Wilson, Defilla master the 'business of illusion'

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The Illusionist, Lucas Wilson and assistant Kelly Defilla from Port Dover are more than talented, internationally-recognized entertainers.

They are also entrepreneurs, and it took years to hone their skills, said Wilson, estimating at least 50 per cent of their time is spent on the business side.

"In actually reality, I'd say more than 50 per cent," said Wilson. "It's getting out and promoting your show. It's making those phone calls, sending emails. It's going to conventions, setting up and talking to people in the industry to get that show booked."

"It's all about networking, right?" said Defilla.

They are active on social media, posting promotion material, sneak peeks, and keeping their fans up to speed on what they are doing, where and when.

"It's a full-time job doing that sometimes," said Wilson. "And then you're booking the shows, and then you're performing the shows. It is a full-time job."

"Yeah, it was trial and error, right?" said Defilla. "You keep trying different things and eventually you start to figure out how everything works."

"Now that we have this mentality, that this is a business, it totally changes the way you do everything," said Wilson, explaining how it was a job in high school, but he didn't consider himself an entrepreneur until after college.

"I was like, 'holy smokes I'm an entrepreneur, this is my job, this is my business.' And so over the years you learn to become a better business person. Like anything in life, the more time you do it, the longer you do it, the better you're going to become at it."

To be a successful business person, he had to get hired. And to get hired, he had to make himself known and get people interested. That's how he got the idea to try his first Guinness World Record.

"I graduated from college and my parents said 'this is kind of a make it or break it time.' So I went out and tried to become an illusionist. So I'm knocking on doors... nothing, nada, zilch. That's why I broke my first Guinness World Record. All of a sudden, that was a light bulb. People saw that and were interested in me and my show. That was kind of 'the moment' for us. And it was kind of a like an addiction," he added with a smile, "because once you have one, you need another. And another. And another."

Even now with four Guinness World Records, Wilson has to keep his name 'out there.' Wilson and Defilla do that through social media, web site, and convention trade shows.

"As an entrepreneur, you kind of have to do everything yourself," he said last Thursday at the Hamilton Convention Centre for the Festival and Events Ontario (FEO) convention.

Two weeks earlier they were had a booth at the Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies (Ontario Fairs) convention in Toronto.

"You have to be there," said Wilson. "You have to get your name out there. You've got to shake those hands. David Copperfield puts a lot into marketing - and he's David Copperfield, right? Even the big brands spend on marketing. Look how many commercials you see on TV for Disney World - they don't need commercials, so why are they doing advertising? Because even when you're the biggest brand in the world, you've still got to get your name out there and do that."

"It's seeing those faces (at conventions) every year, and people coming up and saying 'we want to book you again this year!' If your face isn't there, they might not rebook you because they might just ignore that email from you because they met somebody else at the convention. So you have to be there, all the time, and keep that 'face' for people to see.

Wilson and Defilla agree it's a cost-effective way to generate business.

"You've got to spend money to make money, as long as you're still making money at the end of the day that's all that matters," said Wilson.

A booth at the FEO convention can cost $1,000-$2,000. Expenses go up if it's farther away.

"Double the price last year because we were driving from Port Dover all the way up to Sault Ste. Marie. And more if we were flying. So it costs a lot of money, but you can also make a lot of connections and book a lot of shows, which is ultimately what you want to do at the end of the day."

Rating this year's Hamilton FEO convention, Wilson and Defilla called it a success.

"I think it was," Defilla nodded. "Very much so."

"After the convention you do all the followups," said Wilson. "You say, 'Hey, remember we met? Oh, you can't book me this year? Well let's talk about next year...' We're always looking to the future."

Wilson estimated that annually 25-50 per cent of their business comes from the trade shows.

"On top of that - the work we get from these shows - someone will see us at that show and then hire us, after someone from FEO hired us," said Defilla. "It kind of snowballs from there."

Another 50-75 per cent comes from people recognizing them online, their business cards, seeing them perform somewhere, or watching videos.

Face-to-face is still important even in an online digital world.

"It's really easy to send an email nowadays, but it's also really easy to delete and not read an email today," said Wilson. "You need to get out and be there in-person and speak face-to-face. I could send a million emails, but it's a different conversation if it's in-person and talking and shaking hands."

"I would say we're not only getting people to buy our show, they have to buy you," said Defilla. "They don't get to experience through an email. But if they get to see us face-to-face, sometimes they might really want our show because they like who we are as people. So that helps."

Part of the business is establishing a fair, competitive price for shows.

"I think it's important to be very, very fair and charge everybody the same price," said Wilson. "If a big corporation calls us and says 'Hey come do our big corporate party at the end of the year,' you might be tempted to say, 'Ooooookaaaaay! It's going to cost...' You just have to ethical. That's how you avoid that, you have to be 100 per cent ethical and say, 'we're just going to be fair to everybody, this is what we charge.' If you say 'we usually spend more than that,' we'll say 'great, we'll bring you a larger show, a better show. We have different packages.' But here's the standard rate for a standard show if you want that, and this is a great starting base price. If you can't afford that, then sorry, maybe we can work out some workshops instead. You try to work with them as much as you can."

Setting that price comes from experience and knowing the industry.

"Is it better to do 10 shows at a really cheap price or one show at an expensive price?" Wilson mused. "I prefer, in a lot of cases, to go for the more expensive one. We try to be a higher end act, and of course we're bringing a high quality show as well. So that's what we aim for. I'd rather do one really, really good show instead of 10 'okay' shows and I'm working my butt off. I think anybody in any industry would prefer that as well, right?'"

"At some point you have to know your value," said Defilla. "And don't lessen it."

"You look at what the industry is charging," said Wilson. "And you also have to look at 'what will I be happy with?' And charge what you will be happy with. So you're not saying, "Oh! Why am I doing this?' Look at industry standards, ask people, or just look them up online. At the end of the day it comes down to what are you comfortable with? And as long as you are happy with that price, then it doesn't matter what other people are charging."

His rates have gone up over the years, a gradual increase reflecting how as they became seasoned professionals the show became more valuable.

"When I noticed we were getting crazy amounts of bookings, I started to raise the price a little bit. It's like with Disney World, if too many people are coming, let's raise the price. Let's tweak this a little bit."

"When people say to us, 'what is one of your goals?'" said Defilla. "We always say one of our goals would be to have a space, a theatre, and constantly performing in one venue, and performing every single night kind of thing. But that's going to take time, it's going to take a lot of work.

"So for now, this is what we do and we love doing it. We don't mind doing all these little shows and going around... One day we'll get there."

Currently, Wilson and Defilla can do up to 200 shows per year, although it varies from year to year.

"Some weekends we're doing nine shows in a weekend," said Wilson. "Which keeps us very, very busy. But we love it. And that's the big payoff. You do all this 'business-y stuff,' all the paperwork, the emails, and learning about marketing for that payoff - when you get to stand on stage, see all those smiling faces, the cheers, and then meet the people afterwards. That's the payoff, that's the reward of doing all of this."

March Break Magic

Lucas Wilson and Kelly Defilla will be peforming some of their favourite illusions - and some new illusions - on Monday, March 12, at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Lighthouse Festival Theatre in Port Dover.

Proceeds from the show support Wilson's program at McMaster Children's Hospital in Hamilton.

After the shows, there is a limited 30-minute VIP only magic workshop experience.

Tickets are $12 (floor seating), $10 (balcony) and $22 (VIP), available at www.lucauswilson.ca or call 519-583-2221. 


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