Friday, July 11, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Seth Gold, his father, Les Gold, and his sister, Ashley Gold Broad, star in the TruTV hit “Hardcore Pawn” based in Detroit, and the series wrapped its eighth season Wednesday night.
Seth, at the 2014 Pawn Expo of the National Pawnbrokers Association at the Mirage from Tuesday through Thursday, chatted with me in a wide-ranging conversation that included “Pawn Stars,” lessons learned and the best and worst aspects of being a pawnbroker.
(Seth also was in town for the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in January.)
Do you think you can learn something new from the pawnshop convention after you’ve been in the business for so long?
You know, there’s nothing I love more than going to other pawnshops and seeing how they’ve perfected their own technique. I think there’s always something to be learned talking with others, especially in your business.
Yeah, I get it, I’m fourth generation of business, and if you ask my dad (Les Gold) and my sister (Ashley Gold Broad), they do everything right all the time. I don’t really agree with that, so you know what? I go out seeking advice sometimes.
Your sister is a pretty remarkable lady, right? Being the only lady in the business like that?
Yeah, you know my sister is one-of-a-kind, to put it nicely. She’s an interesting person to work with all the time, but I give it to my sister because she’s strong-willed and strong-minded and, ultimately, in a male-dominated industry, she holds her own pretty well.
Your pawnshop in Detroit is a little, how do we say it nicely, a little tougher and rougher around the edges than perhaps other pawnshops?
I think that no matter what town you go in, you’re going to have pawnshops that are represented kind of like ours. You have to understand that we deal with lots transactions every day. Most of our transactions are seamless, most of my customers come in looking to get a certain amount for their item and walk out the door. Occasionally you have people that when you say no to somebody, they get a little emotional, so you can kind of see how that plays out on TV.
What do you think is the reason for your success as a reality show?
You know, I think there has to be a draw for something. I think there are many elements in our show that people come back for, so whether or not you’ve worked in a family business, you can identify with a sister like mine or brother like me or dad like mine. I think it caters to people that work in a family business, also people that have been unfortunately down on their luck, so that’s another layer of attraction.
I think that the person that has neither of those in common watches the show and sees a piece of merchandise that’s brought in as says, “Oh, I have something like that. I think it’s the relating factor that brings people back because if you don’t relate to something that you’re watching on TV or doesn’t draw emotion, you’re not going to go back. I think there are many layers, and that’s why we’re able to have the success that we have.
What do you think about our hometown guys, the Rick Harrison family?
Here’s the deal: We’re all pawnbrokers, so they’re not competition to me. They’re helping the industry, so I welcome any other pawnshop shows. All their doing is shedding a positive light on the business. I said it a long time ago. I always thought it was cool to go to a pawnshop, and with pawnshops being so mainstream now, now it’s open to everybody. You know what I think? It’s great for the industry at-large.
I asked your sister this question, and I never got an answer to it. Would you ever come into this backyard of theirs?
You know what I think? The pawnshops here have it well cornered. There are a lot of great pawnshops here, including theirs. You have their store and you have Max Pawn, so the market is pretty saturated here. I think that I’m good in Detroit. And the weather is too hot here!
Is business booming at this time in the economy?
There are 25 million people across the country who don’t have bank accounts or are under bank, so there’s always going to be a market for pawnshops. The economy obviously lent itself to the more loaning side over the past few years, but the economy is bouncing back. We’re seeing a lot of people coming in and buying things; retail.
Now that it’s cool to go to the pawnshop, people are actually proud, like, “Hey, I got a deal at the pawnshop.” People still have birthdays, still have anniversaries, and now they’re using the pawnshop as a viable option to go check out. It’s great.
What’s does “under bank” mean?
Under bank means for me I can go to a bank and withdraw $20 from my account. A lot of people don’t have that opportunity. They don’t have the $20, so they use alternative-financial institutions like pawnshops.
For a long time, it was sort of looked at as an unrespectable business. People who went in there were sort of classified as deadbeats, people who worked here were sort of classless. Has the image improved?
You know, Robin, out of 10 people who get loans with me, how many do you think come back and get their merchandise? What would you say?
I think that I played this game with your sister, and I think that I said 80 percent.
Yeah, 80 percent came back to get their merchandise. These are run-of-the-mill, hard-working people who get their stuff back. Unfortunately, I fell under the same presumption when I was younger. All my friends growing up, their dads were doctors and lawyers, and then they would ask me what my dad did, and I said a pawnbroker. And they kind of looked at me like what?! That’s not legitimate.
So growing up I never wanted to get in the family business. I steered clear of it. It wasn’t until my senior year in college. I was actually studying pre-med because I wanted to go to med school. I really didn’t like what I was doing at the time, so I called my mom up, I even called my dad up, and said, “I think that I want to get in the business, and my mom was like what business?” The family business, and you know what? I’m so glad that I did. I’m able to help a lot of people every day, and it’s actually quite rewarding.
