The story of a pawn shop chain

Lots of America’s pawn shops are one-outlet businesses, but there are chains, too. Here’s a feature about a fast-growing chain in the Southeast.

We find it interesting because the interviewer asked about “the seedy reputation of the pawn business.”

Rather than pretending it doesn’t exist, more and more pawn businesses are tackling this issue in public.  (Maybe it helps that the reputation of non-fringe lenders has gotten more seedy since 2008.)

Anyhow, Robbie Whitten has a good, succinct response to that question:

We’ve been fighting negative images for years. Pawn shops can be kind of shady, but the reality TV shows have been a big boost to the industry and its reputation. Now a lot of mom-and-pop shops are cleaning up their stores to take advantage of the interest.

There are a lot of new customers coming in who say they’ve never been in a pawn shop and want to check it out. We don’t want them to feel like they’re in a pawn shop. On one side we want them to think they’re in a fine jewelry store, and in the sporting goods section we want them to think they’re in a Bass Pro shop, with a department store in between.


Later in the interview, Whitten says:

There are lots of guys, like real-estate agents, who were making six figures that are now living on 40 grand. They can’t borrow $3,000 or $4,000 from the bank anymore–they just don’t make those types of personal loans. The term we like to use in the industry is “underbanked.” But these people have lots of nice tangible assets. They might have a Rolex or a $500 Ping driver they can sell.


That’s where Kamaaina Loan gets a lot of its resale merchandise. We even have a Private Viewing Room for customers who (we think) are either embarrassed to be seen in the pawn lobby or, perhaps, don;t want to be seen making a $50,000 cash transaction.

Economists list pawn shops as “fringe banking” institutions, because they serve what Whitten calls the “underbanked.” At least a quarter of Americans don’t have an account with a commercial bank. And not all of them are wearing Rolexes.

We prefer to think of ourselves as the most democratic of all “banks.” If your income is $100,00o-plus, we’ll be happy to serve you. And if it’s $10,0o0-minus, we’ll be happy to serve you.