The ups and downs of a pawnbroking business

As you will know, it was once rather famously said that, “A week is a long time in politics”. Well let me tell you, a month is a long time in pawnbroking. Just past half way through February 2015, the Editor received a phone call late in the day from our alarm monitoring company saying “There’s been an alarm activation in your Golders Green store”.

Oh no.

I called the store. Our Manager Mee Mee answered “We’ve been robbed, we’ve been robbed!” My heart sank. “Are you ok? Are the other staff ok?”“Yes, yes” beamed Mee Mee down the phone something I thought odd, “The Police have already arrested them outside – they are laying on top of them right now!”

“WHAT?!”.

Thoughts cascaded in my brain faster than Usain Bolt on his way past the crowds at a JD Sports shoe clearance sale. Firstly, thank heavens the girls are ok. Secondly, thank God the robbers have been apprehended, thirdly “laying on top of them?”!

I’m a liberal minded adult, but even I couldn’t understand some of my thoughts at the time.

Anyway, bad news at the robbery, fantastic news at everything else. After dealing with the usual administration and due diligence and care for the staff, Directors attended the shop the following morning to see everyone was genuinely ok and to attain fuller details about the incident and see what damage had been done to the store.

What had happened was that two robbers (one just recently out of detention – bless the uncorrected soul, he probably needed a longer holiday at the taxpayers expense to have learnt the error of his ways) had pulled up on the pavement on a large motorbike. His accomplice jumped off whilst the rider backed the bike up – before full throttle on and hurtling forward, slamming it through our front door. This was irritating in the extreme as in fact, the door was already open for business, so he didn’t even have to have knocked. Not the sharpest pencil this one. Anyway, once the motorbike battering ram had smashed, or rather, pushed open an already open door, his large accomplice shoved past him on his way into the store to rob it. Now, apart from that this was on several of our hi-tech CCTV cameras, apart from the fact that the alarm that goes direct through to local Police, was pressed as soon as the tyre rubber was kissing the letterbox and finally, the fact that the permanent toughened security screens keep the staff safe, this was still a very unnerving moment for the staff.

But!

Hallelujah, before you could say ‘Jack Robinson’, not one, not two, not three, ok, so FIVE plain clothes Flying Squad Police officers leapt out of various staging posts on the High Street and arrested them ‘Old School style’ with a serious and much needed physical take-down. It was a good job there were five coppers, for the two robbers (one c. 6’4” tall), stood trading blows for some time (and by some time, I mean it was three or four minutes before the situation was contained) before being laid upon and arrested. Now I understood where Mee Mee’s ‘They’re laying on them!” came from.

What a huge relief.

There is speculation about how much the Flying Squad officers pre-knew about the attempt, or maybe they really did just get lucky, but in any event, we do not mind which. Two robbers were arrested without physical harm to staff, or loss of goods. Now, talking of physical harm, during the arrests, the three staff, Mee Mee, Jean and May, stood safely behind super-strength toughened safety glass watching the street tussle unfold. After arrests the Officer in charge came in and caringly asked the girls if they were ok? “Yes” firstly piped up Jean (Jean usually to be the first one out of the traps in this department), “I just wish I could have got out there whilst you lot were rolling around. I’d have kicked em’ RIGHT IN THE B*LLS!” exclaimed Jean to the Officer.

Up next piped our diminutive but oh-so-tough Burmese Manager Mee Mee, who is about five feet tall on a good day, “I’d have KILLED them!” she said. The Officer began to grin (or beam in fact) and slowly turned to see any reaction from May, our final member of staff at the store.

May said nothing. She didn’t need to. The girls knew what May would have done. With her now legendary reputation as the most patient sales assistant in the company, May, upon demand of a Rolex by these awful robbers, would not have handed them the watch at all. She would have spent the time attempting to sell them a Rolex and knowing May, an extended warranty to safeguard from the events of fire damage, water damage, accidental loss, or…. cough….. theft.

The girls were truly brilliant and we are very, very proud of their bravery and their conduct. We would also like to say a huge thank you to the swift actions of the Met Police Flying Squad. As Jean put it, as only our Jean can – “Good job boys!”.

Lightening does strike twice

A month later, when Jackie in Eltham said at 11am on a bright Monday morning, “I’ve got Vince on the line – he’s in Folkestone and needs to speak to you”, I replied, “Tell him I’m just with a customer, I’ll call him straight back”. I knew Vin would be understanding of the priority of dealing with a new loan customer wanting £2k on her ladies bi-colour Rolex. “He’ll wait, but he needs you urgently, he’ll stay on the line”, hollered Jackie. I thought, ok, but a bit worrying. When I got to the call, I realised, with much regret, that my worrying was justified. Vin said “We’ve been robbed again”.

