By Jerry Whitehead
The age-old saying remains true today: “Image is everything.”
What kind of an image do you present?
Today our industry is being examined on an unprecedented level. We face challenges from the news media, Hollywood, local communities, state regulators, D.C. regulators and everything in between.
As a result of this increasing stare (or glare) into our industry, it has become more apparent that we need to remain vigilant in the images that we present to the public.
Many years ago I had a desire to go into marine biology or oceanography. When I started school and became more knowledgeable, my major changed as reality began to set in.
One of my professors once told me I could have a 4.0 average and still not get accepted into the school’s prestigious oceanographic program and graduate school unless I obtained an extensive educational background, acquired good social skills and began a lobbying process within the system — and that didn’t include figuring out how to pay for it all.
The moral of the story is that it’s not just how you look or what your grades are, it is how you measure up in other areas as a human being.
The same thinking could be applied to your business. It may not just be how your store appears, it may be how you act, what type of citizen you are in business and within your community, how well you treat, respect and honor your customer base and much more. There are many variables that contribute to how well you shine in business and as a human being.
Image could include the following:
• Current Global Economic Crisis
• Personal or Personnel Attitude
• Personal or Personnel Appearances
• Customer Service Skills
• Business Practices – What do you
do and how do you do it?
• Advertising or Marketing Programs
• Store Locations
• Store Appearances — Interiors, Exteriors
• Community Involvement — How
can I be involved?
• Involvement or Participation with
your Industry Associations
Current Economic Global Crisis
In today’s environment, more challenges are created every day. The time in which we live is like no other in our history — in the United States and in the world.
Many retailers have gone by the wayside in this economic cloud, and I am afraid to say there will be more disappearing in the future. As a result of this continuous downturn I believe we must continue to shine and learn to shine in ways that we may not have in the past.
This crisis is drawing new clientele that we have not previously seen. In most cases this is the middle- to upper- middle-class that has been devastated by many of the financial changes in the past year or two.
These are more educated and informed consumers, and as such we need to be ready to service their needs and improve their overall image of our industry. I refer to them as “the non-traditionals.”
Personal or Personnel Attitude
In today’s environment the retail sector in general faces immense competition in many areas and in many markets. Competition coupled with a recession and an overall international economic downturn increases the challenges many retailers face.
Some of you may have noticed that some of the larger retail operations are stepping up their overall customer service skills. Skills can cover many areas as they play into your retail business, or any retail or service-oriented business.
Still, many other retailers have lost their shine and good customers skills. It is one thing to possess knowledge and it is another to have a PMA — positive mental attitude. Increasingly we see that stores in our sector that have PMAs and good, honest, friendly, outgoing sales lending associates have happier customers and better sales results!
Happier customers compute to more loyalty, branding, referrals and ultimately more business for longer periods of time.
What kind of attitude does your store have?
Personal or Personnel Appearances
Your overall appearance is also increasingly important. Many big box retailers utilize name branding designs and or color changes for various levels of management in their clothing, uniforms and more.
As I look at hundreds of operations in many countries, I see standards improving across the industry locally and internationally.
Dress like a bum, attract bums is another old saying.
Many of you may have seen the new show, “Pawn Stars.” It’s not as bad as the original trailers appeared, but what is bad in my opinion is the overall appearance and, yes, the attitude. Two of the slovenly looking individuals appear with tattoos, shorts, caps on backwards, Elvis glasses and generally what appears to be a piss-poor attitude — not the portrayal I have sought for decades within our beloved industry.
As one of my great mentors once said to me many years ago, “Dress for success.” In today’s environment nothing could be truer!
Customer Service Skills
Perhaps the biggest lack in many of our big box retail operations — and even many of the pawn operations I have had the pleasure to visit or work with — is overall customer service skills.
Many stores have created environments that literally have the customer going through two or three people to get an answer to a question. We know many retailers typically churn personnel and find it difficult to retain skilled and qualified personnel.
The same holds true in our sector. After all, our day could consist of dealing with a variety of store level, corporate level, administrative level, city, county or national level requirements, regulations, duties and necessities, along with managing potentially large volume levels of loans, purchases, inventory, cash, and yes, of course, customers.
I contend that it takes above-average people to do our job, who need to be able to solve problems, resolve issues and make decisions intelligently and quickly.
It doesn’t present a good image to have personnel who apparently can’t write a loan, get loan information, enter it into a computer or make a decision about a trade, testing of any number of items or even handle or sell with confidence and enthusiasm. That remains a big challenge for us.
Look like a professional and act like a professional at all times. Skilled professionals achieve better results!
It isn’t always what you know — it’s how you say it!
Business practices can be a wide subject. Some operators in our sector choose to deal in many different types of products and services. In most communities we are required to operate above-board in a decent and honest way, providing the best standards of practice that we can.
