In 1987, Bob Moulton founded National Pawn & Jewelry, Inc. in Durham, NC. Now, 32 years later, he has 19 stores with over 160 employees. Besides Durham, the company has stores in Raleigh, Wilmington, Hope Mills, Charlotte, Gastonia, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and Burlington.
Like many other pawnbrokers, Bob got his start in the industry by working with his family. Two uncles had pawn stores as did his mother. While looking for a job in radio, he began helping out his mother, but he got the pawn business bug and ended up opening his own store.
Managing over 160 employees requires uniformity across all operations and that means a lot of communication. “We have multi levels of management with a Director of Operations and Regional Leaders that oversee up to five stores each. Each store has a store manager and assistant managers. All of our team members are smarter than me so that makes it a little easier. We try to run all stores with uniformity of processes, but we still have store managers take it upon themselves to do something different. They are trying to succeed. They just have to understand that if they do something different, it could cause a customer problem at another location.”
One of the most difficult challenges of owning multiple stores is finding and retaining quality talent. “We have a full-time recruiter searching constantly to find qualified candidates. She utilizes online job boards as well as direct recruiting. We also offer our team members a $500 bonus if they find someone that we end up hiring.” Another big challenge is, of course, paying for it all. “We are 32 years into this and more in debt than ever before.”
The company also employs a full-time trainer, with 40 years in the pawn business, who provides regular training sessions to help team members with specific topics. The company also utilizes each team member’s strengths by having them share their specific knowledge with their co-workers. Training is available face-to-face and online.
With 19 stores, Bob has a lot of experience in selecting store locations. “I like to be in a standalone building on a busy street and where other pawnbrokers are not. In this economy, it is becoming more difficult to find such locations, as such buildings are very expensive.” When Bob started, he used credit card cash advances and LOTS of hard work to open his store. “If the store was open, I was there. As we grew, we utilized bank loans and personal home equity lines of credit. When we started, I was too naive to know that I was severely undercapitalized.”
Word of mouth is National Pawn & Jewelry’s main marketing avenue, but they did a lot of TV and radio advertising during the gold rush. “We did make additional revenue, but after all of the media bills were paid, we really did not make that much extra. I keep getting pitched all of this digital marketing. I understand it, but don’t really believe their metrics. How can I get 20,000 impressions, and only 27 people looked at the ad? I just made up those numbers, but it seems that ridiculous!”
If Bob could have done it differently, he would have opened more stores earlier in the company’s history. “We would have been in a better position when the gold rush hit. Also, it was much cheaper to open them back then. New pawn stores don’t become successful as well, or as quickly, as they used to.”
Bob’s advice to anyone thinking of expanding their own pawn operation? “First, think long and hard about it. With the expenses of new stores now, you would have to have three to four new stores to make double what you could with one great store. If you are going to do it, you have to recruit quality talent. Don’t just hire friends and family – and don’t micromanage them.”
For more information about National Pawn & Jewelry, Inc., visit their website at Nationalpawnshops.com.