Oh no. Again.

Similar Modus Operandi, this time a moped-scooter, but in a similar way, driven onto the footpath outside the shop, this time, a huge concrete block carried between the passengers legs and a full handled axe carried by the rider. Unbelievable. They managed to smash a very small hole in the toughened glass and force through a gloved hand. The bravery and quick thinking of Vince swept the most expensive items aside from the reaching hand and they were away with a couple of items, realising in seconds, that they were not going to retire on the proceeds and importantly, they were getting jittery at the growing army of people moving in as they committed this terrifying act in broad daylight.

Luckily for us, they indeed had reason to be afraid. The general public and local shopkeepers rallied round and closed in. A brave soul from the nearby key-cutting shop hurled a fire extinguisher at the fleeing robbers and a little further up the street (still no more than 100 yards from our store), a passer by kicked at the moped and unbalanced them crashing the bike to the floor. In the panic, the two men ran off on foot with several people in pursuit. They discarded their clothing and crash helmets to try and avoid recognition and managed to dart out of sight. However, yet again, the Police came into their own and with a search party out in near seconds from the alarm being raised, they arrested two men in their early twenties trying to exit the town centre on foot.

Eleven years trading, no serious incidents.

Eleven years and a month and two horrid incidents in little over a month. Shocking and an indictment of society today perhaps, that none of the arrested four in the two incidents was over 26 years old. We do not quite know what moral or social conclusions to reach, but we do know that our CCTV, our automatic Police alarms and our toughened glass security hardware is in order and thankfully, consequently our staff are and were, safe.

Happier things

We have successfully branched into non-jewellery pawnbroking and have already concluded successful loans on a wide range of items. These have included musical instruments (two flutes and an electric guitar!), a beautiful bronze sculpture, a number of high-end fashion handbags (the female staff members of the Pickwick family have all been salivating over these – metaphorically speaking of course), artwork by Janet Treby and Joy Kurton-Smith and a wonderful collection of rare stamps from the Middle East. We are so excited by this new move into non-jewellery items and apart from the possible successful expansion of the business and hedge against gold, it is a delight to be involved with such unusual and interesting items.

Our new online enquiry form, that can be found at –

http://www.pickwickpawnbrokers.co.uk/online-pawn-loan-enquiry-form.htm is helping the smooth operation of enquiries and we are fortunate to have a new working relationship with renowned and well-respected valuer and one of the star of Ch4’s “Four Rooms”, Mr Raj Bisram – http://www.channel4.com/programmes/four-rooms/profiles/all/raj-bisram. Raj who co-owns the successful Bentleys Fine Art and Antique Auctions in Kent, has been a wonderful help to Pickwick in giving us valuations and provenance guidance on unusual items. We are all excited by this new area of lending business.

And there’s more good news!

Having started this News-Feed in such an unavoidably gloomy manner, the Editor is determined to prove that the ‘Pickwick Family’ has incredible resilience. This article will end with more good news! We have been selected amongst hundreds of pawnbrokers, to star in a new 20-episode Ch4 TV programme about pawnbroking called “Posh Pawnbrokers”. The show is a documentary based on the business of four pawnbroking companies (with Pickwick having the most coverage) and cameras follow the stories behind the interesting items the pawnbroking business is offered and the often, even more interesting stories behind the lives of the customers offering the items for sale or pawn. Four months of filming has now finished and the show airs towards the end of April 2015.

We are SO excited!

The Producers of the programme for Ch4, are Boomerang Productions, a Cardiff based production company that already produces the huge TV hit “Posh Pawn”, also for Ch4. The show is a daytime version of this and everyone involved is hugely pleased and looking forward to the first episode being screened. Don’t forget to set your Sky Planner to ‘Series record’ and watch the fun and interesting side of our business, as well as the serious and professional side.

Producers have described us as ‘very knowledgeable’, ‘very professional’ ‘human and down to earth’, ‘understanding and caring’ and ‘having a ‘great sense of fun that makes Pickwick a great and unique company to visit’.

We couldn’t have summed it up better ourselves. Happy Easter to all.

Editor
Pickwick Pawnbrokers

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestShare

Onwards and upwards!

