Pawnbrokers cash in on credit crunch
Pawning your engagement ring for cash used to be seen as a last resort. These days the pawnbroking industry is emerging as a winner on the high street despite the economic downturn.
Times are good for pawnbrokers. Harvey & Thompson, one of the UK's largest listed pawnbrokers, announced on Monday, 12 January 2009, that it was seeing good trading and had opened a record number of store openings.
The company says it expects to increase profits to more than £10million, a rise of about 50 per cent on the previous year.
Des Milligan, who works for the Caversham-based National Pawnbrokers Association, said that the flourishing pawnbroking industry wasn't all down to the credit crunch, although the economic downturn had seen an increase in people pawning very valuable items such as precious jewellery or cars.
A 1960s pawn shop interior
He said: "The vast majority of loans that people take out are very small, £100 or so, but we have seen an increase in people who pawn their cars or very expensive items of jewellery.
"I was in a brokers in London last year and they showed me a huge diamond pendant, with a 55 carat stone, which was valued at over a million pounds. The person who brought it in was given £150,000 for it.
“These customers are very rare, they tend to be business owners, but this is growing quite quickly. When companies need cash, it is sometimes an easier way and a cheaper way then going to the bank."
The credit crunch is not the only factor in the growth of pawnbroker shops according to Mr Milligan.
He told BBC Berkshire: "The number of pawnbrokers in high streets has increased dramatically.
"In the 1970s there were about 50 pawnbrokers in the whole country. Now there are over 900. They had virtually disappeared but now they're coming back."
Mr Milligan said that the increase in trade in pawnbrokers was due to larger companies such as Albemarle & Bond and Harvey & Thompson investing in high street shops.
He said: "People see the pawn shops when they go to work. They tend to be bright, well, lit, they are very friendly so once people have gone their once they tend to go back. People tend to pawn jewellery, gold or diamonds, or Rolex watches."
Pawnbroking differs from buy back shops, where customers take in electrical items such as computers, electric guitars or power tools. In a buy back shop, the customer will sign an agreement under which the shop will hold the items for one month, allowing the customer to buy them back, before selling them on.
Mr Milligan said: "With pawnbroking you still own the items you have exchanged at the pawn shop, they are just security for a loan.
"They are very highly regulated under the consumer Credit Act of 1974. I often have meetings with the Office of Fair Trading, and they get very very few complaints about pawnbroking. Customer satisfaction is really high."
Just in case you have ever wondered about the origins of the pawnbroker sign, Mr Milligan was happy to enlighten BBC Berkshire listeners.
"The three balls come from the Medici Family in Italy." he said.
last updated: 14/01/2009 at 10:05