Vanishing Inc. 2022 Year in Review
By Andi and Josh - Friday, December 30, 2022
Welcome to our long-standing tradition of us (Andi and Josh) writing an open letter to our growing community of consumers, followers, and friends. Inspired by Warren Buffet's annual letter to shareholders, this is where we reflect on the past year: what we did right, where we need to improve, and—crucially—what we're looking forward to. Most importantly, we made a big, surprising move this year that we haven't publicly acknowledged until this moment. We're very excited to share the news with you here.
But before we get into that, let's take care of the most important message in this letter: we're grateful every day—in awe on a daily basis—for the opportunities you have bestowed on us: to serve you, to innovate in an industry we (Andi and Josh) both love, and to work beside a team we feel proud and privileged to be part of. On behalf of our thirty-seven team members, we wish you happy holidays, and hope you have a chance to share some impactful magic with those you love most.
Our Big News
Let us paint a scene for you: it's February 2022 and we just completed an exhausting day of filming for the television show Masters of Illusion on set in Los Angeles. We conspired to film it at the same time because we were helping each other with our segments. After a stressful filming day, we treated ourselves to a rare day off, and the two of us went to Disneyland. As we entered the park, the very first stop was a quick trip into the Main Street Magic, the famous shop in Disneyland where so many fine magicians got their start.
As we chatted with the demonstrator behind the counter, it became clear that the shop was in a transition period. He explained that the owner of this shop—which was one of two branches of the well-known Houdini's Magic Shop chain—was winding down his operations and would, perhaps, be interested in selling. Until that moment, neither of us had ever given any serious thought to owning and operating a retail magic shop. It was a dream, but we weren't sure it would ever be a reality.
We called the owner, Geno Munari, and instantly formed a bond. He had evolved the classic magic shop into an astonishing enterprise of shops. He ran just under a dozen shops across Las Vegas and California, and shaped the way much of the American public consumed magic. Now, he explained, he wished to retire. He had just two shops left in operation: Main Street Magic at Disneyland, and also a shop at Pier 39 in San Francisco.
By May 2022 we ironed out the details and purchased the Houdini's Magic chain, which included the warehouse inventory and both locations. This instantly expanded our team by twelve, and forced us to learn how to operate a retail magic shop on the fly.
What's so attractive about this move, for us, is that the revenue generated by these stores is from people outside of the magic industry. It's almost entirely a growth acquisition. And because we do our marketing online, every new customer to our stores will be transitioned into an online customer, where we hope to equip new, aspiring magicians with the right kind of training and tools to be their best.
But we have a long way to go. Consider today's announcement a heads up, but the big announcement will come in a few months when we tell you about our plans for the stores. We'll be announcing complete store refits and a new product line, and will be documenting the process throughout. 2023 is going to be a wildly fun, but extremely challenging, year!
When we first purchased our warehouse in 2016, we remember saying to each other, "We're never going to fill this." It just seemed so, so big. Fast forward five years and the biggest logistical issue for us was, quite simply, scaling our business to accommodate the rapid growth we experienced during the pandemic years.
One of our weaknesses—which we've acknowledged in past years—is that during the busiest times, particularly during sales and the holidays, we tend to fall behind in dispatching orders. The outsized volume during these periods can be overwhelming, even for a finely-tuned warehouse team like ours. We knew a big part of this was sheer logistics: with more space to store, assemble, and prepare orders, we knew we would improve both the accuracy and speed with which we get your magic to you.
We wasted no time in 2022 improving these aspects of our business. We hired a skilled warehouse manager, Hoang, and expanded our shipping team. We also purchased the warehouse unit behind our existing space, doubling the size of our operation, and linked the two spaces to create "mega-warehouse" as we jokingly refer to it. Now we have office space, double the number of shipping stations, and perhaps most importantly...room to grow. This investment in space and people is a bet on our future, and we hope you feel how much it's already working (our 2022 Black Friday sale experienced essentially none of the pains from previous years) Year over year our metrics improved on every level: we shipped packages more accurately and faster than in any year in our history. We're proud of finding an effective solution to overcome this challenge.
Our Growing Team
Given these updates, it should come as no surprise that our team has grown more in the last year than in any other year in our history. It had to. We're extremely rigorous in our hiring search, and we are notoriously stubborn about running a tight, lean operation. We take pride in the idea that we do more with fewer personnel than our competition. We have always viewed this as a competitive advantage; efficiency is important to us. But this is also the year that we acknowledged that we needed to scale up.
