 cents on the prop, I can eat that, than wood gets more expensive ......I can compensate the $2...... You do this for a couple of years and when you than do an actual cost calculation you see you are in the loosing money.

I have come to a point were I understand why my plexiglas manufacturer constantly increases prices. It used to be once a year, in the last 16 months there were four increases. But there is an outcry every time I try to raise a magic prob for 2%
When a magician looks at a prop you often hear : What $200 for that box, I can built it for $80. That might well be true if you do not figure overhead and dealer profit into your calculation, but neglecting those two will bring you fast to bankrupcy.

Another factor in magic is that when you want to have a special fastener or mechanism built in the real world they laugh at you when you tell them that you need 200pcs or the price is so outrageous that the market would not bear the prop cost. You than sometimes have to improvise to get the trick to work and thus there might be an option to higher quality but it still is not feasible.
Roberto Gee
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Profile of Roberto Gee
Thanks, Marty -- great post! Everybody wants "cheap" -- until they receive it and see how it looks. Then they complain.

Vincent's post quoting his Dad is absolutely right: "You buy cheap, you buy twice."

Good for you for building it right the first time, and charging a fair profit.
Bill Palmer
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Profile of Bill Palmer
I appreciate Marty's post more than most on the list. I was in the magic manufacturing business for a while, back during the 1970's. The costs involved in making certain types of props are almost unbelievable. And many of them, such as rent, electricity and payroll are constant. I learned back then why some props cost so much and others are so inexpensive.

When you look at the props from some manufacturers, you see that they are made of masonite and are painted with very cheap paint. Some of them won't last beyond a few shows. Others appear to be made of good wood and might be painted well, but in the long run, they may not last because of other quality issues.

One of the potential dangers of purchasing from the internet is the danger of purchasing a badly made prop.

It really helps to see what you are getting. I purchase only from manufacturers I know, so I can count on the props actually working when I get them. When you do this for a living, you can't afford things that simply don't work.

One thing Marty did not mention in his analysis is the amount of expense that goes into prototyping. I know the kind of research that John Cornelius puts into one of his tricks. The first model of a trick may cost him $3,000 to $5,000 to build because of the various ideas he has to reject before he finds the one that works. Within a year, someone will have their version on the market, which uses John's research as the basis. The knockoff will sell for less and not work as well.

Consider these things when you buy.
"The Swatter"

Founder of CODBAMMC

My Chickasaw name is "Throws Money at Cups."
Frank Tougas
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Profile of Frank Tougas
Hey Martini,

I always thought magic was made by tiny elves in a hollow tree...oh well, have a cookie.

Personally, I would think I was on another planet if I did not have to remanufacture some part of a purchased trick. At times I have remade the whole thing. I feel I have the right once I have purchased it,

I have been using the old gag of slapping a die on the able to do a penetration and it ends up flattened. I made one out of paper and used a white die. It always gets a laugh..okay a chuckle.

Anyway I saw one for sale at Hank Lee's. I bought it and man, not a quality prop. It was hand made, and not much better than mine by Bob Little. For some reason I had pictured the "professional prop" being some soft translucent plastic with white spots embedded, to resemble an actual Vegas die flattened out. Unfortunately it was just a poorly hand cut piece of red plastic with some white dots painted on. Holuy disappointment Batman.

Now I don't blame Hank, it IS essentially the product advertised - I was just hoping that it would look better than something I could make myself. Oh well, it did prompt me to get some acrylic, red dye, a jewelers saw, a duplicate vegas die and some spots I punched out from a sheet of white plastic with a three hole punch.

Voila! A smashed die that looks the part! Happy Happy.
Frank Tougas The Twin Cities Most "Kid Experienced" Children's Performer :"Creating Positive Memories...One Smile at a Time"
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