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A Magician's Tricks of the Trade on Running a Small Business Hear how the owners of Illusions Bar & Theater created an intimate magic experience ranked #2 in Arts & Entertainment on Yelp and Entrepreneur Media's first ever Top 150 Mom & Pop Shops list.

By Emily Washcovick

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Courtesy of Illusions Bar & Theater

On stage, Spencer Horsman commands audiences with card tricks, mind reading, and other shocking illusions. But behind the scenes at Illusions Bar & Theater, his partner Nicole Bailey runs the show.

While Spencer grew up in an entertainment family, Nicole has a corporate background and marketing experience, which she used to strategize and grow Illusions. Together, the pair do it all—from cleaning to decorating—to keep Illusions not only running but thriving.

This hard work hasn't gone unnoticed and earned them the #2 spot in Arts & Entertainment on Yelp and Entrepreneur's first-ever America's Favorite 150 Mom & Pop ShopsTM list.

"People come into this place, and it looks beautiful, clean, and organized, and people forget, or even don't realize, it's just the two of us," Spencer said. "We are there every moment. We are the cleaning crew. She's the art designer, she's the menu designer, she's the bartender."

To keep work manageable for the two-person team, and to maintain the quality of the show, Spencer and Nicole operate at limited hours and performance days. While they could manage a crowd twice the size, they like to keep the audience to a maximum of 40 to foster an intimate environment.

With a smaller audience size, Spencer and Nicole are able to greet every customer at the door, bring them to their seats, and explain the experience. This personal customer service inspired reviewer Derick Y. to write a 5-star review.

"[Spencer and Nicole] both had these huge smiles on their faces. [They're] really happy that you're there," Derick said. "Right when you walk in, you feel like you're in for a good time."

Magic shows can be intimidating for some customers, especially when it involves audience engagement and anyone can be selected to come on stage. To make customers feel comfortable, Spencer explains his type of magic at the beginning of the show and starts with familiar card tricks.

To further put customers at ease, Spencer maintains a sense of humor throughout the show and doesn't take himself too seriously. Because of the intimate, smaller environment, Spencer and Nicole also hope that audience members can bond, joke with each other, and become friends.

"The feeling and the energy in the room is more around that of a comedy club as opposed to a strict magic show or theater show where everybody is just seated quietly, politely clapping at the right times when they're supposed to," Spencer said. "I play off of the audience heavily, so any little moment that occurs, I improvise and make a joke about."

While Derick and many others have had a positive experience, Spencer and Nicole know not every audience member will leave Illusions wanting to write a 5-star review. When it comes to critical reviews, Nicole takes a tried-and-true approach in her review responses—kill 'em with kindness—which helps her maintain a positive attitude toward feedback.

Knowing everyone's experience is personal, she hopes the high level of customer service and effort put into the show will leave a lasting impression on guests that they'll want to share with their friends and family.

"We encourage people to use their own words of their own experience to share with people," Nicole said. "That conveys a lot more to someone who's curious about what we do than even going to our website."

Other tricks of the trade small businesses can learn from Illusions Bar & Theater include:

  • Learn when it's the right time to expand. It's okay to scale back if you aren't ready for business expansion or if it doesn't work for your business model.
  • Foster organic growth through great customer service. Customers can become advocates for your business through reviews and word-of-mouth marketing.
  • Manage your expectations and maintain a positive attitude. Operating a small business with a small staff means all tasks—even the grimy ones—have to be done by you, at least until you decide to hire additional help.
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Spencer and Nicole, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.

Available on: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and Soundcloud.

Emily Washcovick

Small Business Expert at Yelp

As Yelp’s Small Business Expert, Emily is meticulously focused on helping local business owners succeed and grow. Her expertise lies in customer engagement, reputation management, and all things digital marketing. Through speaking engagements and thought leadership, Emily shares industry insights that entrepreneurs in any business category can leverage for the growth and well-being of their businesses. She is also the host of Behind the Review, a podcast from Yelp and Entrepreneur Media, where each episode features conversations with a business owner and a reviewer about the story and lessons behind their interactions.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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