Penn State Altoona alumnus Brian Foshee has yet to celebrate his fortieth birthday, but he already has fulfilled numerous personal goals and ambitions as a magician/entertainer, salesman, inventor, and entrepreneur. In the tradition of every successful businessman, he is creative, innovative, and not averse to taking risks. His story is the classic realization of the American dream. He is happily married with two children, financially secure, and immeasurably content with his self-styled career.
During his junior year at the University Park campus, Foshee was a founding member of the Penn State Performing Magicians Organization. After entering the corporate sector, he turned his avocation—magic—into a lucrative business he named B. Happie Entertainment. His experiences as a performer inspired successful turns in sales and product development.
Foshee earned his bachelor’s degree in marketing, with a specialization in sales, in 1997. He resides in Oviedo, Florida, with his wife Lesha and their children Caleb (10) and Gavin (6).
In his own words, Foshee details for IvyLink an amazing life that certainly is no illusion.
Q: How did an interest in magic become an employment opportunity?
A: After graduation, I moved to New Jersey and worked a year for a company before quitting to perform full time. I quickly became one of the busiest family magicians in New Jersey, doing four hundred shows yearly under the title “Brian Happie”. My motto was “Don’t worry, B. Happie.” I began booking other performers on shows as well. During my best years, I was booking about 1,000 shows. I was doing four hundred of them and sending a mixture of professional performers and shows I produced to do the remaining six hundred. My house was paid off, I had a 1975 Ferrari Dino 308 GT4 in the garage, and no time to enjoy any of it. So I left the income of four hundred shows a year behind and moved back to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where my wife and I were raised and where we could raise our kids and enjoy a slower lifestyle and family.
Q: Why and how did you establish a working relationship with an importer of amplifiers?
A: Like most performers, I needed a small PA system to amplify my voice and play music for my shows. I had the system for just over a year—just out of warranty—when the $1,000 system got knocked over during an event. I tried to get the company to repair it but they would not. So, I looked for a less expensive system. I found a system for $200 and decided to try it out.
Every performer who saw it wanted one. I reached a deal with the importer and sent out an e-mail to my performer friends offering the systems for sale. I sold thirty-six from that e-mail. I began advertising the systems in magazines for magicians, and they sold like crazy. Everyone seemed to be sick of buying the expensive units and getting bad service, so I filled a huge gap in the market.
Because of my interaction with the other company, I created a “warranty” option for a small monthly fee that covered simply everything. My customers wouldn’t be treated like I had been.
Q: How did the selling of amplifiers lead to your active role in product development?
A: Through the importer, I was able to get the factory to make some changes and improvements to the original amp. We called the new one the Happie Amp 2.0. After a couple years dealing with the importer, he switched factories without telling me. I found myself staring at a shipment of three hundred PA systems I wouldn’t even sell to my worst enemy. I had been trying to find out the identity of the factory but the importer was smart enough to cover his tracks, as to not lose my business. I was stuck not knowing what factory had been making the amps while a steady stream of orders flowed in.
I scoured the boxes from the old amps and found some clues. On a hunch, I e-mailed a factory and asked if they were the ones making Happie Amps. I got a picture back from them of a cute little grandma-type holding up a Happie Amp box. I began importing them direct from the factory. I learned as I went, sometimes the hard way, about customs and importing.
Q: What is the Ultimate Control devise you designed?
A: The best way to add value to a presentation is the addition of music. Doing so used to require a sound booth, running off stage to press play, or fumbling with unprofessional remotes designed for recreation. Ultimate Control is the quick, easy, and reliable way to add music to your performance without any of these inconveniences. Ultimate Control is a factory-made, remote MP3 player specifically designed for entertainers. It allows you to start, fade out, volume up and down, advance tracks, and more.
The remote fits comfortably on your belt or hidden in your pocket. Raised buttons allow precision controls without having to look. We even make toe switches and ankle switches so you can start and fade out music without even a flinch. From an audience perspective, you must have a staffed sound booth hidden somewhere. The remote and devise pair together to prevent interference. The devise holds hundreds of songs. Ultimate Control works with virtually any speaker system. It is currently in use by birthday party magicians up to well-known public speakers and even Las Vegas entertainers.
