Sneaker Re-Sellers Use Fancy Footwork to Make a Buck

Friday, June 29, 2012

Waiting in line for shoes (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

On a recent Friday night in Times Square, dozens of people waited outside of Foot Locker. Amid the pulsing lights and swirl of human activity, those in line, mostly young men, stood still, or sat in camping chairs, sipping Big Gulp sodas, and waited patiently.

“I call them Jordan’s children,” said a Foot Locker worker patrolling a line, which stretched past Toys R Us and around the corner of 44th Street. “They’ll do whatever to get them Jordans.”

On this night in April, Air Jordan Playoff 12 sneaker went on sale, for $173 (with tax). Foot Locker re-opened its doors at midnight for the occasion.

Every week in New York there are a sneaker releases like this, though only the very largest draw attention from outside the community of people calling themselves “sneakerheads.”

But among sneakerheads, the hype over new shoes is so great that some entrepreneurs have discovered it’s possible to make a living flipping shoes: waiting on long lines to get a sneaker before it sells out, and then re-selling it at a significant mark-up.

Flipping Kicks

Tony Holmes was one of the people waiting in line on the night of the Playoff 12 release. But the Gucci sunglass-wearing 25-year-old wasn’t buying for himself. Holmes hoped to resell the shoe for $250 to $300.

“Even if I make $50 a pop, if you make a little bit of profit off of each sneaker, the goal is to get them in quantity,” said Holmes, who worked as a re-seller for the past two years.

The recently released limited edition Kanye West Yeezy II shoe (approx $245 in stores) now sells for $2,000 and up on eBay.

To grow his profits, Holmes routinely hires a half dozen or more young friends to help him buy shoes, and circumvent the one-per-person policy that most stores strictly enforce. They can wait in line for hours, or even days, to get to the cash register. Friends hold each others’ place in line for bathroom breaks, and sometimes even so they can go home and sleep.

Re-selling shoes is legal, as long as the reseller collects and remits taxes to the government. Retailers and manufacturers know about this secondary market, and they tolerate it.

But why not raise prices to what the market will bear?

“There’s no set price, there’s a suggested retail that you work with all the manufacturers on,” said Chris Santaella, vice president for footwear for Foot Locker. “We will always be at the suggested retail to keep up a good relationship with our consumer.”

Nike, the leading maker of basketball shoes, did not offer comment, but many analysts believe the company has learned to harness the hype.

“The concept of unrequited demand is paramount with Nike when they think about shoes,” said Matt Powell, a retail analyst with SportsONESource. “I think they always try to keep the supply below demand level. They want the shoes to sell out in a relatively short time because that creates excitement for the next one around.”

Sneaker Reseller is not a category recognized by the Bureau of Labor statistics, and there are no reliable figures for how many people do it, or the size of the secondary market.

Americans spend about $20 billion a year on athletic shoes, Powell said, but basketball sneakers are only a small, if lucrative part of it.

Becoming a Reseller

For Holmes, the work affords a good quality of life. He makes his own schedule, and has his own apartment on the Lower East Side.

He became a reseller by accident after his 21st birthday. Holmes’ father, who’d never been around much, gave him a birthday gift: an iPod classic.

But it was the wrong device: Holmes wanted an iPod touch. So he sold the classic on Craigslist, made $140, and bought the iPod touch.

“Then I said, ‘Wait, I could make money off of this, and I started buying a reselling iPod touches’,” said Holmes. “And then I ran into people doing the same thing, but they did cell phones. With cell phones, you make more money.”

Soon, Holmes was buying and re-selling sneakers.

Today, he mainly sells shoes through a consignment shop, because it’s less hassle than Craigslist. But Holmes also has word-of-mouth customers.

Recently, Tony Sewell, a bike store manager, met Holmes on East 14th Street to purchase a pair of Air Jordan 4, Knicks edition (in blue and orange), for $250.

“I went to the store to go grab these, and then the guy’s like, ‘Yo, Tony bought ‘em all,’” said Sewell, a first-time customer.   

Why fork out so much for sneakers?

“It’s partly a childhood thing,” Sewell said. “And now that I’m older, have a better understanding, now I can actually afford these things. We tie a Faberge egg-ish element to a lot of things in life.”

The Rules Changes, The Game Remains

Re-selling sneakers is nothing new. Athletic shoes have been a collectible at least at least since the first Nike Air Force 1s and Air Jordans came out in the 1980s. But the internet and cell phones are lowering barriers for people with the right combination of skills.

Holmes says you only need three things to excel: time, patience, and money.

“You gotta have money to pay people to wait online to actually get the sneaker,” Holmes said. “Time – you gotta be able to say, ‘Yo, I’m gonna wait on line for a week.’ A lot of people can’t afford to do that. Patience. You gotta have patience to wait outside and wait for the sneaker to come out.”

The night the Playoff 12’s dropped, Foot Locker didn’t open its doors till well after midnight. At 1:30 a.m., Holmes was still far back in line, and Foot Locker was only admitting a few buyers at a time. Holmes said his next destination wasn’t bed; it was another shoe store that opened its doors at 7 a.m.