Those of you who have never been in a Wal-Mart, Home Depot or Sears need to do some reasonable research on how you price inventory. In today’s environment more educated consumers are coming in by the droves. If you have your inventory priced above the new price at Wally World and wonder why you can’t sell it, think again! And product pricing and merchandising also play a big role in the overall image you project.
Some of those within our sector don’t adhere to the utmost standards of our profession. Circumventing rules and regulations and dealing with questionable property or patrons or offensive products or practices affects your image. Pornography and aggressive assault weapons technology are a couple of classic examples of what potentially inhibits your image.
There is nothing wrong with introducing new products and services in an attempt to improve your bottom line. We need to focus on the fact that we need to offer other services without interrupting the continuous development of our core business, and our core business is? Yes, selling cash!
Run the best, cleanest, leanest, most honest and reputable business that you can.
Advertising and Marketing Programs
Retailing genius John Wanamaker once said, “I know that half of my advertising doesn’t work. The problem is, I don’t know which half.”
In regards to marketing image, good taste should apply. I’ve seen ads and You Tube-type clips showing pawnbrokers covered with tattoos slinging machine guns around, bad guys sending deplorable messages, less than desirable scenes inside pawnshops and much more.
At the same time, many well-run independent stores and many of the larger public companies have developed very well-scripted ads and marketing programs.
The message here is that your program, whatever it is, should be done in good taste and in an attempt to attract a broader sector of consumers into your business.
Stay away from stereotypical ad campaigns, a particular problem from an image standpoint.
Think positive, be positive!
With the introduction of public money in the past several decades, the industry began to make notable changes. These included the development of specific demographic targeting, a process that allows you to specifically target your primary consumer based on any number of factors.
We also have seen operators opening stores in higher income areas, cleaner and newer store fronts, name branding and much more.
They say there are three things that create a successful retail location:
The trend toward free-standing buildings with easy ingress and egress is very apparent. Ever-bigger super stores are coming along, and we’re moving from the back streets to Main Street. Locations that have high visibility, easy access, are clean and not an eyesore to the community or the patron are increasingly common.
Many years ago in our demographic profiling of potential locations, we would ask ourselves: “Would we pay double the rent to have double the bottom line potential?”
I think overall that’s a no brainer, yes?
Location and the presentment of the location certainly play a considerable part in image.
Having acquired, developed and operated more than 200 stores in my career, my eye looks at the location long before I arrive in a parking lot.
What does the neighborhood look like? How about the street, the curbs, sidewalks, parking lot, building, signs, glass, entrance ways? Is it an eyesore or an improvement in the community?
I have to tell you that in my experience, the pawn industry today has some operators that choose to run some of the filthiest and dirtiest places you can visit.
I have been in many stores in recent times that were beyond cluttered up, had bad odors and in some cases presented a number of hazards to any would-be patrons.
If you look at any consumer-oriented retail operation of this generation, you typically see clean stores that are well merchandised. Wal-Mart is capable of doing it in 40,000+ stores, we should be able to do it in one or two or 20 of them, shouldn’t we?
If you think junk, clutter, broken chainsaws, bowling balls and 1944 B&D drill motors priced $29.95 are sexy, I can assure you this is not the case!
Not everything in your store is a collectible!!
With all the challenges we have as an industry in today’s environment, in order to keep the positive thoughts and positive images moving forward it never hurts to contribute.
You can contribute many things — some of your inventory, your dollars, your store or space, your money and most importantly your time.
Giving back to any community in which you do business is not a bad thing. Doing this through organizations such as the Better Business Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, Kiwanis, Big Brothers and Sisters, special assistance programs, churches, Salvation Army, United Way and more are but just a few possibilities.
Good, solid community participation should be your policy just because it’s the right thing to do. And the more you are active in your community and making a contribution to it, the better the image as presented by you, the human being!
Industry and Trade Associations
The only constant in life is change. If you seek change or wish to influence the direction or status of our industry or to protect your rights to do business, then you should be involved with your industry associations.
These are volunteer organizations in almost all cases, and the members who make up the organization are the very life and breath of it.
You can donate your time, your money, your inventory and your input. Want to really be involved? Run for the board of directors in your respective state or for the national board. Join one of the many committees the NPA has, be involved, make a difference!
Don’t have an association in your area? Start one!
Solid involvement with your industry helps to elevate you, your business and your image. It shows you are proactive, taking self-regulatory steps and adhering to a higher code of ethics as an active member or participant.On behalf of the Pawnshop Consulting Group, I hope you have enjoyed the preceding article. If you would like to explore any of our services or more, please visit us at our Web site: www.pawnshopconsultinggroup.com.