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Pawn shops sometimes have a negative reputation, but the truth is that these shops often act as a financial lifeline to people who need a little temporary help. As the owner of a pawn shop, you’ll have an opportunity to help people in need with short-term loans that they might not otherwise be able to access. You can also buy valuables outright to resell. Pawn shops aren’t only profitable businesses, but they also often help customers, too. If you have strong finance knowledge and are savvy when it comes to valuing and reselling items, starting a pawn shop might be an enjoyable business option for you. 

Business Overview

Pawn shops offer customers short-term loans to help them cope with financial emergencies. Customers bring in items of value – usually gold, jewelry, or electronics – to serve as collateral in these loans. The pawnbroker has the option to decline or accept the item, then will offer a loan that’s usually a percentage of the item’s worth. 

These loans carry interest, and customers are given a set amount of time to repay the loan, plus all of the interest, at which point they will receive their item back. If the customer doesn’t repay the loan by the deadline, the pawnbroker will own the item outright, and they can sell it to redeem what they’ve paid out in the loan, plus any other profit that the sale brings in. 

Some pawnbrokers will buy items outright, but they’ll only offer part of what the item is worth so that they can sell it and profit from the sale. In addition to providing loans, some shops offer additional complementary services, like check cashing and bill pay services. 

Industry summary

According to IBIS World, the pawn shop industry experienced a 1.0% annual decline from 2014 to 2018. During this time the number of businesses increased to 11,800, while industry employment decreased to 41,370. In 2018, the industry brought in $6 billion in revenue. 

This industry’s decline is a result of its close connection to the economy and to gold prices. During that five-year period, gold prices fell by an annualized 1.5% rate, and the economy improved. This meant that customers were less reliant on pawn shops to fund emergency needs. As more customers gained employment, their use of pawn shops as a way of accessing short-term loans also declined. 

Keep in mind, though, that there are still opportunities for pawn shops, especially for those that embrace online sales. 

Industry trends

While the overall pawn shop industry declined from 2014 through 2018, Pawn Shops Today reports that 52 percent of pawnbrokers saw an increase in their business during 2018. Those pawnbrokers utilized online sales for their shops and saw growth of up to 25% as a result. These online sales platforms included eBay, Craigslist, and OfferUp. Additionally, pawnbrokers are increasingly operating a website and social media pages to further drive sales. 

While retail sales increased, nearly 40 percent of pawnbrokers surveyed also noted that the number of loans they made to customers in 2018 decreased. Most pawnbrokers state that pawn loans are the most common type of transaction that their business performs, with the typical loan being for $150. This decrease in the number of loans could mean that pawnbrokers will need to focus more on techniques like advertising to bring in new customers. 

Who is the target market for a pawn shop?

Pawn shops market to potential customers who need money to cover expenses. These customers may have lost a job, be facing an unexpected bill, or be in some other situation that means they need to quickly produce money that isn’t currently available to them. Because of this market, pawn shops tend to be located in lower-income areas. 

Skills, experience, and education useful in running a pawn shop

Starting a pawn shop doesn’t require a business degree, but certain skills and experiences can make the process smoother and increase the chances of the shop being a success. 

Finance and math skills. Running a pawn shop business centers around an understanding of finances and the daily use of math. Strong math skills, or the ability to learn, are important. 

Resale experience. Because a large component of this business involves reselling used items, some experience in the resale industry is valuable. Experience evaluating, pricing, photographing, and listing items on online platforms is a real advantage. 

Industry knowledge. A working knowledge of the reselling industry, particularly of the value of items like gold and jewelry, will help a pawn shop owner to make wise business decisions. In lieu of familiarity with product resale markets, thorough research skills are important. 

Attention to detail. Detail is present in every element of this business, from evaluating products brought in as loan collateral to accurately tracking profits and loan records. A business owner needs to have great attention to detail. 

Financial Overview

One of the major challenges in starting a pawn shop is ensuring that you have enough funds to finance the initial loans and to sustain the business until interest payments or item resale profits start coming in. On a smaller scale, you may be able to start a pawn shop for $15,000. Larger shops that receive high initial traffic will need larger budgets to fund loans, and startup costs could be closer to $50,000 or $75,000. 

