David Welzman has slowly but steadily built a business performing magic at trade shows, helping companies generate leads through a mix of magic and information.
Welzman recently won the prestigious Merlin Award from the International Magicians Society for Best Tradeshow Magician in Australia, but it’s overseas where he has found success.
Dynamic Business asked Welzman about life as a tradeshow magician, or ‘infotainer’:
What led you to become a magician?
I started magic when I was about 22. I was head bartender at a restaurant and wanted to increase bar sales, so I started performing magic and bar sales did improve. We had people coming in earlier and coming afterwards for after dinner cocktails. Three years later I was talent scouted for club med resorts, and took over the nightclub.
A couple of years later I quit hotels and went full time magician but failed. This is where I learned show business is two words. I had the show but not the business, so I worked trial and error to learn the business side. I didn’t like the idea of working for agencies so I thought I would learn it myself. It took a few extra years but I realised that magic can be used to communicate a message. It gets peoples attention, breaks down barriers, gets the adrenaline pumping and makes people laugh, and these are the successful ingredients that make up effective communication. Magic can also be used as a metaphor so people learn as they get entertained. This was useful when I exhibited at tradeshows, and after a few successful shows I thought ‘I could do this for other products and services’ and that led me into trade show magic.
I re-branded myself as the Infotainer (information entertainment) as the term magician had negative connotations, simply because Australia don’t know anything about magicians. ‘Infotainer’ normally brought questions such as “what is an infotainer” but in the USA trade show infotainers are known, and I started to get many USA companies exhibiting in Australia using me.
How did you get into performing at trade shows and how has the business grown since?
In Australia there are no effective marketing channels to market a service for tradeshows. Most Australian tradeshow websites don’t even say who is exhibiting which makes it hard to know who your customers are. The only way is to cold call when there is a list available or you go to the expo to get the show guide and wait till next year to market. I did the cold call approach, I even walked into tradeshows and gave out free demos to exhibitors in the hope they would book me next time. That seemed to work, although organisers were not happy about it. I had a few Australian clients but the bulk of my money came from other countries coming into Australia, who then started hiring me outside of Australia for their other shows. This is where it started to take off, first in Dubai and now the USA. The USA is my number one priority, since you can actually buy lists of the actual decision maker, so there’s no more cold calling, just normal direct marketing, which is something I have never been able to do in Australia.
You haven’t had a formal business education – how have you learned about running your own business?
Trial and error. I hired an accountant to handle all that side of things early on so I would not stuff that up, but for a few years I ran the business at a loss. I was a yoyo; when business was good I would live by myself and when it was bad move I would back in with my mother and then back out again. It was only until the international companies started to book me that I was able to move out and find my own permanent place to live.
Even if I had done a marketing course, they don’t teach you how to market to an industry where you cannot find out who your customers were. I had to invent new methods of getting my name out there. I tried for year to get organisers to promote me as a way to help their exhibitors but none in over a decade were interested.
I spent a long time on the small business forums and got frustrated with people. They ask the question “I want to start my own business – what should I sell?” that infuriated me to no end. As a small business you do what you are passionate about when you first start out and unless you get extremely lucky you will fail for several years – it’s the passion that gets you through it. My problem was I was marketing to Australia when I should have looked bigger, I was the surfboard shop in the middle of the Northern Territory – I had a great product/service but targeting the wrong customer, so I changed the location of my customers.
You’ve had a lot of success in Dubai – what made you decide to look overseas for recognition?
I didn’t originally. I never thought someone would fly me over to the other side of the world – but those who booked me in Australia who exhibited overseas would book me. Trade shows in Australia are very different to the rest of the world. For one, the marketing boss in Australia is not normally at the tradeshow, whereas overseas they’re at the stand. In 2012 at Cebit, where the average leads generated on the floor was 225, my client generated over 900 leads, yet not a single Australian company came up to ask me for my business card. In Dubai after my first performance 3 exhibitors right next to my client asked me for my card. That’s how easy it is to market in Dubai – I’m showcasing myself to the decision maker whenever I do a presentation. I don’t need direct mail, cold calls, email marketing, or social media marketing because the presentation sells itself.