Well, I think we can safely say Pickwick has often bucked the trend (to the positive) and this time, even we believe we’ve excelled ourselves. At a time when pretty much every multi-store pawnbroker in the country is looking hard at how they further reduce their pawnbroking estate, Pickwick has just increased it! The acquisition of our new store in Golders Green is exciting news and one that we believe will not be the last opportunity in the industry for acquisitions.

So how can we be expanding if the others are contracting? Well, it’s all to do with the ridiculous over-expansion that occurred during the gold buying boom. Pickwick is not looking at reducing the number of our stores because during the beneficial, but frankly crazy, gold-buying days, we retained a level head and built slowly, concentrating on ensuring that each site was a ‘laster’ – in other words, that it could ride the storm during the slower times, not just during the 100m gold-rush-dash. The new store is a great opportunity because it came at the right price, has been located on the same site for 25 years and by it’s charming and successful previous owners admission, became a little neglected as his other business ventures grew – therefore with a little TLC, it’s upside potential is vast.

So, we are no less than thrilled and delighted to add to Pickwick’s family and this is most importantly by bringing with us Manager Mein-Mein (pronounced Mee-Mee) and Jean, who have been with the Golders Green company for many years. We are further delighted to have newly recruited May Zin join us too – May is new to pawnbroking, but is learning fast and we are so happy to have the three on board and crucially, on side! It doesn’t pay to cross a Pickwick woman! Our existing staff have been warm and welcoming to the freshers, as one would expect – but forget the professional aspect, they have all expressed great delight that we’ll have an even bigger crowd at the Christmas party!!!!!

The acquisition

So, a few other things about the new Golders Green store acquisition cannot go unsaid. The first being a huge thanks from the Editor and the rest of the Board to the seller Udi Zaidman. Udi has been a business contact turned friend, for 25 years and I recall when he first opened the Golders Green store whilst I was involved with running the National Pawnbrokers Association. Udi built up a much-envied company of 12 stores, all fantastically run and well respected within the trade. Really before Pickwick was properly conceived, he slowly disposed of his stores by trade sales until just Golders Green remained. I have a sneaking suspicion that this was because he just couldn’t bear to part with ‘old faithful’, his first store, but you’ll have to ask him that.

Anyway, it was with much delight (and as I say, I’m certain a large dollop of nostalgia) that I received a call from him asking if an acquisition was something we might consider. “Certainly” I said and in essence, the deal, subject to the usual due diligences and excessive fees and kerfuffle from the lawyers, was done and dusted there and then. As anticipated, Udi conducted affairs straighter than a one-legged man hopping down a tightrope and behaved like a true gentleman in every aspect. What could have been a rather stressful acquisition, was an exciting pleasure and we are grateful to him for both the opportunity and for handing over such great staff and a shop that we know we can make a further success of.

Stop Press! Editors note – When I intimate there was no stress, I must confess that there was a couple of particular moments on the day of the deal that tested one’s metal a tad – the first was that at precisely 11am on the day of completion, during the most frenetic part of the operation (with lawyers too-ing and fro-ing on both sides, the fire safety inspector pacing up and down, our IT contractor pulling what’s left of his hair out, three new members of staff looking in a state of minor shock, Udi and his handy-man picking up and carrying off unwanted and obsolete four feet high 1980’s stacking computer’s and terminals, a representative from the security company and two burly shop fitters sizing the place up) – a minor and unrepeatable-if-you-wanted-it-to, disaster occurred. Whilst printing, for the umpteenth time, the “final-final-final” version of the engrossed acquisition document, my mobile phone, resting on the printer top, was gently shoved, like a two pence piece at one of the shove-slidey machines at a seaside amusement arcade, off the top of the printer and ‘SPLOSH!’ straight into my full cup of steaming hot coffee. I was on the landline at the time and it happened in slow motion. It can only be described as being the same statistical chance as the likelihood of throwing a hoop over the square box at a fairground game where you try to win a goldfish – it ‘ain’t never gonna happen – but of course, on this important day of days – it did!

The other moment of stress was in relation to completion funds not arriving on time, notwithstanding instructions reaching the necessary agency with four hours to spare – least said about that the better, but luckily Udi was as laid back, relaxed and frankly ‘cool’ as ever. “Don’t worry, it’ll reach me tomorrow”, he said in a slow, unflustered tone as our lawyer and his, were both about to have a coronary. Anyway, all’s well that ends well and we have Pickwick store number 7 up and running. Yippee!

Staff!

I promised that I would continue this News Feed with unashamed abuse and analysis of our troop of staff and I meant what I said. Be afraid, be very afraid………..

……..Mike Woods! Now, Mike has been with us for fast approaching nine years and was our fourth employee after the three women at Walworth.

