Starting with a modest saving of $236 in birthday money and a pair of rare Marvel-themed Vans, Canton teenager Arnav Nikam has turned basketball sneaker appreciation into a hobby parallel which generated more than $200,000 in sales last year.
And the 17-year-old Salem high schooler is proving to be a budding philanthropist as well as a burgeoning entrepreneur.
“Starting in college, I developed an interest in basketball sneakers because I was really interested in basketball,” Nikam said. “I started noticing what basketball stars were wearing on their feet, on and off the court. I also noticed in the secondary market that high-end shoes were selling for a pretty high price, so I decided to take a closer look at it.”
During a trip to India in 2019, Nikam spent $98 (from his birthday savings) on a pair of Vans decorated with imagery from the ultra-popular “Black Panther” movie. He fetched around $50 after selling the shoes online through the StockX site.
The transactions convinced him to dive into the business world, feet first.
“Once I learned it was doable, I started buying limited shoes from different brands in bulk and selling them online (using StockX, eBay, and GOAT, among other third-party websites) to whatever people were willing to pay for them,” he explained. “I quit once COVID hit, but took it back in late 2020 and early 2021.”
Nikam was so wrapped up in the day-to-day of running a business — while maintaining a 4.0 GPA, volunteering for two local organizations and participating in four after-school clubs — that he didn’t know how to how well he was doing financially until his 1099-K tax slip recently arrived in the mail.
“When I saw how much I’d won ($213,199, to be exact), I thought, ‘Oh my God! Is that really what I did?'” he said. recount. “I really surprised myself.”
Nikam said the most iconic products he has bought and sold are a pair of black and red Air Jordan basketball sneakers.
“Of all the items I’ve sold, these are the ones I’ve been most tempted to keep for myself,” he says with a smile. “The artistry of some of these sneakers is what draws me in.”
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Nikam, who won’t turn 18 until September, admitted his success didn’t come easily. It monitors daily sales and prices between classes in Salem – like inventory, the cost of an item can go up or down by as much as $40 in a matter of hours, so it’s something that needs close attention, a he reveals – and prepares the items for distribution shortly after returning from school on weekdays.
“Our basement is like a minefield full of boxes and stuff,” Nikam said with a laugh. “I would describe it as organized chaos.
“The biggest thing I’ve bought to help me out is a tape gun. When you need to ship 20 pairs of shoes in an afternoon, tape guns help speed up the process.”
Nikam said he takes great care in keeping his customers informed of the progress of their purchases and in packaging the products he sells. Of the 1,500 articles he distributed in 2021, none went to the wrong address, and his collection of reviews has more stars than a cloudless night.
“I’m very thorough because I want the people I work with to be happy,” he said. “My online reviews have been very good so far and I want it to continue.”
Explaining that he derives more satisfaction from giving than receiving, Nikam admitted that he hasn’t splurged yet and bought himself anything extravagant except for the tape gun.
Inspired by his late grandfather, who he says used hard work and education to help his family move from a rural farming town in India to the United States, Nikam used some of his earnings to establish a scholarship program for teenagers in rural India. The young philanthropist handed out nine scholarships in 2021 alone and plans to build on that number in the years to come.
“Honestly, I get more pleasure out of helping children abroad get an education than spending the money I earn on myself,” he said. “I love buying things for my sister, who is a freshman in Salem.”
Once he turns 18, Nikam plans to turn his business into a limited liability company and give it an official name: Flying Emu.
“Emus have always been my favorite birds. I love their speed and their majesty,” he said. “Obviously they can’t fly, but I think that word helps represent the kind of service I give people.”
Judging by his early successes, the sky’s the limit for this big-hearted business prodigy.
Contact reporter Ed Wright at [email protected] or 517-375-1113.