As mentioned, we welcomed two fantastic teams to run our shops. Johnny Wonder heads up the Disneyland team, and we relocated Thomas Hayden from Florida to oversee our San Francisco operation. Our warehouse team has grown, and we welcome Ivan Cadiente to our team of video editors, who are responsible for the marvelous content you see in our trailers and tutorials. We also transitioned Kyle Littleton, our longest-tenured team member, to a new role as head of our Support Wizards where he has helped to further develop our industry-leading customer support.
This is also the year we recognized a weakness that we share: we are just not finance guys. We have complementary skill sets, but neither of us have ever run a company quite like this one. So we hired Jeff Kowalk in October to serve as CFO. Jeff now oversees all finance-related matters for Vanishing Inc., and is playing an active role in making our retail shops profitable, and helping us be our best. Jeff has a financial background at four different firms, and also a serious interest in magic. You might know him from his popular "Erudite Magic" YouTube channel, where he reviews magic books.
If we were grading our live event performance this year, we'd give ourselves a "B." Running live events in a post-Covid world is a delicate balance: we were accommodating to a number of health issues, travel problems, and other unusual circumstances. Despite those challenges, the attendance at our two flagship events in 2022—Magifest and The Session—were down substantially. But here's the great news: those who did come had a blast, and attendance for 2023 is back to pre-pandemic numbers. Problem solved. We also revamped the look of our magic booth for all of these conventions. Here's a shot of our booth at Magic: Live. Pretty slick, we think. A huge thank you to Rachel Plotkin for helping make this dream a reality.
In addition, we hosted two Retreats this year: South Africa and Western Adventure in Utah. Both were, truly, some of our favorite moments in our lives. We made lifelong friends, saw incredible magic, and experienced two of the most beautiful places on Earth. Salesy talk aside, if you haven't joined us on a Retreat, you're missing out. Our Retreats sell out within days each year, and both weeks of our 2023 Tuscany Retreat are already sold out. We hope you'll join us for one soon.
We did something else we always wanted to do this year: we took our team on their own Retreat. We flew the team to Las Vegas for three days of fun and adventure, as a thanks for their hard work. This included trips to see Mac King, Penn & Teller, the Pinball Hall of Fame, and even a surprise midnight visit to David Copperfield's museum. We'll never forget it, and neither will they.
Looking to the future, we know we need new expertise for our conventions, retreats, and live projects, so we brought in the best: South Africa's Craig Mitchell has experience working with young magicians, putting on shows, and planning conventions. He will now head up this department.
A big part of our workload is spent in the service of our non-profit organization, ShareMagic. Our mandate is to promote the craft of magic, and in particular, to empower young magicians. There is a lot happening on this front.
For starters, we expanded our youth program to include The Session this year. This means that at both Magifest and The Session, we sponsor young magicians (and a guardian) to attend for free. All they have to do is donate a magic performance and send us evidence of their show...and they're in. Each year, we typically send more than 60 young magicians to learn and grow by learning from some of the best magicians on earth.
When we saw the atrocities happening in Ukraine, we wanted to help. In April we launched ShareMagic: Live for Ukraine. This online event was a pay-what-you-wish online convention, and in 4 short hours we raised more than $30,000 dollars for the cause. We donated half to Ukraine charities, and the other half we donated to a refugee magician who found himself unable to return to his family when the war broke out. The money we donated allowed him to secure an artist visa and create a new, safer life for him and his family. We check in with him regularly, and we're proud of how this money affected one of our friends-in-magic.
We visited the College of Magic in South Africa, an organization we've supported for years. We previously rebuilt the theater in their building and also donated the Vanishing Inc. Magic Lab, a space where kids can go to learn and build magic. On our visit, we performed and taught magic, toured the facilities we helped build, and then donated $10,000 toward tuition scholarships and transportation for the underserved who attend classes there. All thanks to your generous donations.
We're not ready to share other non-profit updates just yet, but we'll tease you: something big is coming next year.
It was a mixed year for Vanishing Inc. releases. What we released performed very well, but we were victims of the continued supply-chain issues that have thwarted every aspect of retail worldwide. As a result, some of our most anticipated projects still aren't out, but this means 2023 should be stacked with incredible magic.
