Interviewed by Noah Graff
Today’s Machining World Archives January/February 2011 Volume 7 Issue 1
Rick Harrison started the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop on the outskirts of Las Vegas with his father, Richard, in 1988. The shop is one of the most successful pawn shops in the country, dealing in items as diverse and valuable as Super Bowl rings, Picasso paintings, gold bars, even Bridgeport mills. Today, he stars with his father, “Old Man,” and son, Corey, on the History Channel’s hit reality show Pawn Stars.
How did your pawn shop begin?
RH: First [my dad] had a little coin shop. We graduated from the coin shop to an old secondhand shop and then to the pawn shop. It’s impossible basically to get a new pawn license in Las Vegas. It took us years to figure out a way to get one. In 1955, the good old boys got together and they decided that they wanted to have a little monopoly on the pawn shops. So they had the city council pass a law saying that when the city population got to 250,000, they would issue one more pawn license. The city population at the time was right around 25,000, so they obviously assumed it was never going to happen. In ‘87, I went down to the city and checked out the law. I started calling the city statistician once a week. In April of ‘88, lo and behold, the city population reached 250,000. Five minutes later I was down at the business license place saying, “Give me my license.”
Why did you want to have a pawn shop? What about it in particular appealed to you?
RH: They made a lot more money than secondhand shops because no one wants to sell their stuff. A lot of people want to get loans on it, and it’s just a lot easier with a pawn license than it is a secondhand license. A lot of people don’t realize this, but 20 percent of the adult population in this country does not have a bank account and cannot get one. A credit card is never going to happen for them, so they come to pawn shops. They borrow money from me and they shop here. It’s sort of like a subculture a lot of people don’t know about.
But on the show everybody sells their stuff.
RH: That’s because people borrowing money don’t want the world to know they’re broke. It’s not necessarily that they’re desperate; sometimes they’re just a little embarrassed that they’ve run short on money for rent that month. A lot of times I get extremely well-off, successful people who have lost too much money gambling.
What kind of interest do you change on items?
RH: I charge 10 percent a month, which sounds really expensive, but my average loan is right around 100 bucks. I have a $5 ticket charge, so if you borrow 100 bucks from me and you want to get your items back a month later, it comes to $15. Actually, of the maybe 9,000 loans I have out right now, the average is, I think, 120 bucks. But I have loans as high as $30-$40-$50,000.
How do you find customers?
RH: Most people come to me nowadays. I literally have billionaires that shop in my store. I’m probably one of the most successful pawn shops out there, and I think it’s because I just do business differently than other people. I will tell them right to their face what I’m going to sell it for. I think [honesty] is the most important thing in business, because the day you start ripping people off, you have that six degrees of separation and everybody in the world’s going to know that you rip people off. The opposite applies if you’re honest with people.
What was one of your biggest deals that went wrong? And what’s one of the weirdest items you’ve ever dealt with?
RH: A guy came in and I bought a pair of earrings off him for $40,000. The very next day police came in and took them from me. [As far as weird]—I had some 200-year-old Japanese porn called Shunga. It’s on scrolls and all the parts are exaggerated.
How do you deal with security in the store?
RH: If you look closely on television at every one of the employees that works for me, there’s a little bulge underneath their shirt. Almost everyone working at the pawn counter is carrying a gun. Criminals know that the other pawn shops don’t carry guns, so they rob them, not me … hold on one second, I hate to cut it short, but a lady’s got a 10 carat diamond she wants to pawn off.