Thursday, June 15, 2017

Line Dudes

Unemployed and depressed, Robert Samuel turned to Craigslist. It was iPhone release day in 2012 and, looking to make a few bucks, he offered to hold an Apple loyalist's place in line for $100. Apple fever was strong, and Samuel quickly found a taker and rushed to the Fifth Avenue shop in New York. The man who hired him ended up being able to score the smart phone online but paid him anyway.

"I was going to leave," Samuel recalled. "It was actually a customer who prompted me to stay," proposing, "Why don't you sell your spot?"

Samuel realized he had stumbled on a money-making scheme and called his friends to join him in line. By the end of the day, the crew had sold four spots and five milk crates, which exhausted Apple fans bought to sit on. The day of waiting earned Samuel enough money to buy his own iPhone 5.

"I always call myself an accidental entrepreneur," said Samuel, 41. "This was never meant to be." Today, he's the chief executive officer of Same Ole Line Dudes LLC, a professional line-sitting service with dozens of employees, all independent contractors.

A Brooklyn native, Samuel went to the city's public schools and left Pace University three semesters short of graduating. He spent his career working a slew of customer service, retail, and security jobs, which he credits with preparing him for the customer-facing business he now runs.

Same Ole Line Dudes, or Line Dudes for short, charges $25 for the first hour of waiting and $10 for every additional half hour. There's a minimum of two hours and a $5 hourly surcharge for extreme weather. The line sitters get 60 percent of the fee, plus tips. Line Dudes fields 60 to 100 requests a month and experiences an uptick in the summer from tourists.

At first, Samuel wasn't sure the business was sustainable. It wasn't until the summer of 2013, a year after the iPhone sit, that he started actively using the Line Dudes Twitter account, which he had set up a few months earlier. "I wasn't even taking myself seriously," he said. "I was throwing paint on the wall and calling it something when it dried."

Then the Cronut was invented.

Samuel's business surged when Dominique Ansel, a world-renowned pastry chef, combined the croissant with the doughnut and started selling an extremely limited supply at his SoHo bakery. Every day, Samuel would post on Craiglist offering to stand in line for the thing. With more clients than he could handle, he recruited his friends to stand in line with him, since the bakery limited the number of Cronuts per customer. He charged $60 to purchase and deliver two Cronuts, which retailed for $5 apiece.

Reporters noticed that Samuel and his buddies were at the bakery daily, and his line-sitting services made the local news. He once delivered Cronuts to a customer in Baltimore, who paid for his round-trip bus ticket.

As word spread, "people started calling us for other stuff," Samuel said. He began waiting in line for Saturday Night Live tapings, for famous speakers, for anything that created a queue. By early 2014, Samuel had launched a website for booking line-sitting appointments but still felt unsure about leaving his day job. He finally made running Line Dudes his full-time gig in January.

by Polly Mosendz, Bloomberg | Read more:
Image:Michael Nagle/Bloomberg