Sramana Mitra: It sounds like your business was entirely Panerai until what year?
OJ Whatley: Until about 2003.
Sramana Mitra: What did you do after 2003?
OJ Whatley: Again, I’ve always loved watches. Panerai has captured my heart. In fact to this day, my license plate is Panerai. I fell in love with Panerai like no other watch. I love watches to begin with. It took me a couple of years because a lot of people were telling me that Panerai was a bubble. It was going to burst – that Panerai couldn’t justify the resale prices or the profit margins on the watches I was making.
Most importantly, I had conviction because I really loved the brand and loved what it stood for. I put myself out there as a specialist, an advocate, and an enthusiast. I was willing to talk to dealers about it because most dealers didn’t understand Panerai. I became their go-to Panerai guy. Whenever they got a Panerai to buy or sell, I was the first call they made. I would tell them exactly how much I want to buy it for. I would tell them exactly how much they could sell it for. Sometimes, they sell it to me and other times, they didn’t. I figured it was all part of the business.
Sramana Mitra: In 2003, you decided to sell other watches. Can you talk about that?
OJ Whatley: It wasn’t necessarily that I decided. It was that I figured I could sell more watches if I took trades. As much as I love Panerai, to buy and sell only Panerai was a limiting proposition. Coming from the investment field, I know all about diversification. I figured out that I could sell a lot more Panerai as well as other watches by taking trades and by becoming an authority in other brands. I can’t say that from 2000 to 2003, I never sold anything but Panerai. I sold other brands other than Panerai but Panerai was where my passion was.
Sramana Mitra: So what happened in 2003?
OJ Whatley: It became a little harder to get the watches. There was a little more competition. Again, I didn’t make a conscious decision per se, but my inventory had diversified, so I was selling more watches and doing more volume. In doing more volume, there was more trade.
Sramana Mitra: This is actually a good segue into a question I’d like to ask you. How much of an inventory do you have to manage? It sounds like you were doing this out of your house. These are big ticket items. You’re operating out of a small space.
OJ Whatley: I recall one time leaving on vacation for a week and taking my inventory of watches, putting them in a bag, and putting them in my ceiling because I didn’t have a safe. I only had an alarm and I didn’t have insurance because I wasn’t a business operating out of a business. I was a business operating out of a house and therefore, I can’t get insurance.
Interestingly enough, because I started this business working out of my house, I never advertise my home address as my business address. I always use a shipping store. That would allow me not to have to worry about being there for package pick-ups and deliveries. It also allowed that people I didn’t know wouldn’t just stop off of my house, ring my doorbell looking to see watches. Even before then, I was conscientious of security and trying to maintain a low profile. In fact, I would meet people at Starbucks to show them watches. If I was unsure after I showed them the watches at Starbucks, I would drive around in circles before I went back to my house just to make sure I wasn’t followed.
Sramana Mitra: If you looked at the progression through the years, is the volume that you’re transacting significantly high now? Do you need a warehouse?
OJ Whatley: We have private showroom and sales office. I’ve got 20 employees here and we do maintain a substantial amount of inventory.
Sramana Mitra: You’re based in Florida?
OJ Whatley: When I was working out of my house in 2003, I moved in to a new house and I got a safe built-in to the closet. At that point, I probably had about 30 watches with a value of around $2,000 per watch. Again, I was just turning watches. I would put them on eBay. I would sell the watch. I’d get an offer to take another watch in trade. I had private clients I was doing business with locally in South Florida. My business was just growing. Again, I wasn’t taking anything out of the business. There was one watch I sold for a substantial profit and I didn’t get a penny out of the business. I just used it to buy more inventories.