How A 19-Year-Old Picked Up Watch Trading And Is Making It A Full-Time Career
“AAAAAlex! John Doe used the bathroom again!” Every Saturday, while I was giving up some of my childhood for the “Opportunity Wage” of $5.90 an hour, John Doe would come into Subway and make an unpleasant scene in the restroom. Being only 15, I was not allowed to use the toaster ovens and could not run the sandwich line myself. Naturally, I was the go-to person for odd and unpleasant jobs like the one John Doe created for me each Saturday evening.
Without getting into much detail on my limited employment history, I’d like to say that I have always loved the idea of working for myself and being self-reliant.
I was about 14 or 15 when I had started to want a watch. I don’t quite remember what triggered my interest in them. Nobody around me in small-town Wisconsin wore anything special. Perhaps it was some movie character or the time that I stumbled into a Rolex boutique on a weekend trip to Chicago. Anyhow, with about $1,000 to my name at 15, I decided I wanted a watch. I settled on my first piece–a gold-tone quartz Citizen on a leather strap.
I shopped and resold carefully on eBay, and soon found myself with 6 watches at a time, trading in and out of them. I might have bought some used Seiko for $40 and sold it for $85. It felt like fun and games, yet I was making a full day’s Subway pay with a fraction of the time and much more enjoyment. The opportunity I saw was no illusion, and I quit the job to pursue flipping these cheap watches.
Everything was going well. I was scaling at over 300% a year and had 200 to 300 Citizens, Seikos, Bulovas, and Movados at most times (mid-2018). It felt great to be in high school, profiting 20-30k with no real expenses. The watches moved quickly and the margins were always 30% to 400%, so I multiplied my capital quickly.
That was a very different business from the luxury watch consultant gig I have currently.
When did things change?
From mid-to-late 2019, I really had to ask myself how I was going to scale this further to make it liveable and lucrative enough to be satisfactory.
In November or December of 2019, I happened to stumble across one of PJ’s ads with some AP’s in a Rolls Royce talking about watch trading. I would have never devised the business model he was talking about. I always wanted to flip nicer watches, but I never saw an opportunity on eBay to flip Rolexes and Omegas with the fees, assumed lack of speed of selling a multi-thousand-dollar item, and I was too scared of fakes. PJ was clearly successful and knew things I did not, so I invested in the course.
Thank goodness it happened…
Had I not seen that ad (thank you, algorithms of the internet), my business would have lost all momentum shortly.
First, as I wouldn’t have time to be flipping more than the 300 or so watches I always had, I assumed I would have to start flipping more expensive watches instead. This made little sense as my $1000 Citizen Satellite Waves and such moved very slowly. I would have stuck to my model of buying an item and putting it on eBay until it sells. As soon as I would’ve tried this with Oris, Tag, Longines, etc., I would’ve had a terrible time listing and holding pieces at the awkward $800-$1400 mark.
Second, my business was way too reliant on my eBay account and inventory source. There is not enough opportunity on just eBay to buy and resell these cheap watches. My inventory was bought in lots from a supplier from whom I had done business with eBay. Somehow, the manufacturers would get some watches back, then some auction in Texas would sell them in lots to only five different people who were allowed to bid. One of those five people supplied most of my inventory. This was so far out of my control, and a system I couldn’t depend on.
Third, it requires constant and on-site work. With the watch trading model, everything becomes more passive. I can even do it while traveling the world. If I can hire an assistant to manage, inspect, ship, and photograph the physical assets, I can still buy and sell from my phone anywhere with a signal.
Where I am now
Now, after four years of having a watch business and 5 months of having the knowledge from WTA, my business is fun, self-reliant, and already lucrative enough to potentially justify leaving college to pursue it full time. This summer, I will have the chance to see what I can make of it as a full-time activity, and I am sure that if I can succeed in a slightly-slower, pandemic-stricken economy, it’ll only be better and easier when society is at its best.
Even though I am a freshman in college, sometimes, I get to enjoy pieces that are worth more than tuition. It is exciting to say the least!
One of the coolest things about the watch business is how I get to talk to amazing people as peers. Previously, all I ever did was follow orders from superiors like managers, parents, and teachers. Now, I get to speak with successful business owners, professionals, and even the manager of a unit of the WI Department of Justice as a friend or even their consultant. Some of these relationships have been priceless. If people ask me what my “backup plans” are, I’ve been offered several jobs by my clients after doing deals with them.
Watch trading has effectively freed me from worrying about living in the rat race, and it has made me more interesting to successful, interesting people. Aside from the immediate monetary ROI, there is tremendous value in some of the connections I am making through timepieces.
The General Direction
My prior experience helped me get the ball rolling and build quick momentum. I had enough startup capital, I knew how to ship, I had solid business eBay and PayPal accounts, my LLC, business bank accounts, and an accountant. I also already knew how to wield an iPhone to take good photos as I’ve taken at least 50,000 watch photos by now, and most importantly, I had the confidence to take action.
The most important things for me right now would revolve around building a larger network of people who know I am in this business and what I can do for them.
While many people have other interests and communities they are part of and can become “the watch guy” within, watches have been my only real interest and use of time since high school. I have to pick up some interests and build relationships in something else and become a part of that community to find more retail clients.
Also, this game is very much about relationships and networks, but I’ve always been more of an introverted and close-circle kind of person. I am not so conversational, and I am very systematic and calculated with most decisions in life. I have to work to better understand and create emotional reactions within people, as clients generally buy and sell with emotions first and justification later.
In the end, I am committed to, heavily invested in, and truly want to make this business one of my lifelong endeavors. It has already opened so many doors for me and grants me the time and financial freedom I feel I need.