Q: Have you always possessed the spirit of invention?
A: Ever since I was a kid, I was an inventor at heart. My mom enjoys telling the story of my drawing up designs of tennis shoes with wheels in them as a kid, long before Heelys were around. Well, the difference between an inventor and a dreamer is action and guts. It’s much like my other beloved hobby of hang gliding. You have to jump! I have seen many of my ideas come to fruition ... in someone else’s hands ... until Ultimate Control.
Q: What was the inspiration behind Ultimate Control?
A: Entertainers have a great need for a way to run their own music that doesn’t require breaking character or running off stage to press play. Over the years, many have come up with their own methods and a couple people have created devices. A few models on the mass market just don’t cut it for a professional. They are unreliable at best. So there I was staring at a black hole in the market. I began designing an MP3 player and remote with all the features I could dream up, including a remote I designed with my kids’ Play-Doh, but it was a dream.
For a full year, I searched the globe to find a factory willing to take on the project. A couple overseas factories read my specs and said they would be able to do it. I was hopeful until financial negotiations began and they wanted me to commit to one million pieces! This happened twice. Finally after a year of extensive research, I found one company that could do it and said they would go as low as a 10,000-piece commitment. I got them down to 1,600 pieces and the financial commitment was well over $100,000. I was crazy. I had to have been. With everything I owned on the line, I said “yes”.
After another full year of development and correspondence with engineers, artists, entertainers, and graphic designers, the first five hundred units arrived on my doorstep. But it was a turbulent ride. By the time the first shipment arrived, I had one hundred units already sold. During the first year of sales, I sold five hundred and my investment had been recouped.
Q: What is your next professional challenge?
A: I am always thinking and working. I have mass market ideas but my heart is in the magic community. Changes to the PA systems, an android app, Bluetooth enabled PA systems. Not too many details can be discussed yet since the technology race is the fastest race ever run.
Q: When and why did you relocate your family to Florida?
A: My favorite joke when we were moving to Florida was when someone would say, “Why are you moving to Florida?” My quick reply was, “Family”. Then they would say, “But you don’t have any family in Florida,” and I would say, “Exactly.” Of course that is the joke.
The truth is I had gotten my business to a point where I was able to be successful from anywhere in the world, and yet I was shoveling four feet of snow and enjoying about fifty sunny days a year in Johnstown. It made no sense. I had visions of sitting by my pool as the kids splashed and played ... in December.
After all, we had been traveling to Orlando with the kids two to four times a year. One year, we went for forty days all at once! We are HUGE Disney fans. So, in 2011 we did it! We researched the Orlando area and found Oviedo, voted in the top ten places to live in Florida and in the top 100 towns to live in the USA. We arrived in Oviedo on July 4, 2011: our independence day.
Q: What part has your Penn State education played in your succession of professional achievements?
A: When most of my fellow college students were looking for an internship with a company, I decided to create my own. I opened a magic shop in Windber, Pennsylvania, called The Magic Den. It was not until then that I realized the value of what Penn State had been teaching me. As I tried to find new customers, manage inventory, balance books, etcetera, I felt like Daniel in The Karate Kid when Mr. Miyagi finally tested him. “Show me. Paint the fence! Show me. Wax the car!” I can picture Dr. Bill Engelbret pacing back and forth, arms flailing, excitement spewing from him ... about accounting!
My time working at Penn State’s Lion Line, trying to get donations by phone, also gave me a sense of humility and appreciation for those in the trenches of business who do the really hard work. I learned to hire people to do that stuff for me! Even many years later, when I began dealing with overseas companies, details from my international business class were coming back to me. Indirectly, I also learned customer service: something for which I am now well known. One professor explained how we (students) were the customers and his job was to give us our money’s worth. No teacher had ever said that before. Nor seemed to think it! Many of the students I met during my undergraduate years at Penn State are still close friends and business associates. There is an atmosphere at Penn State that exudes pride that I hold close to my heart still.