Side-hustle stories 💰 flipping cheap watches online ⌚️

Following my article reviewing popular side-hustles, I thought I’d do a few follow up stories about my experiences with side-hustles, starting with flipping items online.

I did this from around November 2019 until February 2020. What seemed like a good way to make a hobby and genuine interest of mine into an additional source of income, quickly became an unnecessary stress and a job in itself.

The inspiration & goal behind flipping watches ⌚️

One day I bumped into an article talking about a company called laCalifornienne, who had been customising Rolex and Cartier watches and reselling them for big bucks. They had become a formidable brand in their own right for creating these beautifully bright and vibrant watches using parts of prestigious vintage watches, and I felt genuinely inspired.

Unfortunately the article I found them through was because they were being sued by Rolex…

Anyhow, I was inspired by what they were doing and wanted to do something similar with Omega watches. Not necessarily trying to replicate the bright designs they were producing, but customising vintage watches to be a bit different and sell them online. This was the end goal, and something I would still love to do. There’s something very novel about recycling old watches and making them look new and unique.

However, I quickly became side-tracked from that vision as I began noticing that old Seiko and Citizen (automatic movement) watches sell for very cheap, and that I could make a quick profit buying and selling. I believe they were selling for so cheap because people selling didn’t know the difference between automatic and battery powered watches, so they based the prices on how much second-hand battery powered watches were selling for.

A promising start 😈

The strategy was simple:

  • Look everyday for Seiko and Citizen watches selling for less than £20 on eBay (usually because the listing lacks information).
  • Purchase and list on eBay and Gumtree with a box (either a cheap box or branded, depending on the watch). Make sure the listing contains as much information as possible.
  • Promote using Facebook ads or Gumtree ads depending on how much I think I’ll make in the sale.
  • Sell, and move on to the next watch.

The majority of the sales I made were through eBay, but the sales I made on Gumtree were generally more profitable. Overall, I found eBay to be simpler because I could run the listing as an auction and leave it alone. Whilst the sales were more profitable on Gumtree, they’re reliant on messaging the buyer and it can be time consuming negotiating with every enquirer.

Each week I was posting 1 to 4 watches.

If the watch sold on Gumtree I was making between £15 and £40 per item sold. If the watch sold on eBay, I was making between £2 and £20 per item sold. There were a couple of anomalies to this rule, such as one watch I sold on eBay for £100 profit.

We’re not talking about making huge sums of money, but decent “beer money” per week and that’s pretty good when you’re doing it because you enjoy the process.

If I wanted to make more per watch I could have bought luxury items, but I preferred spreading my money across lots of items to minimise risk.

I got hooked to the process, and quickly wanted to increase the frequency of my sales so immediately began ordering more watches than before.

The speed bumps along the way 🤕

The key issue with scaling a side-hustle is that it goes from being an enjoyable hobby to a second-job extremely quick.

I was finishing work and coming home to sell watches. Me and my girlfriend would be shopping and I’d have to stop in a corner with internet to reply to interested buyers. I would stress about dispatch times and ensuring items were being delivered. When we were meant to be watching a movie I’d be trying to win multiple auctions at once.

Don’t get me wrong, this can be fun, but the key is to know when it goes from being fun to genuinely stressful. For me that was when I tried to scale and sell as many watches as possible per week…

The more I ordered and sold the more issues began to arise, too.

Watches I ordered arrived broken, and that happened on multiple occasions. When items arrive broken it’s not just that you’ve wasted money on buying a broken item, it’s also the potential profit you missed out on.

If I needed the extra income I could probably overlook these issues, but when this was meant to be a fun way of making some extra money and it ends up consuming all of your free time for not a lot of extra income; that’s when you need to recognise a losing situation.

Becoming side-tracked from the original goal 🛣

The original goal was for me to find a way of creating custom watches using old watch components. As I began selling more and more Seiko and Citizen watches, I began looking at selling those customised.

At a couple of points I spoke to watch refurbishment shops about using the components of the old Seiko and Citizen watches but adding a bespoke watch face with my own branding. The amount they wanted per watch was a tad too much, and there was a minimum order quantity too which meant the risk was higher for no extra immediate reward.

I did manage to find a manual wind-up watch maker I liked and was interested in using them for the watches, but as they weren’t interested in reusing old watch components I thought it would mean the watches wouldn’t have a USP (unique selling point).

As the initial risk and cost was high, I decided it would be best to focus on reselling for the time being (raising brand awareness and growing a customer base in the process) and to revisit this idea later on. To be honest, though, I don’t think I will end up pursuing this idea.

I think the concept is sound, but someone with more experience in fashion e-commerce would probably be much more successful in launching it than me.

Deciding to stop 🛑

I eventually realised the enjoyment factor had completely gone for me, and thought I’d take a break in order to stop the endless cycle I’d gotten caught in. So, in February, I took a couple months off. And then the pandemic really hit, then we bought a house, and now I’m here.

I’m currently getting rid of the old stock I had in my cupboard, but I’m not using the strategy I previously was. I’m literally just listing on eBay for cheap and letting them sell to other resellers. I simply don’t want the hassle, and want to turn my attention to other things.

One of my friends who is passionate about watches had got me to buy a Hodinkee Swatch collaboration watch, and he had a good track record of knowing what watches would resell for a decent amount. However, despite the watch selling out, the resell was pretty weak (lesson learnt, don’t buy something you think is ugly for the sake of reselling).

I have managed to resell a certain G-Shock for good money, though, so it’s not all bad news.

Aside from occasionally investing in watches, I won’t be dabbling in reselling anymore though as it simply wasn’t fun enough for me to continue.

Lessons learnt, and what I could have done differently 👨‍🏫

Realistically, I was the only thing wrong with this side-hustle, and it is pretty viable option for anyone who genuinely would appreciate an extra bit of income.

The key issue was that I was focusing on the affordability of the watches. If I really wanted an extra couple hundred pound per month this would have been fine, but as I was meant to be doing this as a hobby I should have just focused on more premium watch brands. They would have came up in listings less regularly but that’s fine when you’re not looking for consistent income.

It’s important to keep things as simple as possible, especially when a project is meant to be low effort. If you can automate things (for example using an auction service like eBay rather than haggling over messages) do so.

Ultimately a side-hustle will always require some effort, but understanding the line between a side-hustle and a second-job is key to making it a success.

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