Thursday, June 12, 2014 | 9 p.m.
She’s no 9-to-5 lady, and by her own admission, she’s not the average female sitting at a desk job. Some would say she’s stubborn, tough and not somebody you’d ever want to mess with in a dark alley.
Meet Ashley Gold Broad, the wild woman in the even wilder world of “Hardcore Pawn,” the crazy 50,000-square-foot American Jewelry and Loan business that is the top reality TV show on TruTV.
Over eight TV seasons, the colorful customers, unpredictable employees, family drama with father Les Gold and brother Seth Gold and downright dangerous items for sale have grown into a mini-empire.
Although headquartered in Detroit, Ashley didn’t think twice of flying to Las Vegas to see if she could expand it here.
The thought of going up against our “Pawn Stars” prompted my first question when we met:
So, first of all, how did it feel to walk into Las Vegas, which is pretty much owned by your rivals?
I don’t call them rivals. They are pawnbrokers. We changed what pawnbrokers are. Pawnbrokers help people, and, nowadays, it is cool to walk into a pawnshop versus how it was in the olden days. People used to be ashamed to walk into a pawnshop, and now people, because of our pawnshop shows, they’re so excited to walk in a pawnshop.
There are lines to get into a pawnshop now. People are excited. There are deals to be made, there are deals where people want to buy stuff, and we now shine a light into our industry, a positive light. And it’s cool to go to the pawnshop.
Except that you do, by virtue by what has to be seen on television, there’s some pretty realistic back-and-forth between the buyers and the sellers, right?
People come in with an expectation. Somebody takes that one TV off their shelf that they watch with their family because they need money to buy food for their family or get money for bills, and they need $100. Well, if we can’t provide them with $100, let’s say that we can provide them with $80.
They have that expectation of $100, so if they come in thinking that they’re going to get $100, but we can only give them $80, of course they’re going to be upset. They’re not coming into the pawnshop happy because they need the money, but we try. We try to give them what we can.
So in the history of your show, what’s the most lovable thing you’ve been able to follow up on, and what was the most horrifying incident?
The most lovable thing that we were able to do, there was somebody who came in with a whole bag of stones. She played with the bag of stones through her childhood, and she didn’t know what she had. Her grandmother passed away and left her this bag of stones, and she wanted $100. I looked through them and took them to my certified gemologist who is on staff, and he said we have a Burmese ruby in hand.
All she wanted was $100, and I looked at this lady and said, “Ma’am, I’m about to change your life.” She says what do you mean you’re about to change my life? I said you want $100, but you have a Burmese ruby, and … I’m able to give you $10,000 here! We were able to change her life in just one minute.
And did you give her the 10 grand?
We did give her the $10,000.
It was a remarkable thing that happened.
And the most horrifying?
We don’t have anything horrifying here.
Let’s say then the most confrontational.
We have controlled chaos here, so anything that happens is controlled at all times.
So does one incident stick out more than the others?
That was such a definite answer, I don’t dare push further! Tell me how the pawn industry has changed thanks to reality television.
Thanks to our shows, we have helped so many people, and that has shined a positive light onto our industry. It is a cool place to go. It used to be dark for you to walk into pawnshops, and now they’re bright. They are amazing places to go.
Is it just television that’s done that, or is it the fact that the industry itself changed?
The industry itself has definitely changed. It’s taken a turn for the better. For example with gold prices, we’re able to loan out more. We loan out 3 percent per month, so let’s say somebody brings me a piece of gold or something to take a loan out on. In the state of Michigan, it’s 3 percent per month, plus dollar storage fee. You have three months to get your loan out, or you can come back and pay out your interest.
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever financed?
Recently, we had Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s death mobile. Somebody came in with it to pawn, and we bought it for $20,000. So we had his actual assisted-suicide van in our warehouse.
And you own it? He didn’t just pawn it?
Nope, we own it! We bought it. That’s the most unusual thing we’ve ever bought.
What’s the average length of time that somebody leaves something with you before they pay it off to get it back?
The most we give them is three months, but they can leave it a day or up to three months.
Do the majority of people come back and buy it back?
OK, now I’m going to flip that question on you. Let’s say we have 10 customers. What amount of customers do you think comes back and takes out their loans?
Because you’ve twisted it back on me, I’m going to guess that it’s probably 90 percent.
You are exactly right — 80 to 90 percent of our customers come back and get it out, and we want that to happen because we don’t want our customers to leave their items because if that happens, we could potentially lose that customer as a pawn customer.
