Kahlden Takes La Familia to New Heights
By CHARLENE KOMAR STOREY
When Lawrence Kahlden took over as CEO of La Familia Pawn & Jewelry last September, he expected to wait a year or so before moving on expansion plans. But 2011 was such a successful year for the Winter Park, Fla.-based company that he’s already moving full speed ahead with plans to open five to 10 new stores.
Indeed, the company’s 2011 figures are jaw-dropping: revenue for the fiscal year came to a whopping $26 million, almost triple the $9 million tallied in 2010. La Familia, whose stores are in Florida and Puerto Rico, added four new stores last year for a total of 19 and hired 69 more employees.
Instrumental in La Familia’s growth were investments in the company of $7.5 million, $5 million of which came from private equity form Advent-Morro Equity Partners.
Kahlden has a strong background in the pawn industry, having spent 10 years as COO of ValuePawn. When EZ Pawn bought the company at the end of 2008, Kahlden joined the pawn giant as vice president of operations. After 18 months, however, he left to start his own pawn company, Tampa-based Quick Cash Pawn, with a partner.
When Kahlden was approached by La Familia last year to take the company’s top job, he decided to join the growing chain.
Expansion turned out to be a no-brainer. “Business is strong in both Puerto Rico and Florida,” Kahlden points out. In Puerto Rico, about half of the managers were originally from the island but had moved to Florida, looking for employment opportunities. They gained experience with La Familia in the Sunshine State, then were happy to move back home. About 10 employees are native Puerto Ricans who first were with La Familia in Florida.
Ready to Roll
Kahlden is emphasizing the traditional La Familia model of customer service, clean stores and the best staff.
“Employees are punped up,” Kahlden says. “We have a lot waiting on the bench, ready to go. We’re already structured to do 10 to 12 more stores.”
Still, he wouldn’t mind seeing an uptick in the economy. “We would like the economy to improve, for people to have jobs so they can come in and pick up their pledges,” he says. At present, La Familia has a 70 percent to 80 percent redemption rate. Retail jewelry sales are very soft, but general merchandise sales are good.
Although La Familia’s customer base is primarily Hispanic, it isn’t exclusively so. “This is a diverse area, and everyone comes in,” Kahlden says. “We advertise to everyone.”
Kahlden adds that the reality television shows featuring pawn shops have helped attract new customers. Viewers are intrigued by pawn shops and become curious about the deals they may find, he says.
The company has also been aggressive in its use of social media. Last year, it doubled its Facebook “likes” and Twitter followers.
Although so far the company has stuck to Florida and Puerto Rico, in the future the chain is likely to move into other areas, Kahlden says, and continue on its mission of providing “the most enjoyable customer experience in the industry.”
Hattman Named First Pawn America RM
Pawn America has appointed its first regional manager. Karl Hattman, an 11-year veteran of the Burnsville, Mn.-based chain, has been named to the new position. Hattman had been a district manager overseeing the company’s five Wisconsin locations.
The chain added the regional manager designation to help handle its constant expansion; it has 23 stores with plans to open more.
Pawn America’s five district managers now will report to Hattman. Previously, DMs had reported to Vice President/COO Steve Caulfield.
Besides adding outlets, Pawn America has seen business skyrocket in its existing stores.
“We’ve gotten busier and busier,” Hattman says. “The number of transactions has increased dramatically. And we have a lot more employees.”
For example, the Madison, Wis., store today has about 35 employees, and plans to add about five more. Yet as recently as 2007, the four stores Hattman supervised then had a total of about 40 staff members.
As regional manager, Hattman meets with DMs every Monday to go over issues that surfaced in the past week. They discuss new products and promotions, and address areas where individual DMs need help.
Hattman also tracks store performance in a variety of categories. New areas receive special attention. For example, Pawn America has added a clothing department in its Madison store. The section is on the lines of Plato’s Closet (see sidebar).
District managers continue to oversee four to six stores each. Managers and assistant managers report to DMs, who fill put a multi-page evaluation of each store monthly. DMs visit their stores frequently, handling everything from some human resource areas, signing off on bills, and making sure the stores look good.
— Charlene Komar Storey