In the shadow of the Ruby Mountains in Elko, NV, is a pawn store aptly called Ruby Mountain Pawn. The store opened in October 1998 under the wise leadership of Jeni-Lei Powell smack dab in the heart of cowboy/mining country.
Jeni-Lei had a lot of experience running several different businesses, including two pawn stores, before opening Ruby Mountain Pawn. She dons many hats―from president to janitor and everything in between―and employs up to five people. “My pawn heroine was P. Taylor Fletcher. Her book, “Business Under the Balls”, answered questions I couldn’t get from others in the industry,” Jeni-Lei says. “Her words in her forwarding message have been the wisdom that has guided my business practices.”
National Pawnbroker (NP): How has the industry changed since you started?
Jeni-Lei Powell (JLP): Asking how much the industry has changed in 30 years is like asking how many wrinkles I’ve gotten in as many years. When I started, I would get the Sunday newspaper from different places just to get the sales ads. I would cut out the items with the prices and pictures and put them into a sticky photo album. These were my blue books for current market values on everything from car stereos to TV’s to firearms. Pawn slips were hand written. I got my first DOS-based pawn program in 1991 just for entering items into a fillable format to print on a pawn ticket. Back then, law enforcement would randomly show up to see if anything we had might be on their reports. Gun logs were all hand written and the ATF showed up every four to six months to do full audits. Now, everything is computerized.
NP: What is your biggest challenge as a pawnbroker?
JLP: Trying to keep up with the pace of change. I have a Master’s [degree] in business management, but I can’t say it’s helped. Besides trying to stay current on laws, compliance, trends, marketing, etc., the next challenge is taking time to replenish myself. Very rarely do I spend less than ten hours a day, six days a week, punched into the time clock.
NP: How does your company give back to the community?
JLP: As a military brat, I have always contributed to active and retired military programs. I am a drop location for Cell Phones for Soldiers and head up our local O.P.P.S. (Operation Purple Provider Service), shipping care packages to deployed soldiers via Purple Providers. As a Purple Provider, we also help provide care packages for those going through cancer treatment. I run the Purple Provider LLC program out of the pawn shop which allows for easy cross promotion. People aren’t very willing to help a “pawn shop” raise funds, but in my experience, they will give it to a program or organization.
NP: What do you think the future looks like for the pawn industry?
JLP: There will always be a place for small dollar, short term, loans. Keeping our government educated on the niche we fill that banks, credit cards, and they themselves don’t have resources to address, will always be our plight. As for the ability to market and sell the collateral we obtain, that too is up to us.
NP: What advice would you give to someone thinking about opening a pawn store?
JLP: Learn the Toltec Wisdom of the Four Agreements. Look at the market area of where you will have your shop, what types of business are thriving, and what are they selling. Get knowledgeable about those items. Las Vegas has a lot of pawn shops that do 90 percent jewelry. Why? Because that is what people bring with them in their suitcase when they come to gamble. It’s what they buy when they win that they can take with them. Finally, be disciplined with your finances and your time.
NP: Why are you a member of NPA?
JLP: Ethics, integrity, numbers. One of my mantras is “Don’t just reach the bar, raise it.” NPA’s Code of Ethics encourages pawnbrokers to do just that. I have it posted on my show room wall for customers to read. The NPA focuses on our industry and educating our government about our needs as pawnbrokers and businesses, thus numbers.