Huge sigh….. I’m not usually stuck for words, but i’m now wondering how the heck one describes someone like Mike (whilst trying to keep it clean). Ahhh! I’ve got is – he’s a GEEZER!!! Mike is the quintessential Chatham man (though he’ll try and claim, unfoundedly poshly, that he is actually from ‘Rochester’. Keep trying Mike, your duck like walk with your feet splayed out at 70 degrees and the ‘I pickGillingham FC’ badge on your rucksack, fully gives you away). In addition, in his past, Mike has had a fair close relationship with a huge slab of hair-gel and he’s ever so partial to a pair of white trainers and a diamond (cough….CZ) earring. The final thing defining Mike is definitely his dance moves. Awful. Truly awful, but indeed so bad – they’re brilliant. If anyone has ever seen me nearly rolling around the floor at a Pickwick Christmas party, with my sides hurting from mirth, it’s been because of Mike shuffling down the dance floor with an expression that says “Oh yes, I really believe i’m moving like John Travaolta” when in fact, he’s moving with the coordination of a newly born Bambi on steroids and Red Bull.

Julie, Julie, Julie

Julie Roswell, now Julie King, a fantastic employee that we snatched from the clutches of Sainsbury’s. Their loss, our gain. They surely broke the mould when they made Julie. In fact, to be fair, not known for her gentle touch in and around dressing, or removing jewellery from the window display, it was most likely to be Julie that broke it herself! Ju is cuddly and lovely, adored by all and still, after 6 years of employment with us, doesn’t realise that she’s a truly brilliant pawnbroker. She has a few loves in her life that I’ve discovered over the years of working with her – family, a good Chinese takeaway, a nice hot sunny holiday and of course without doubt her dogs. And she even seems to quite like her husband Phil, but it’s clear that the dogs just beat him past the winning post!

Ju has a fantastic way of always thinking she’s mucked up when she hasn’t. The sheer panic on her usually smiling face when she think she’s done wrong is legendary and we all rush to see her now infamous self-squeezing of the head with both hands clutching each ear as she squeezes her head so tightly she looked likes a child’s play-doh model! And when it comes to food and drink, she has on more than one occasion been known to start her diet on a Monday and before the day’s out see the evening in the local Weatherspoons for chicken and ribs and was once spotted post Christmas party leaning over the garden bin before stumbling off to bed a little wobbly!!!

Pickwick continues to grow and we are all very proud of both the company and our industry. The popularity of TV programmes such as Channel 4’s ‘Posh Pawn’ are raising the profile of the business and increasing awareness and footfall all of the time. Next time the quarterly News Feed is published it will be early January 2015, so apologies that we take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy Christmas and New Year! Here’s looking forward to some Christmas retail!

Editor
Pickwick Pawnbrokers

No news is good news?

At Pickwick we don’t agree! Good news is good news. And this feed is about good news. Firstly, we are hugely excited about our impending anniversary – on 14 July 2014, Pickwick Pawnbrokers is 10 years old! As a small, independent business, we have prided ourselves on our close customer relationships and service – a task fairly easy when you have one shop and three staff (as we did starting out back in the day) – but much harder when we have 28 staff, six stores, a fully functioning mother-ship (Head Office!) and two concession stores offering pawnbroking ‘up country’! It’s not been easy, but they say anything worth having never comes easily – such a true statement. The sense of pride that comes from seeing a little acorn grow into six strong oaks, is difficult to describe.

So – how did we do it?

How did we achieve such solid, reliable success over the past ten years? Well, of course, it’s all down to the fantastic leadership of our Directors and shareholders and our tireless efforts working 24/7, eating, sleeping and breathing everything Pickwick………… Cough…… Actually that’s complete POPPYCOCK! The key to our success? Our staff and our customers.

Clichéd though it is, it really is true. A bit like being biased about one’s children or pets, everyone believes theirs are the best – but we REALLY DO believe it! Our staff summed up in five words? Professional, skilled, honest, reliable and loyal. Oh, yes and a bonus word – FUN. We love the idea of having a culture of fun in our stores as to enjoy your working environment has been proved countless times, to improve productivity, success and effectiveness.

So, as a tribute to our brilliant staff (don’t tell them I said, that, else pay-rise applications will surely follow as does night-day!), over the next few news-feeds, we are going to write a short description of each and every member of our staff – no escapees! The obvious place to start, is the beginning – and so the three victims…. ahem, I mean, subjects are our first three members of staff from our first store, Walworth – Angie, Debbie and Sam. Angie was the Manager with Debbie assistant and Sam assistant to that. Both Debbie and Sam have been promoted on to be Managers’ of their own stores, Eltham and Dartford. As a repayment for the ten years of leg-pulling and general grief us suffering Directors have had to endure, here is a revenge summary of them for you!

