This is the first, in a series of interviews with entrepreneurs in the vintage watch world. A series focused on how these entrepreneurs started and how they grew up.
Being unique is a courageous move. Especially in the world of vintage watches, dominated by the big brands, it is nice to observe a move towards niche markets. The watch world is getting increasingly more accessible as the new generation of vintage watch dealers use the internet to build a client base. That’s why I decided to interview Ilja from Benjamin Marcello, a young and passionate online dealer with a focus on “high quality, forgotten watches”. I wanted to know how he started, what constitutes his success and how he grew up.
Stan: How did you start your business? How did you come up with trading watches?
Ilja: When I turned 18, I was visiting my grandparents. My grandfather took an old watch out of a drawer which caught my eye right away. Since childhood I have been fascinated by beautiful classic things, such as cars and watches. So, it came as no surprise that the watch intrigued me. My grandfather gave it to me and I started doing research on the internet. At that moment, the fascination for watches started. And shortly afterwards I started my collection.
S: Do you purely trade to expand your collection?
I: I wouldn’t say to expand my collection. I really enjoy collecting, but high turnover of the pieces – so that you can have a lot of different pieces in your hands – is only possible if you also sell it again. And that’s what I like about it. And working with beautiful products is my passion.
S: Alright! And do you think high turnover is more important than high margins?
I: That’s a good question. I think I would rather have really beautiful pieces that stay a little longer, and that I make nice profits on, than have a lot of pieces that are less beautiful but sell faster. So, quality over quantity.
S: What does success in business mean to you? And do you consider yourself successful?
I: That I can do what I like every day. And that I can also support myself financially with it. My terms of success are mainly independence and distinctiveness. Financials are not on top of my list. I think that it’s going pretty well for me. I think I am quite unique in my offering too.
I enjoy what I do every day and I like the contact with other people. I can only see that growing, so yes, I absolutely think I am successful.
S: Great! And where do you think your success as an entrepreneur comes from?
I: My passion. It sounds very cliché, but I really believe in a certain quality which does not exist anymore. The product philosophy has changed over the years. And I really believe that what was made in the past is just of better quality. That is also a message that I like to convey to my customers.
S: That it just lasts longer. Not like the current consumption society.
I: Exactly yes!
S: And when you look at other entrepreneurs, or at yourself, what do you think are the most important skills to be successful?
I: Independence, that you dare to make your own choices, and that you are original. Not that you follow others indiscriminately. And that you also dare to take risks.
S: Can you tell me about the risks you took to get here?
I: That’s a good question. Risks. Yes, I made mistakes in purchasing. I’ve done stupid things that I think “I shouldn’t have done that.” So, I think the risks are mainly, within our profession, in purchasing. And I did make a lot of mistakes there.
S: And start-up costs? Did you invest a lot in the beginning, or did you gradually invest more?
I: Gradually a little bit more. I saved up a bit with the jobs I had on the side. And I didn’t have an outside investor who said “here, take a few thousand euros” or something.
Still, when I look at where I want to be in the long-term, I do need certain financial space. So that’s something I am investigating.
S: I think just have to look at what you want to offer and how much time you are willing to spend on it. Suppose you focus on steel Omega Seamasters and Genèves. Then you basically need 25,000 euros to trade in volume. But if, for example, you are only going to do Rolex, then you need a lot more. So, you have to look at what your offer is and what you want to achieve with it.
S: Do you often act on the basis of impulses, or do you do thorough research first?
I: So far it is often impulse. And that is actually because it starts with: what do I really like? And what do I really believe in? And I buy that.
S: And which of the two determines most of your success?
I: In the long-term I think it’s research. But, in combination with feeling.
S: And, how important are rules and regulations for your productivity?
I: I notice that if I don’t create some sort of structure for myself, I start to float a bit. And that is not conducive to productivity.
S: So, you want to have a certain structure, but you also want to be able to behave impulsively?
I: Yes, I think a certain degree of freedom is very important. If you are being fully regulated, if you have a punctual schedule and people say what you have to do exactly, then the fun is gone for me.
S: Exactly. Do you plan things on the day itself or are you really looking at the long term? Or both?
I: I’m definitely looking long term, absolutely. But every day I often have to choose what I want to do on that day. That is quite often the day before. But if I plan something like this interview, for example, I will look at the agenda for it.
S: Do you think you are innovative in the industry?
I: Well, I think a lot of people in our industry are not really customer friendly. And I think I really am and often hear that. So, I don’t know how to be innovative, because good customer service does exist, but it differentiates me.
S: Can you tell me a bit about how you grew up, and where your entrepreneurial urge comes from?
I: Sure! My father is not really an entrepreneur, but my mother is a very good seller. She worked for twenty years in a piano shop and is a great talker. So, I think I got that from her. I think it is just a combination of enjoying being in contact with people, and finding the sales process very interesting, and of course, the fascination for a beautiful product. If I can reach that on my own and don’t have to sit in a boring office somewhere else, then the choice is very easy for me.
S: Can you indicate some key points that you learned from your parents which formed you as an entrepreneur?
I: A certain degree assertiveness and awareness is very important. That you arrange and take care of your own things. Don’t hold hands, do it yourself. And if you ask, “Will I get dirty if I jump into this mud pit?” They would say, “I don’t know, just figure it out, jump in there.”
You have your own choices in your life, you are free to do everything. And that you have to learn to choose for yourself. My parents were pretty strict. If something had to be done, it just had to be done. As a young child, my opinion was not always very relevant. At least, that was not considered very relevant.
S: Would you write your entrepreneurial drive to yourself? That it is really purely something that you have learned and built yourself?
S: And were you involved with that from an early age?
I: I used to go door-to-door with a friend. We called that the tea bag game. We went through the neighborhood with five cents. At the end of the day, we came home with a computer mouse that I still use. We just thought that was funny to do. And I have always enjoyed talking to people. I’ve always had that in me, a certain degree of assertiveness.
Thanks for the open-hearted answers Ilja! Click below to check out Ilja’s work: