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Keeping Time

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  • | 8:31 p.m. January 17, 2013
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The showcase at John Brozek's shop in downtown St. Petersburg glitters with rare watches. On any given day, a collector may find a vintage Patek Philippe, a Breitling, Cartier or Tag Heuer. Or, he can choose Brozek's favorite, the Rolex.

Extraordinary wristwatches have long fascinated Brozek. Although many people now check the time on cell phones rather than wristwatches, Brozek's one-man company keeps on ticking as it services and sells luxury watches and clocks to customers around the globe.

The founder and president of QualityTyme Rare & Fine Timepieces, Brozek moved his company to the Northern Trust Bank Building in St. Petersburg in December 2011, after operating online more than a dozen years. The move defies the trend of stores abandoning brick-and-mortar locations — and the overhead that goes with them — to go online.

The business got its start in 1999, when Brozek marketed a self-published book on Rolexes, which has sold more than 50,000 copies to date. In 2004, he started, which took off as it drew watch aficionados. Brozek built a clientele around vintage timepieces, updating his book, buying and selling watches, and developing a coterie of watchmakers with expertise in repairing upscale brands. He added accessories and cast about for yet another product. He found it in his own expertise, and began teaching pawn shop managers how to identify counterfeits.

He found his strongest niche when he discovered that many companies don't service vintage watches, creating a frustrating dilemma for collectors. “They have nowhere to go,” Brozek says. “So that's where we started specializing in servicing and restoring old vintage watches.” Using his contacts, he contracts the work out to specialists who are able to service timepieces that can be worth $70,000 or more.

But Brozek says his business reached a new turning point when he leased 800 square feet in St. Pete at a low $10 per square foot for the first two years of his five-year lease. “I came over and I was blown away,” he says. The atrium, Class-A finishes, and location wowed him.

“The brick-and-mortar has afforded me a lot of things,” says Brozek. “It's given me more credibility. My website sales have actually gone up.” Online, he felt separated from his customers, but now they browse his shelves while he explains the history of various models.

If there is a lesson that has guided Brozek's entrepreneurial path, it is to follow the age-old precept of doing what you love. Born in Oklahoma, his early life could scarcely have been farther removed from the sparkling world of Swiss watches. While those in Brozek's shop average $5,000 to $10,000, the Rolex Daytona he wore on a recent afternoon would retail for $35,000 even without the diamond bezel, he says. He lights up as he recalls the time he got to discuss the Daytona series with the late Paul Newman, after whom a rare Daytona version is named.

Yet it took more than love for Brozek's business to make it through the recession, which Brozek says swiftly took 40% of his portfolio value. He coped by selling old inventory at a loss and investing in new items with stronger demand.

Some colleagues refused to mark down expensive merchandise, take the hit and move on. They lost more money trying to recoup their investment. It won't come back, he says. “Know where you're putting your money, and realize that at any time this market can shift.”


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