I’m often asked about how I started in the watch industry, the history of Luxury Bazaar, and how I built it to be such a successful organization. I’m finally going to answer these questions since I keep getting them in our Q&A YouTube series.
How did you get started dealing watches?
I’m asked this question all the time. The answer will probably take up this entire article, so I hope you’re ready to hear the Roman Sharf story.
How did it all begin? I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. In fact, my family immigrated to the United States in 1988 as Russian refugees, running away from the Soviet Union.
I was raised in a 450 square foot apartment in New York, where my sister and I slept in the kitchen.
Later on, we moved to Philadelphia, where I finished high school and joined the US military, where I served for 3 years.
When I came out of the military I attended Penn State, where I majored in electrical engineering. At the time, computer science was hot so that’s what I got into, working in the banking industry.
My latest job landed me in New York working for Deutsche Bank.
By the time I was 26 I was a VP at DB. I was doing extremely well – thought I was living the American dream.
Until a friend of a friend came to my house one day and asked me to help him sell some of his luxury watches on eBay.
My first question to him was, “Who the hell is going to buy a $15,000 watch online?”
At the time I was already into watches and knew quite a bit about them. I had had a couple of high-end watches – so it was an idea that intrigued me. Mind you, I already had a pretty demanding job, working 60-70 hours each week and commuting 2 hours each way from Philadelphia.
So I ended up working pretty much 24/7 to get the business off the ground and keep up my work at DB.
It went on that for about three years, and the business took off. I didn’t realize how much you could do online when it comes to high-end items!
Did you have investors to be able to purchase such an extensive inventory of expensive watches, or did you start small and build up over the years?
Over the course of those three years, I was able to invest about $65k of my own money into the business – buying some of my own pieces and reselling them.
I also found out that the guy I had been working with was “frontloading” the watches he was passing on. This means he told me he had paid $10k for the watch, we would sell it for $12k and split the $2k of profits. In reality, he had paid more like $7k for the watch and was keeping most of the profit.
I was at a crossroads, especially since my career had taken off at DB.
I decided to go my own way and work for myself.
I told the guy I had originally been working with that I’d be glad to continue taking his watches, but that I would keep the profit from the watches he sold me (since he was frontloading them anyway). He flipped out a bit, and we ended up going our own ways.
I found my new business partner with my best friend, Arthur. I brought about $65k to the table (from what I had invested in the business previously) and he brought $250k to the table from a credit line he had from the mortgage business.
Luxury Bazaar is Born
That’s how Luxury Bazaar got started full time.
Seven years ago, we merged with A&G Jewelers. When we first started working with them a few years prior, they had 25 years of jewelry wholesaling experience.
I met Gary, one of the partners, at a local poker game. After a few weeks, he came to the game and threw about $300k worth of merchandise on the table and asked me to sell it through the new business.
We were able to sell the inventory within 30 days, and it was a happy start to a new partnership, where we were able to grow our inventory by about 40%.
Then in 2011 we officially merged as LuxAge Group.
As they say, the rest is history.
Last year, we reported around $145 million in sales – about 70% of that is retail. We work out of a 20,000-square-foot facility with 36 employees.
We just launched the latest version of LuxuryBazaar.com
That’s a (not so) quick version of where we started and how I landed where I’ve landed.
The bottom line is no, I did not have investors. Luxury Bazaar was started from scratch.