New Yorkers will wait on line for just about anything—pastries, Supreme tee shirts, designer collaborations, iPads—but given the chance, a few would prefer to pay someone else to do it for them. Enter the world of professional line sitting—a gig that's now so legitimate there are Yelp reviews, Twitter accounts, and business cards for the services.
One group in particular is everywhere: Same Ole Line Dudes, or SOLD Inc, which Chelsea resident Robert Samuel started almost unknowingly at the iPhone 5 launch. He made $325 for selling two spots and renting milk crates for $5 a pop to anyone who got tired of standing.
We got in touch with Robert via Twitter (which he uses almost daily to tweet the time, temperature, and number of people waiting for Cronuts) and talked over the phone about his day-to-day routine. After the jump, find out how much he typically makes per line, who's paying him, and what he does to occupy his time for several hours on end.
Who are your customers? Are they people who are really obsessed, or are they really rich?
It's a mix. I have two or three uber rich clients. One that lives in Palm Beach and another that lives on Park Avenue. One wants Cronuts a lot [for] whenever friends come to visit from out of town. The other end of the spectrum is people who don't have time and want to get a head start on the line.
I had one group of teenage girls that I did the Isabel Marant for H&M [collaboration line] for. They wanted to be ahead of their friends and they lived a little far. Their friends got there and we were first in line.
Do you think that New Yorkers will wait on line for anything?
They would try not to if they could help it. It's a phenomenon. 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?"
There was an article I was reading that said people in the U.S. will wait eight minutes on line on average, and after that most Americans will leave, whereas people in Europe will stay a little bit longer by 30 or 45 seconds.
What's the longest time you've ever waited?
19 hours for the iPhone. That was how the whole idea of line sitting came about. I was an employee at AT&T, and I lost my job. I wanted to supplement my income because I used to sell iPhones, and this time I wasn't going to be able to sell them and make a big commission check. 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."
The guy that hired me cancelled and said he wasn't going to use me—he was just going to get it online but that he was still going to pay me. He paid me $100 and I resold the spot and made another $100, and then I called my friends and told them to come on down, because I just made $200 standing in one spot on a weekday afternoon.
They came down and took up spaces, but after a while they got tired and went upstairs to my house and hung out, and I ended up selling one of their spots. I also sold milk crates for $5 a piece that I had in my house. At this point, the line was getting long and people didn't want to stand, and some people didn't want to sit on cardboard on the floor, so my milk crates came in handy at $5 a pop. That's $325.
Do some of your clients request that you be first in line, or very close to the front?
I don't guarantee that we'll be first, and they don't really come to me with the demand that I have to be first. I say, I'll get you a prime spot, and I'll let the customer determine how much time [they] think [is necessary].
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.
Do you charge by the hour, or is it a flat rate?
It's per hour. It's $25 for the first hour and $10 for each additional half hour. But sometimes they'll gauge it wrong. Like with Diptyque, I got there at 5:42am and the next person didn't show up until 6am or 7am, and they were in the dark.
Do people ever get mad when the person who paid you to wait shows up and switches with you?
That hasn't happened, and that's been one of my biggest fears. What I tell my waiters is that a spot in line is the 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."
I always tell people that if you want us to wait in line for you, it has to be an even ratio. That's what keeps it calm. 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 I'm stuck in a line and you're first, and you come with two or three people, you've already bumped me to fourth. So we have to be really upfront, but the customers are okay with that.
Yea, it could get pretty aggressive otherwise.
What are some of the longest lines you've waited on? Cronut, Apple? The crowds that turn up for the sneakers launches are probably pretty intense.
Oh my God. I don't know if you've gotten a chance to look at my Twitter feed, but some of the pictures that I've taken—or line blogging, if you will—those lines go around the block.
Were you at the Supreme store a few weeks ago?
I saw that line. I didn't have an order for it though.
It was crazy.
I wish I had known about it. I get information from my customers based on how far in advance they call me, and I think—wait a minute, this might be big. And I try to tweet about it or put it on Facebook and try to gain some customers from it.
How many people do you have working for you?
I have fifteen people that are interested and about seven that actually respond to my texts for jobs.
What do you usually bring to keep busy?
I bring a portable charger, depending on the length of the wait. I have two iPhones, my iPad mini, hand warmers. I have a sleeping bag that I used for Isabel Marant, and I have a tent that I used for Nike. It just pops up, and people will look like "Oh my God, it's that serious." Lawn chairs, a tablet, the Metro or AM New York. When I'm tired of that, I just go to my HBOGo.
What do you do when you have to go to the bathroom?
There's a loyalty between people standing in line—an unspoken code, so to speak. In my experience of doing this, which is a little over a year and 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.
When you're in line with people for such a long time you expect conversation. I use it as an opportunity to tell people about my business and give out business cards and they know me so they'll hold my spot. If we're in line for four hours, I may have to go to the bathroom now, and when we hit that homestretch, then you have to go to the bathroom—one hand washes the other.
· Same Ole Line Dudes [Official Site]
· SOLD Inc [Twitter]
· SOLD Inc [Facebook]