Years ago, when I ran a walk in magic shop, I often encountered a problem when someone new stepped through our door. Was the person a potential customer or merely curious? After all, "magic shop" means something if you're a magician but - to the uninitiated - it can conjurer up a host of unrelated meanings. Even asking a direct question like, “Are you interested in magic?” could cause more confusion than clarity.
My solution was a small refrigerator magnet.
While browsing through a novelty catalog I stumbled upon a small magnet with the image of an eye on one side. When you tilted the magnet, the eye would blink. I bought a bunch of the magnets - along with the special coins used in an old children’s trick called Magical Block. This combo allowed me to make a penny apparently change into a dime when I placed the blinking eye onto the coin. I packaged the two together and gave it the name, “Just Looking”.
When someone walked in I would take a few moments to silently assess if they seemed like engaging. If they did - I would ask, “Can I help you?” Nine out of ten times they would answer with, “Just looking.”
“Oh, that’s over here.”, I’d respond.
“I’m sorry, what?” Now they were asking ME a question and that completely changed the dynamic of the conversation.
“It’s right here...”, I would say - gesturing them to come closer. I’d place the penny on our close up mat, touch the eye to the coin, and presto – the coin magically changed. I’d immediately direct them to the package on the counter so they could clearly see its name. “That’s Just Looking, it a great trick for a beginner. Do you do magic?”
In those few moments, they had drawn themselves into the experience and seen something pretty amazing. The also gained a firmer grasp on what all those strange things were that filled our shelves. That’s a lot to accomplish with so few words.
Whatever answer followed that question, at least we were both on the same page - and we had some fun getting there. I didn’t use this every time a new person strolled in but, when the moment was right, it broke the ice better than almost any other approach. In a sea of sameness, sometimes your best bet is being a bit unorthodox. If you’re having trouble opening doors, maybe it’s time to find your own little magnet.