Jesse Wilson has been in business as long as he can remember, starting at a very young age in his Camillus home. “When I was seven or eight years old I would have ‘Jesse’s Movie Theater’ at my house. I’d invite my friends over and charge them each a quarter to watch a movie.”
For his 11th birthday he decided he wanted a bass guitar but couldn’t afford one on his own, so he cut a deal with his parents. He paid half and they paid half. With his bass in hand Wilson started playing in bands and looking for more business opportunities.
When Media Play went out of business in Shoppingtown Mall Wilson bought more bass guitars at a huge discount. He played them for a while then sold them for a sizeable profit. “I took the money I made, bought more guitars and kept going.”
By the time Wilson was 15 he had nearly a dozen bass guitars. He sold them and bought himself a car, a Porsche 944, even though he wasn’t old enough to drive. He kept the car for a year, then sold it for more than he paid for it. He used the money to buy four guitars and start an online guitar business.
In between wheeling and dealing Wilson was a student at West Genesee High School looking for a way to earn his diploma on his own timetable. At age 15 he started taking night classes at OCC. “I knew I wanted to graduate high school as quickly as possible, move on to college and open my own business. OCC helped me do that.”
Wilson graduated from high school in 2010, a year ahead of schedule. With high school behind him he dove into the Business Technology major at OCC. “My experience there was amazing. It was unbelievable how much I didn’t know then and how much I do know now because I went to OCC. The facilities were fantastic. The professors were fantastic. I got everything I needed in two years. I have buddies who went to four-year schools and I got more out of college than they did.”
Wilson earned his degree from OCC in 2012 at the age of 18. His love of music and business kept him buying and selling guitars. In December 2014 his business went from online to bricks and mortar. He opened a storefront in Syracuse’s Armory Square at the corner of South Franklin and West Jefferson Streets across from Starbucks and the Museum of Science and Technology.
Wilson’s named his business “Ish Guitars,” paying homage to his grandfather who nicknamed him “Ish Kabibble” after the 1940s era comedian. Ish Guitars has huge windows, high ceilings and dozens of top-of-the-line guitars and other musical instruments. His guitars are mounted on particle board. “The guitars are works of art. I didn’t want them to get lost in the background when customers were looking at them.”
Wilson’s visits to Syracuse’s Everson Museum gave him a unique idea. He saw cards with information next to each piece of art and decided to create something similar in his store. He’s created descriptive cards to place alongside each guitar for sale. “I’ve been in guitar stores where the people working can’t answer the most basic questions. These cards have all of the answers and they are right there for our customers to see.”
Ish Guitars opened a week before Christmas and Wilson is constantly tweaking and adding things. At the top of the list is a soundproof room he’s going to build so people can play guitars and find out if they have the sound and feel they’re looking for. His website is also a work in progress. He’s adding multiple, large photos of each guitar along with lengthy descriptions. “As an online shopper I’ve noticed how many details other businesses don’t give. I want to make sure we answer customer’s questions before they ask them.”
Wilson’s Armory Square storefront is just the beginning. “I’d like to have more locations in small to medium size cities, even a bigger city like Baltimore which could really use a good, independently owned guitar store.”
At age 21 Wilson is now on his fourth Porsche, a 911 model and his favorite to date. But whether the topic is cars or guitars, everything is a commodity. “I try not to get attached to specific items because a lot of time there is something better out there. Selling the first Porsche I owned enabled me to buy other ones and work my way up to the one I’m driving now.”
Wilson has simple advice for future entrepreneurs:
- Have a mentor, someone you can go to advice
- Start your business small
- Never quit
- Do what you love
As his business grows his appreciation for OCC and what it represents grows too. “I think everyone should go to a two-year school and get their degree so they have something. If you decide you want more you can go get your four-year degree. When I was in high school I would hear people say, ‘Why go to OCC?’ I say, ‘Why not go to OCC.’”