They say good things come to those who wait. But here’s the loophole: what if you could pay someone to do the waiting for you? Same Ol Line Dudes (SOLD Inc.) is a new service in New York that helps people get in line for the latest, hottest and trendiest new products. At $25 for the first hour and $10 for every half hour after that, I think it’s pretty legit. If I could avoid waiting in line and still get to buy the new iPhone or enjoy a cronut, I’d definitely be willing to pay for it.
The idea for the business came to Robert Samuel after he made $325 selling two spots in a line for the iPhone 5 launch last year. That’s when he realized that he could cash in on people’s fear of missing out on new things. “It’s a phenomenon,” he said. “I did an interview with German Public Radio a while ago and I explained FOMO: fear of missing out. Especially in New York, you have friends and you’re hanging out and it’s like, ‘Did you see that new exhibit at MoMA? Do you know what a cronut is?’ People want these things like it’s the end of the world. When I show up to their offices with a sleeping bag in one hand and the cronuts in another, they know they’re getting their money’s worth.”
There have been services like this in the past, but they weren’t exactly ethical. Like these guys who would buy cronuts in bulk and sell them on Craigslist at a higher price. But Robert makes sure he plays by the rules. He has a few super-rich clients. When one of them wants cronuts for his out-of-town guests, Robert gets to the bakery hours ahead of time. He’s always properly equipped – a portable charger, two iPhones, an iPad mini and handwarmers are always at his disposal. A lawn chair, the MetroCast and HBO Go make sure that waiting in line is never a boring experience.
Sometimes he has to wait longer, like at the launch of Isabel Marant for H&M, for a group of teenage girls who wanted to be ahead of their friends. He’d taken a sleeping bag and a tent with him then. But his longest wait yet was the launch of the iPhone 5 – 19 hours. He had just lost his job at AT&T at the time, so he had to think of innovative ways to generate an income. Line sitting turned out to be his best bet.
“I live a few blocks from the Apple Store on 14th Street, so I said, ‘Let me wait in line for somebody else and make them happy.’” A man gave him $100 for the job, and later cancelled the request (but Robert got to keep the money). So Robert sold the same spot to another guy for $100. He asked a few friends to come in and take some spots and when they got tired and left, he sold those spots too. Then, he got out a few milk crates from his house and sold them at $5 apiece to people who had been standing for hours and were desperate to sit down.
Robert hasn’t looked back since then. His innovative idea has now become a full-fledged business model. He has seven people working for him as professional ‘waiters’. 15 more have expressed interest in the job. He doesn’t guarantee that he will be the first person in line each time. “I’ll get you a prime spot, and I’ll let the customer determine how much time they think is necessary,” he said. “If you tell me to get there at 5am and the doors open at 8am, you know it’s going to be big, and if I’m there three hours ahead you know for sure I’m going to be one of the first. You’re getting three hours of sleep and you just arrive and take your rightful place: rain, snow, sleet, or whatever.”
When asked if the other people get mad when the switch happens, he said: “That’s been one of my biggest fears. What I tell my waiters is that a spot in line is a perfect opportunity for you to tell people what you’re doing there. ‘I’m a professional line waiter, here’s a business card. I can wait for you for your next sample sale or your next sneaker release.’” Robert is also very particular about the number of people who will show up to take the spot. “If you want to come with a girlfriend, that’s fine, just tell me how many people are coming. If it’s four, then we’ll reserve four waiters.”
If you’re wondering what the line sitters do when they need to go to the bathroom, fear not, they don’t lose their place. “There’s a loyalty between people standing in line,” said Robert. “In my experience of doing this, which is a little over a year-and-a-half, it’s never been a problem. No one’s going to say, ‘You move your feet you lose your space.’ I just say, ‘I’m going to the bathroom,’ and find the nearest Starbucks and offer to get them a coffee or something.”