How did you get into pawn broking?
I was looking around for something to do after the property market crashed, I had some money but nothing to do - I have always been a bit of a ducker and diver and bought and sold things all my life - from classic cars to property. Not being a 9-5 person I wanted to find something to put my money into that I enjoyed, I read an article about asset lending and that is when I decided it was what I wanted to do.
How long did It take to get off the ground?
I initially started in Weybridge and have to admit, for the first few months, I was sitting around drinking lots of tea with not a great amount to do. I advertised in local press and luxury magazines which started to get me a few enquires but I’ll admit there were times when I started to wonder what the hell I’d done! As time went on, more and more clients started coming through the doors, and where as initially I had a lot of jewellery enquires we started to get more diverse products coming in such as wine collections, art and cars.
How do you feel you were received into the world of pawnbroking?
I think I ruffled a few feathers at the start. The pawn broking industry is a very close knit circle of people with some families having been in the industry for over 100 years. It did take a while to prove my worth and to show I was in this for the long term.
Other than not being a normal 9-5 job - what else about pawnbroking appeals to you.
Well I just love the unknown, when I get up in the morning I know that anything could walk through my doors, from a 1967 classic Ferrari to a piece of lunar rock (or even a full size knight on a horse that is displayed in the shop window) so this is what I love. No two days are the same. I also love is learning about the products that clients bring in, I spend a lot of time researching them and enjoy learning where they’re form, who made them and talking to specialists within each field. When I started I didn’t have a black book of contacts but the internet gave me a quick leg up to build up a strong database of specialist contacts. This is great for our clients as previously I would have to research something for 3-4 days, now I have the contacts in place to just pick up the phone and make them an offer almost immediately.
How did the Channel 4 show come about?
We had been going for a couple of years and we were just looking to open our 2nd shop in Richmond, the production company Boomerang were looking to do a fly on the wall documentary about alternative lending. We weren’t sure at first if we were going to entertain it but they sent a journalist down and he really put my mind at ease, he made it clear that nothing would go out that we were not keen on. I heard the call he made back to Boomerang, his exact words were - “I have found the cross between Antiques Road Show and Lovejoy”. The following week they sent a crew down and shot the pilot, initially they were just looking at doing a one hour on off but Channel 4 loved it so after the first episode went out we discussed an on going programme.
Whats the biggest item you have ever lent on?
We have lent on some huge items over the years, from planes, boats, classic cars to very rare jewellery, the items have been getting bigger and bigger over the years and obviously the bigger the item the higher my risk so we tend to be careful about big ticket items, for example if you lend on a boat and you end up with it then there are big costs with regards to just keeping it, mooring fee’s, cleaning etc.
How much of your success do you put down to the show?
The show has been great for us of course, it has given us some great exposure and I think with most people looking to borrow against an asset it comes down to a trust thing, people want to feel comfortable when discussing their assets and the value. It has certainly helped our reach, we don’t just service locals, we have items coming in from around the world - so in that sense it has given us a great springboard. I have a great team here working with me and without them life would be far more difficult.
Visit James’s website - prestigepawnbrokers.co.uk