Common startup costs for a pawn shop include: 

  • Computer and printer
  • Cash register
  • Lockable display cases
  • Security system
  • Signage

Working capital

A pawn shop will rely on working capital to keep it running. This working capital helps to finance expenses like the loans made to customers and equipment or supply purchases. If the pawn shop doesn’t bring in enough income to replenish that working capital, it will be difficult to keep the shop running and the owner may even have to decline customers because of inability to finance additional loans. 

Insurance

A pawn shop needs multiple insurance policies to be fully covered: 

  • General liability insurance protects the business in case a customer is ever injured while on the property, like by a slip or a fall. This type of policy usually covers costs like legal fees or medical bill expenses. 
  • Commercial property insurance protects the business if its inventory, equipment or the building are ever damaged by an event like a fire. 
  • Workmans comp insurance helps to cover expenses like medical bills or lost wages if an employee is ever hurt while on the job. 

Policy costs will vary depending on factors like the business’ location, the value of the building and its inventory, and the number of employees a business has. To get the best idea of what insurance will cost, review quotes from multiple insurance companies. Be sure to pay attention to factors like coverage limits and exclusions, premiums, and deductibles. 

Common operational expenses

In addition to the above startup expenses, a pawn shop’s budget needs to include these common operational expenses. 

Rent 

Rental costs will depend on factors like the shop’s location, size, and available amenities, like parking spots. Because rentals in high-traffic retail areas often come at premium pricing, most pawn shops will be located in other retail areas that don’t have that same high degree of traffic, but that are still widely visible. Keep in mind that renting space in a well-kept, popular location may help to improve the public’s perception of the shop, potentially bringing in customers who might not otherwise have gone to the shop. 

Employees

A shop’s owner may run a smaller, newer shop entirely by themselves, but at some point it’s likely that a shop will need at least one or two additional employees. According to PayScale, pawnbrokers make an average salary of $46,000 per year, while sales associates make approximately $26,000 per year.

In addition to budgeting for employee salaries, a shop that hires employees also needs to be able to pay for other expenses. These expenses include paid time off, workmans comp insurance, and potentially retirement and health insurance contributions for each employee. 

Marketing

Targeted, deliberate marketing can help pawn shops to reach their ideal audiences. This marketing may take the form of having an active social media presence and website, as well as using print advertising and even direct mail to reach lower income individuals with the goal of having those individuals take out loans. A pawn shop also needs to market the items that it has for sale. Many businesses use online marketing platforms like Craigslist, social media, and eBay for this, since these online platforms are free or low-cost. Specific marketing costs will depend on the types of activity being performed. 

Business Licenses & Permits

A pawn shop will need to obtain certain business licenses and permits. These permits and licenses can vary based on the state and town where the business is located.

How much can you potentially make owning a pawn shop? 

PayScale reports that pawnbrokers, who are presumably the owners of the shop, make an average of $46,000 per year. But, a pawn shop’s profits depend on many factors, including how long the shop has been in existence, the shop’s size, the effectiveness of the shop’s marketing, and even the state of the local economy. 

Things to consider before starting a pawn shop

Be prepared to fight the perception that pawn shops are dirty, negative places. This widespread negative view of pawnshops means that it’s even more important to run a clean, well-kept business. Good lighting, attractive displays, and a space that you take pride in are important in building your business’ reputation and bringing in new customers who might otherwise avoid a pawn shop.  

The pawn shop industry is highly regulated, so be prepared to meet all federal, state, and local regulations. According to the National Pawnbrokers Association, at the federal level alone, pawnbrokers need to comply with 13 regulations. Before you open your shop, take the time to familiarize yourself with all of these regulations so that you don’t accidentally violate them and find yourself having to pay fines or close your shop. Consult with your state’s Pawnbroker’s Association for help in identifying and understanding these regulations. 

Resources: 
National Pawnbrokers Association




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