There’s a lot of, I won’t call it head butting, but you know what I mean, on “Hardcore Pawn.” We started this conversation about the reality of reality TV shows. I’m guessing that there are a lot of circumstances that occur when tempers have to flair and voices have to be raised on both sides of the counter.
Well of course. You have to understand the position of my customers, and when I say no to them, that’s final, right? It’s not like they have thousands of dollars in their pocket. They’re coming to me because they don’t have enough money.
When I say no to that piece of merchandise, yeah, they’re going to be emotional. Usually we try to settle things down before it gets out of control. Most the time we do, and sometimes it goes a little bit off-kilter. But we’re able to manage it.
What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you? What’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you?
Wow, the worst thing that’s ever happened to me? Alright, as crazy as it sounds, it was a learning experience. A customer came in with a pair of Tiffany earrings; well, we’ll say blue box earrings. I looked them up on the Internet, and the retail price on them was $7,000, and the customer wanted $2,50. So you think you’re getting a pretty good deal, right?
Well, I bartered $2,500 and called my dad, this is when I was really young in the business, and I told him you won’t believe this, I just made a really great buy for $2,500 pair of earrings, and the retail is $7,000. He says, “Weigh them up, Seth, weigh them up. So I weighed them up, and it was 1.2 grams of platinum.
Overall, we would have given a loan on these things for like $300. Just because they’re in the blue box, people presume that’s worth a lot of money, but in actuality sometimes you’re paying for that blue box. So my dad was like, “Seth, really think about it, think about what you’re doing.” It wasn’t horrible, but it was a learning experience.
And the nicest, happiest thing?
A customer came in with two guitars, and I ended up buying them for $1,800. After doing a little bit more research before they left, I find out they were worth a little more and gave them an extra $1,000. They were happy with my original amount, but then I ended up giving them a little bit more. You help people who are really having a hard time making ends meet. You end up helping a lot of people survive.
So today it’s a reputable business. It’s come a long way.
We’ve always been reputable; I think it’s just more mainstream.
Where does the business go from here?
Who would have ever imagined six years ago we would have a TV show running for five years? I mean I’m talking to Robin Leach! I used to watch you on TV. Things in my world are crazy, so where does it go? Last year I was lucky enough to be nominated and won Pawnbroker of the Year. Just do new things, experience life and have fun while you’re doing it.
Obviously you get recognized. Is the price of fame that everybody has something to sell you?
It’s funny because everywhere I go, people are like how much would you give me for my watch? How much would you give me for my ring? I’m a walking appraiser; that’s what I’ve become. I’m no longer a pawnbroker; I just appraise people’s merchandise. How much would you give me for my car? I’m like, “What?!”
Are you amazed at the people who watch “Hardcore Pawn”?
Oh, absolutely. Like sports heroes of mine; crazy athletes. I would never imagine the amount of success that we’ve had, and I’m thankful. To me, I just do my job. If I was in Las Vegas today, I’d be at work working, and people come in all the time asking me why are you here. This is what I do for a living. I love what I do, and I couldn’t be prouder.
So we understand the good part of your profession. What’s the worst part of it?
You see, unfortunately, some really bad circumstances. Unfortunate circumstances when people create a little bit of a jam for themselves. Like I said, when you say no to somebody who really has nowhere else to go, they’ve already exhausted all of their options, and you see kids, it’s heartbreaking. When people pawn their video game systems, obviously you know that they play them, or kids come in with their games, you see it.
But overall you perform a necessary service because you step in where banks won’t go, right?
Exactly, exactly. If pawnshops didn’t exist, there’d be very big problems. We provide a service to thousands of people across the country every day.
It is an amazing profession.
Yeah, you have to know a little bit about a lot so that you’re knowledgeable and don’t get burned. You’re always learning, and there are always new things out there. Why I’m in Las Vegas right now is the opportunity to learn new things from other people who have perfected their trade.
Pawnbrokers are very skilled individuals. It’s not just buy low, sell high. That’s not how we operate. To the person on the outside looking at us, that’s what they think, but it’s about giving the person the amount of money that they need so that they can survive and ultimately get their piece back.
What else should I know about “Hardcore Pawn”?
“Hardcore Pawn” (finished) its eighth season Wednesday night at 10 on TruTV. Amazing! But here’s an open invitation to you, Robin: Any time you’re in Detroit, you need to come by, and you’ll be pawnbroker for the day.
Do you do that for people?
I would do that for you.
I probably would make such a financial mess, I’m an easy touch, I’d be giving money away.
That’s it, unfortunately or fortunately, that’s something I learned. You can’t buy the story; you have to buy the piece. It’s not about the story.
Because everybody has a story, right?
Everybody has a story.
Well you must have heard many.
I get to hear about 700 a day, so, in the course of my 10 years there, that’s a lot of stories.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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