Photos by Stephen Nessen.

Stephen Nessen/WNYC
Stephen Nessen/WNYC
Waiting in line for shoes
Stephen Nessen/WNYC
The girl is Amanda Jones, 24 from the Bronx—she’s waiting for the Jordan Obsidian 12.
Stephen Nessen/WNYC
Ilya Marritz/WNYC
Tony Holmes
Ilya Marritz/WNYC
Tony Holmes
Ilya Marritz/WNYC
Sneakerheads gather outside of Champs in Times Square.
Ilya Marritz/WNYC
Die-hard sneaker fans gathered outside the Champs in Times Square.
Ilya Marritz/WNYC
A line for sneakers snakes around the block.


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Comments [10]

Jackie from Charlestown Indiana

Seems like it would b smart to just use Foot Locker as a side job and instead of waiting outside in line, u could b inside putting the shoes on hold for urself, then after u purchase them, resell them (not at the store of course lol)

Feb. 10 2014 12:53 AM
DorothyAppling from sicklerville

Do u take strips from the foot doctor my number is 856 676 3697

Oct. 03 2013 08:00 AM
Benedetto Papaleo from Brooklyn New York

I sell shoes on eBay after I make a local craigslist deals. People aren't as knowledgeable about the shoes and sell by dates unless you're more than a hyphie. You're a business man after that, I make on average more than 100% what I put in making these resales. You get a great deal on a pair of 2009 Jordan Space Jam Retro 11 Size 12 for 110.00 usd. The website people try to base their prices on hypes them up to 639.00 usd Deadstock. You obviously have some yellowing on the bottom sole but you just clean it the right way, or just tell people they look better that way. Any sale over 220 which is the absolute lowest you'll get for these in a 9/10 condition will be quite good profit. I gave the option to buy now for 399.99 Because if you're lucky someone will go for them, if not in a year from now throw another 100 bucks on them.

Mar. 24 2013 12:45 AM
who cares besides you

@Ben that just shows the two letter word is interchangeable when we're talking about a formation of people. I'm standing in the line the people have formed. I'm standing on the line the people have formed.

Jan. 26 2013 04:16 AM
clive betters


go to anal-retentives anonymous....

Jul. 12 2012 02:27 AM
Ben from Bushwick

Mark: interesting... though I'm not buying it. The biggest problem is the phrase is not limited to "waiting." People say they are "standing on line" or simply that they are "on line."

Plus, the line itself is not what you are waiting for (or "on" as you would have it). Can you imagine someone saying: "I'm waiting for the line?" I can't. And then it should be "waiting on THE line" which I've never heard.

I think this is a somewhat random regional replacement of "in" with "on." You could cook up some far-fetched explanation (I read one about how people had to stand on on painted lines while waiting to be processed at Ellice Island... I mean come on!) but it's probably a lost cause to find out how or why this difference got established in the NY area.

At the end of the day, NY and other places have their language quirks. (Do other cities call all their independent convenience stores "bodegas?") I may think waiting "on line" sounds wrong, but what I was really asking was for some consistency from WNYC. The article uses "on line" once, and "in line" twice (once in the text, once in the photo caption).

Jun. 30 2012 01:26 PM

I don't think it's parsed as [waiting (on line)] I think it should be understood as [(waiting on) line]. May come from mass transit use in the city. Like people anywhere will say "I'm waiting on a train" meaning you're waiting for a train to arrive, if you were actually in the train then you would be "waiting in a train". That's my theory anyway.

Jun. 29 2012 12:23 PM

@Ben from Bushwick....William Saffire called (from the grave) and says his his column has been filled. I am from the east coast and I have heard the phrasing of on line through out the original thirteen. Honestly, given there's no confusion by the phrasing I say let it go. I have no clue about why Houston Street is pronounced (HOW-ston instead of HUE-ston) or why the northern California are found of saying 'hella' as a verb, noun or any other part of speech that moves them....but at the end of the day since it's language and if you understand what is being conveyed then it works.

Of course I know you pesky midwesterners can't get over the little things in, by all means pack it up and head back home and wait in line for your new kicks (i mean sneakers...i mean tennis shoes....i mean footwear...hell you know what I mean).

Jun. 29 2012 11:50 AM
Steve from East Village

@Ben from Bushwick - New Yorkers wait on line. We don't care what other people do.

Jun. 29 2012 10:04 AM
Ben from Bushwick

OK, someone needs to make an executive call here: your photo caption reads. "waiting in line for shoes." The article reads "waiting on long lines..." Which is it, WNYC?

I'm not from New York. But since I moved here last year, I have heard the phrase "waiting on line" a lot. It has always struck me as odd though. Maybe it's a regional quirk. But is it correct? My feeling is no.

I grew up standing and waiting "in" lines and never heard "on" from any person, book, newspaper, film or radio program. Waiting "on line" is also confusing as it conjures up a slow Internet connection.

At the end of the day, you will go with whatever your in-house style is. Or should I say "on-house style?"

Jun. 29 2012 09:48 AM

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