Angie “Thing-a-mejig’” Reilly
As you may be aware, pawnbroking is about 3,000 years old. Angie has been in the trade for about that length of time. In fairness, she wears well – usually jewellery bought from the company at huge staff discount. Her familiar war-cry of “Listen” or “You know who I mean – thing-a-mejig”, can be heard in the Folkestone store, even when she’s still at Walworth. Angie is a true pawnbroker in the traditional sense of the word – a reliable figure in her local community who has lived and worked there pretty much all of her life. Anyone that has tried to nip down the Walworth Road with Angie, will be able to tell she’s a proper local – it takes about 15 minutes for a hundred yard amble, as she is stopped by all and sundry “You alright love?”“Yes doll” says the first passer by – the next holla’s “Hi Ang – I’ll be in on Wednesday to renew my ticket – hang on to it for me!”“You know it’s safe with me” Angie shouts back. Winks, nudges and waves follow from what seems like every other person “It pays to know your locals” Angie says wisely.

Angie is great, she takes no nonsense and has seen the game over so many years, there’s not much that she doesn’t know. She’s got a heart of gold (pun intended) and for all of her bark, she’s the most incredibly generous, sensitive and caring soul – and so is the bark less verocious than the bite? Who knows, but I’m not chancing it, think American-Pitbull and don’t take risks!!!

Debbie “Oh so quiet” Franklin
Debbie is best known for her quiet, shy and retiring personality – a woman who wouldn’t say ‘Boo to a goose”. Really? Err….. I think not! Debs is best known for being slightly louder than the Euro fighter jet taking off whilst the pilot entertains ACDC playing at Wembley Stadium volumes in the cockpit. Shy? Never. Retiring? When – can’t wait – it will save us a fortune on earplugs!

Ok, now that was unkind. Debs is one in a million and in her advanced role of supporting Directors, has taken to this with her usual enthusiasm and absolute commitment. But! Poor Deb – had she been as committed as she is to Pickwick to the 150 diets that she’s been on over the years, she would make a size zero supermodel look like a bit of a fattie. Debbie eats’, sleeps and breath’s Pickwick – no coincidence that they’re her three favourite hobbies anyway! Debbie has done an amazing job in steering Eltham store through its’ first 4 ½ years and her loyalty to both company and customers is evident in everything she does. She treats customers like “One of our own – just like I’d want to be treated”. And Debs does. Especially the young male customers if she considers them to be “A right thigh slapper”! The poor boys leave the shop petrified.

Sam “Never looks the same” Stuart
Sam is the youngest of our three original staff (being Debbie’s daughter, gives that away!), but to be honest, is often more old biddy than the other two! By ‘old biddy’, I’m actually referring to the fact Sam dyes her hair more times than a retired old Doris living on Bournemouth seafront. It’s quite common to meet five different versions of Sam in the same week – Monday – Blonde – Tuesday – Brunette – Wednesday – Auburn…. you get the picture!

Sam has her own unique style of customer service – it’s professional and courteous and her knowledge is absolutely first class. She has a love of jewellery and has an amazing ability to inspect it without the use of an eyeglass using what can only be bionic vision. Sam spots a hallmark or other engraving on a piece of jewellery where the rest of us can barely see the object! And boy, does that girl love a promo! Some staff find promo’s hard, it’s putting you publicly out there and if the handouts we are giving out are refused, the rejection can be tough! But not Sam. As happy to dress up as Minnie or Mickey Mouse, Sam has been known to rugby-tackle passers by to shove a Pickwick “We buy gold” envelope in their terrified open mouths, whist saying “Use Pickwick – best pawn-shop in Dartford!”. And who could ever forget the best promo ever – when she without shame or concern wandered around town dressed up as a ten-pound note. Legendary. Now that’s commitment!

So, we welcome you to our first Pickwick News Feed and hope you continue to enjoy it in the future. Next edition apart from the next staff installment, we’ll tell you about some amazing offers and events we have lined up for you, our faithful customers. We mentioned earlier that the success of the business is our staff and customers. Having given a run-down on the first three staff, don’t think our customers will get away lightly! We’ll also be giving you stories of some of the hilarious incidents that customers have brought us over the years too – watch this space!

Editor
Pickwick Pawnbrokers