Still, there is lots to be proud of: "Thin Air" has been given glowing reviews. Brought to you by Ignacio Lopez, this simple, elegant-looking silk allows you to easily, visually produce anything from a full, ribbon-spread deck of cards to a huge bunch of coins. At $25 it's a steal. If you don't have one, you should get it. It's easy and you'll use it.
"Miracle One" is our newest release. What do you expect from Christian Grace? If you haven't seen the trailer yet, you can watch it here.
"Velo" was a first for us: gorgeous display cases for playing cards. They're high-end, and priced that way. But they are, without question, the most elegant way to display playing cards, and the stack looks gorgeous in any setting.
As expected, Andi's 52 Explorations book was a hit amongst our customers. It features 52 more incredible tricks from Andi's late friend, Jack Parker, and received rave reviews.
Joshua Jay's Talk About Tricks complete file is our most gorgeous book set to date, and it sold like wildfire. 868 tricks by all the top names in magic. Sheesh.
We also released Josh's "Cylinder and Coins," one of his most popular routines, as well as the deluxe collectors' edition and recording of his off-Broadway show, Six Impossible Things, which sold out in four hours.
We released too many fine products to detail here. Luke Jermay's You're Only Lying to Yourself is a collection of his finest card magic, Rune Klan's Barnløs is an incredible, full one-man show, Opticks is the acclaimed follow-up to Harapan Ong's Principia, and "Prokito" was our own Brian Watson's hand-crafted Okito Box.
We also invested heavily in upgrading the quality of our Vanishing Inc. Masterclass program, which remains the best value on our entire site. Based on the rapidly growing number of monthly subscribers, you've noticed the increasingly amazing talent this year: Homer Liwag, Jim Steinmeyer, Carisa Hendrix, and on and on. But you'll also notice that we have seriously raised our production values. We've heard a lot of positive feedback about this, and we're proud of the continuous improvement.
We have so much magic almost ready to come out that a legitimate challenge next year will be finding ways to space out our releases.
"Emergence" by Tim Hill will finally be released. It's our first foray into electronic magic, and has definitely been a learning experience. But, we assure you that the wait was completely worth it.This intricately-gimmicked card box secretly shoots a coin into a glass. It's the ultimate ending to coins to glass, and it looks like something straight out of a James Bond movie.
"Planetarium" by Manu Jo is a whimsical effect that involves magic and shadows and the play of light. It's hard to explain in words, but this will be extremely affordable and could have a shot at becoming the "hit" trick of the year.
We're proud to announce a collaboration with Angelo Carbone on his seminal "Notion of Motion." Until now this trick was owned by fewer than a hundred people around the world, since each unit had to be painstakingly crafted by hand, which took hours. We found a way to manufacture this gorgeous effect far more efficiently. So very soon, you'll be able to hold up a pack of cards in the box, ask someone to name any card (truly), and that card will slowly rise from the pack.
We have upcoming book projects with Michael Feldman, Jamy Ian Swiss, Jean-Pierre Vallarino, Ed Marlo, Richard Wiseman, and more. You'll be hearing about these titles soon.
We are also pleased to share that our next Retreat location will be in Alaska. Not just that, but it will be an Alaskan cruise. Not just that, but unlike our previous 3-day retreats, this one will last a full week! We expect it to sell out fast. For more info, stay tuned.
The last thing we'll talk about briefly is, well, us. Andi Gladwin's professional highlight this year had to be appearing on Fool Us and...fooling Penn & Teller. He also filmed multiple segments for Masters of Illusion (also on the CW Channel), and appeared at many conventions around the world. His run at The Magic Castle in October was praised by a veritable who's who in magic.
Early 2022 Joshua Jay completed his monumental 49-city book tour in support of How Magicians Think, the book he describes as his love-letter to magic, written for the public. The book garnered rave reviews and made several best-of lists from prominent publications. He also released the filmed version of his show, Six Impossible Things. His personal highlight was taking his mom, Trish, as his guest on The Retreat: South Africa.
A Final Thanks
We never lose sight of the fact that all the things we talk about in these letters are possible only through your support. You have a choice when you attend conventions, buy magic, and study your craft. We're honored to be your magic store of choice, and we'll continue to strive to be the best we can be.
Andi Gladwin & Joshua Jay
Cofounders Vanishing Inc. Magic
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