The validity of pawnshops, not just yours, is that you will do what banks won’t do, right?
Yes. We’re short-term loan lenders. We are people banks. People come to us when they don’t have a bank account.
Other than Dr. Kevorkian’s mobile suicide van, what’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever taken in pawn?
We have Elizabeth Taylor’s brooch. We have Mickey Mantle baseballs, we have a ton of sports memorabilia.
How do you know what something is worth?
In jewelry, it all goes by the weight of the gold. I’m certified in diamonds, so I know exactly what to look for when a diamond comes in. My brother and dad are very good at sports memorabilia. We’re really good at what we do; I’ve got to pat myself on the back about it. If you ever come in, I’ll take you for a tour; we’re really good pawnbrokers. Like when you would walk into the houses on “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous,” you knew what you were looking at. We know what we’re looking at!
Did you take a look at opening a branch in Las Vegas while you were here? Would you take on Las Vegas?
We are always up to opening stores in other locations. We have opened a second location in Pontiac, Mich. I would take on any city in the world.
How’s it feel to be the lady in charge of the pawn business in America? You’re perceived as the queen, right?
I am! It’s really good; it’s a really good feeling to be a woman top broker. I work in a male-dominated industry, and to be honest I have to have thick skin to work in this industry and take it on. I really enjoy what I do, and I tell other women out there that if they want to work in a male-dominated industry to go for it.
Why do you think you have to have thick skin?
Believe me, I work with my dad and my brother; you’ve seen the show. I have to deal with a lot of stuff. I deal with stuff from my brother and dad, I’ve gotta stick up for myself sometimes, I have to know what I’m talking about. I always have to defend myself when I’m dealing with my brother. I have to be fast on my feet at all times.
Did you always want to follow in the family footsteps?
Yes, I always did. I started when I was 7. I did my first loan at the age of 7. I would always come to work with my dad on Saturdays when everybody else would go out and play with their friends. I would come to work at the pawnshop.
Do you remember what that first trade was?
It was so cool. It was a gold ring. I wasn’t tall enough to reach the window, so I would stand on a chair, and nobody would ever want me to help them. But I always told them that I could do it.
I would say that that would set you up for the right attitude for a career in pawn. So how does it feel to be the most powerful woman in pawn?
It’s a sense of sensibility because nobody else does it, and nobody else could do it.
Do people come up to you and say that they would like to learn your job?
All the time. People say, “How do you do it? How do you deal with it? How do you know these items so well?” I say you have to be street smart, you have to know what you’re doing, and you have to be on your toes at all times.
And you’re happy doing what you do?
I’ve never been more sure of anything else in my life.
What do we expect on the next season of “Hardcore Pawn”?
Next season, we’re bringing in a new family member. My cousin Karen comes on board.
Another woman! You know what that means? It’s catfights galore!
Have you ever made a mistake with anything, Ashley?
Yes because if you don’t make mistakes, you can’t learn.
So you learn it by gut?
Yes. I make a mistake, and I learn from it. Not many, but I have learned from it.
You want to share one?
I bought a pair of Tiffany earrings, and my dad was out of town. Things always happen when my dad is out of town. I was running the store, and I bought a pair of Tiffany & Co. earrings. I spent way too much money on them, and I finally sold them a couple of years ago.
Did you get your money back?
So that was the 1 in 10 who never came back to buy it back from you. How do you describe your job? Is it a fun job?
It’s exciting, fast-paced and a fun rollercoaster of a ride because you never know what you’re going to get walking through that door.
Do pawnshops boom in troubled economic times?
My dad always says that pawnshops are an economic prognosticator, so we have a retail part of our store and a pawn part of our store.
If I walked in today and said show me an absolutely incredible bargain for $2,000, what would you show me?
I would show you a beautiful diamond ring, but I could show you whatever you want in any part of my store.
How do you remember your inventory?
I’m constantly walking around my showroom floor and in the back when my pawns come in and in the front when my pawns come in. I know what’s going on at all times in my store. I can tell you at all times what is in my store.
Not your average female job.
Not your average female sit-at-the-desk job — not at all.
And you’re not a 9-to-5 lady, right?
I am definitely not a 9-to-5 lady.
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Ashley, who is on “Hardcore Pawn” on TruTV every Wednesday night, also has launched her own Pawnshop Radio Internet broadcast series. She’s surviving and thriving as a self-proclaimed daddy’s little girl, but the fiery leading lady had the last word: “This is in my blood. If I can do it here, you can do it. Believe in what you want. Don’t ever think you can’t do it.”
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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