Women Find Success in the Pawn Industry
While it’s still a predominantly male industry, more and more women are joining the ranks as pawnbrokers. In 2016, NPA did an unofficial analysis of its member stores and determined that 24% were run by women. To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, 2019, we are profiling six successful female pawnbrokers with varying backgrounds and experience. While their career paths have taken many turns, they are all exactly where they want to be – in the pawn industry.
Valerie Davis, Land of Entrapment, Albuquerque, NM
Years in industry: 6
Of the six women profiled, Valerie is the newest entry into the industry starting her career in 2012. She spent two years working at a pawn store before she and her husband, a co-worker, decided to venture out on their own and open their own store.
Being a woman can have some distinct advantages, Valerie says. “I believe men and women can see the same situation through different eyes. Women bring a different perspective.” Some female customers have told them they are more comfortable seeing a woman behind the counter.
But being a woman can have its challenges, too, says Valerie. She has had to learn to say no. “You can’t always please everyone, and that’s okay.” Her advice to a woman thinking about becoming a pawnbroker? “Grow some tough skin. I can’t feel bad for every person with a sob story. I have to detach myself from my empathetic side and remember that I have a business to run.”
One of Valerie’s shining moments as a pawnbroker came this past summer. “We have some sweet older ladies who pawn to make it to the end of the month. A couple of them had sent in family members to pay their interest because they were in the hospital. I was amazed, that even though they were not feeling well, they still kept up with their pawns. Needless to say, I waived their fees and sent them flowers. It warmed my heart to be able to help good people when they were down.”
Cathy Haggerty, Tom Cats Pawn, Bloomington, IN
Years in industry: 29
Cathy is the CEO/Owner of Tom Cats Pawn along with her husband, Tom. They started as a buy/sell business and transitioned to a pawn store to be able to loan to people who didn’t want to sell. The yoga/art teacher has a visual arts degree from Indiana University and also holds a GIA Diamonds certificate.
When asked if she felt any lack of respect because she is a woman, Cathy says, “Being a Midwest farm girl, the stigma has been pervasive throughout life. [But] times are changing and none too soon.” She would like to see more women in the industry in all different roles and feels women have more peripheral thinking and a calmness of mind.
Cathy’s advice to a new female pawnbroker is to “do your homework, know your rights, stick to your guns, keep an open mind and heart, and hire good people.” Ironically, the best advice Cathy ever received was “build shelves”.
Establishing a family/work balance is something all pawnbrokers strive for. Cathy’s secret is tenacity, stubbornness, following her heart, and putting family first.
Tonia Sheppard, Alan’s Jewelry & Pawn, Asheville, NC
Years in Industry: 21
Tonia Sheppard is a southern girl. Her family lives in Georgia and South Carolina, and she graduated from Mars Hill College in Mars Hill, NC, near Asheville. Her path to pawn started with an internship for a local ad agency that did marketing for Alan’s Jewelry & Pawn. Later, she was hired in-house by Alan Sheppard, her future husband, to handle all the marketing needs for the operation.
When it comes to pawn, she thinks customers sometimes still feel that women are not as knowledgeable as men. However, that is changing, she says. “Most people feel that pawnbrokers are almost always men, but are pleasantly surprised to see so many women in the industry now – a little softer side to a hard-core business.”
The best advice Tonia ever received came from Alan. She and all of their 80 employees know that “The day you feel you are better than the customer you are waiting on, is the day you follow them out the door.” It helps remind them that we are all at different places in life and being kind is paramount.
For Tonia, the biggest challenge as a pawnbroker is hiring a trusted staff. She feels lucky that they have great employees, some who have been with the business for 28 years. “Hiring great managers and an incredible human resource director have helped to keep us on track,” she shares.
Stacy Palagi, North Phoenix Pawn, Phoenix, AZ
Years in Industry: 24
At age 12, Stacy Palagi had two options: stay home and clean house or go to work with her dad in his pawn store. She chose the latter and became the official janitor later learning to write loans and evaluate merchandise.
As a young female, she had to contend with customers who didn’t trust her judgement. “When a customer asked someone else to help them, it really stung at first. But I think that it helped mold me into the strong woman I am today,” she explains. She also had to fight for respect from other employees since she was the owner’s daughter. “I had to show them that I was a team player and willing to get my hands dirty.”
Stacy’s best advice to a new female pawnbroker is to not take things personally. “Have broad shoulders. You have to find your balance between being empathetic, but not be taken advantage of.” One of the best pieces of advice she ever received is that every customer counts. “And if you aren’t counting them, your competition is.”
Stacy related that one of her biggest accomplishments as a pawnbroker was being asked to play an active role in their state association. Together, they were able to get a house bill passed that benefited their business.
Rachael Parsons, Dan’s Discount Jewelry & Pawn, Danville, KY
Years in Industry: 17
Graduating from the University of Kentucky with a degree in Merchandising, Apparel, and Textiles probably didn’t prepare Rachael for her job responsibilities in bookkeeping, cash management, financial reporting, inventory control, and human resources at Dan’s Discount Jewelry & Pawn. But after graduation, “I could not imagine a more exciting career. I fell in love with the industry and have been here 17 years,” she says.
Rachael felt some customers had an issue dealing with a woman in the beginning of her career, but explains, “Once you earn a customer’s respect, you are golden.” She feels women offer a unique perspective to the pawn industry and open the market to a wider customer base.
One of Rachael’s happiest moments as a pawnbroker was seeing a fellow employee, another woman, be promoted to store manager. “She was fierce in the best way and really earned the position of leadership.”
Being a pawnbroker requires being humble, yet confident, says Rachael. Her advice to a woman wanting to follow in her footsteps? “You do not have to be a man! Your opinions and life experiences are valuable. Your perspective is valuable. Own that! Be a leader. Be brave.”
Rosemary Hipps, Larry’s Jewelry & Pawn, Florence, AL
Years in Industry: 28
Rosemary Hipps started working in a pawn store after retiring from teaching. It had been her mother’s store, and when she passed away, Rosemary and her husband took it over. In the beginning, most of the male customers would ask for her husband, but not anymore. Now, many of their customers are women. “I think they appreciate having another woman present in the shop. They seem to be more comfortable talking to another female,” she says.
Her biggest challenge is fighting the negative image that pawn stores continue to sometimes experience. “When someone asks you what you do for a living and you tell them you own a pawn store, you can sometimes tell by the look on their face that the person is not having good thoughts.” That’s when she goes into teaching mode explaining how a pawn store operates and that most pawnbrokers are honest businessmen and women.
Rosemary’s advice to anyone wanting to join the industry is to always behave professionally when dealing with customers and employees. A successful pawnbroker needs to be friendly, courteous, organized, and knowledgeable about the pawn industry, she shares. One of the most important things is to maintain confidentiality with your customers. “Never go out and tell a friend the name of someone who came in to borrow money.”
Over the last 28 years, many of Rosemary’s customers have shared how much she has helped them. It makes you feel good, she says, when a customer, usually a female, says, with tears in her eyes, “I have just got to give you a hug. You have been a blessing.”