Facts of the Job
Job Title: Professional Queuer
Average Pay: £10-£20/hr in the UK
Qualification/Experience Needed: Literally none (though the University of Sussex sociology department currently offers a really good module in ‘The Theory and Practice Remaining Entirely Motionless for Extended Periods of Time’ which could set you in good stead)
Do you have the uncanny ability to simply switch off your mind for hours at a time, reaching a Zen-like state where you’re so entirely detached from the world that days go by like minutes? Do you also have A LOT of free time? Like, literally nothing else to be doing? Well it looks like you’ve found yourself a new job, or at least something to fill all that free time of yours.
At it’s most basic level, a professional queuer is someone who waits in a line, for money, and that’s about it. No experience needed and no special skills required, only the ability to deal with unrelenting boredom for hours, even days, on end. What you’re actually queueing for could be anything, it doesn’t really matter, the job’s always the same. That’s why professional queuers cover everything you could possibly think of that involves the need to queue: train tickets, limited edition shoes, doctor’s appointments, music gigs, travel documents, auctions, the latest iPhone, prescriptions, even just waiting at the bank.
It’s easy to see how the market for professional queuers could be pretty lucrative, with the sort of in-store release events that tech companies and fashion labels are using now to build the hype around the products they’re selling. Queues for the iPhone 6 started a good 10 days before it’s release in London and Nike Air Yeezus’ can generate fortnight-long queues. People who have the money and want a new item first, or want to be one of the few to grab a limited-edition run, will happily pay to make sure that happens, rather than wait on the pavement for a fortnight. So those of us with A LOT of free time and even more patience can easily do that for them, simple. The first few people in the queue for the iPhone 6 outside Regent Street in 2014 were professional queuers, receiving over £1,000 for their pole positions.
In China, the professional queueing business has really taken off due to a booming urban population causing a mass over-subscription to many of the cities’ day-to-day services liking banks and healthcare. The longest and most hectic waits are for the trains out of the cities back to the home villages of the migrant workers every spring. 130 million people head home for the New Year’s holiday, causing the world’s largest human migration, which makes getting tickets an absolute nightmare. This has produced a situation where ‘paotui’ (literally the ‘running legs’) businesses can flourish. A paotui will wait 6 hours at the bank, make a dozen 2-3 hour hospital visits a week and camp out 26 hours for a limited-edition purse, all so others don’t have to.
“I’m just selling my time for money,” – Li Qicai (owns paotui business)
Paotui’s often get some odd requests as well, like being asked to queue up outside a client’s new shop to make it look popular. On top of the all queuing, they’ll even pick up fast-food past delivery times, pick up the groceries, pay the bills and grab your mates from the airport, at which point they’re less professional queuers and more on-demand PAs.
Responsibilities and Duties
Pretty much just standing around, though sometimes you could be sitting, so it’s important to be aware of when those times are. Moving forward slightly when appropriate is also crucial to the success of a professional queuer, so you’ve got to know when to do that and when not to do that. As you might be able to tell, the responsibilities and duties of a professional queuer in general aren’t all that overwhelming. For certain bank, travel and hospital queues you may be entrusted with people’s personal details and documents to take care of and look after, but not often. Taking enough jobs to fill your entire week will require good time management and organisation to make sure you can meet all your queuing commitments.
Should you Become a Professional Queuer?
This may seem pretty cut-and-dry already for most people, either you’d be totally cool doing nothing for ages and being paid for it or you wouldn’t, simple. But there are still a few things worth considering if your on the fence or even if you think you’ve mad up your mind.
“You don’t need any skills, except the ability to suffer” – Li Qicai
Obviously this is the big thing for most people, essentially no experience needed what-so-ever, and you’re pretty much self-employed, which makes it an incredibly attractive prospect for students, unemployed or part-time workers. One entrepreneurial student took advantage of the massive queues for Wimbledon every day it ran for by standing in line from 5am to ensure prime position. She would then advertise a silent auction for the position on Gumtree and get an average of £50 a day from it. Another student funded most of his spending at uni by keeping up to date with the big limited-edition fashion releases like Nike Air Yeezus’ and queueing for them to sell on after at a massive profit. To give an example, one of his friends queued for a week outside Nike Town in London for a pair of Foamposite Galaxy shoes, which at the time cost £180 and after selling out were worth over £5,000 (though the price is down to about £1,500 since then).
Dealing with bureaucracy is always going to be a hassle for everyone. There isn’t a day in the week where someone hasn’t had to take time off work to wait 4 hours to get a visa document or driver’s license. This is especially true in Johannesburg, where a lot of people are employed to queue at places like the passport office for those who need a new one, usually for about 4-6 hours a day. The same is true in Italy, where after sending out about 500 CVs to no avail, 40 year old Giovanni Cafaro started charging 10 euros an hour for his queueing services. Now he works seven days a week as a voluntary participant in his own Kafkan bureaucracy machine, and he’s even thinking of setting up an agency. So consistent work is always available for pro queuers, it’s just about finding it.
After how much it’s taken off in China, it’s easy to see how there could be a market for professional queueing anywhere where people need to queue really. A quick scan through local online classifieds in Shanghai brings up between 10-20 different paotui agencies who employ anywhere up to 30 individuals to take care of all your queue related needs. Who knows, maybe if you start doing it in the UK we could see a similar market develop over here, only one way to find out.