With a store in Loughton, James Constantinou talks about what makes Prestige Pawnbrokers stand out, how they work and why TV didn’t change his life
When was the first time you encountered a pawnbrokers?
I had actually never encountered one until I had decided to start the business.
I then thought it would be a good idea to do a bit of market research, that was the point when I first set foot in a pawnbroking store. Looking back it was probably a good thing that I had no real knowledge of the industry, in a funny way that was an asset.
What inspired you to launch Prestige Pawnbrokers?
My main point of inspiration was of course the notion of making money, but it wasn’t just that alone. Another major factor was the excitement in respect of what we were about to embark on. The idea that I could get to see the most wonderful assets and meet some amazing characters whilst earning a few quid was beyond my wildest dreams.
How did you want to be different?
Well I didn’t just want to be different. I wanted to create something that worked, as well as something that was better than what was on offer. I think we achieved that and lots more.
The pawnbroking sector is now considered to be a viable alternative to the high street bank and in many respects for short term borrowing it is actually cheaper.
What kind of reputation do you think pawnbrokers have, fairly or not?
I would hope following the exposure and insight into what we do on a daily basis our reputation would be held in high regard within the money lending sector. On the whole regulated lenders in the pawnbroking sector are honourable people providing a good service to those in need of liquidity.
Generally, how does it work in terms of you lending money?
It really couldn’t be easier. Bring items to one of our stores along with some identification and proof of address, we will loan you money secured against the items based on their second hand value. There are no need for monthly payments, but the capital and interest can be paid back at any point during the seven month contract.
Once the capital and interest have been paid you are free to come and collect your goods.
You will only pay interest whilst the loan is outstanding, ie if you have a loan for one month then the borrower will pay for one month of borrowing. This is why loaning against our assets is really simple and cost effective.
How long have you had the shop in Loughton? Why did you want to open there?
We have had the Loughton store since the end of 2018 and to be honest I knew little about the area so it was a gamble. After spending some time over there and taking a look at what else was around I knew it was going to hit the ground running and it did. We wanted to cover Essex, Loughton seemed strategically the right place.
What kind of things are currently on offer there? I hear rare bags are a big thing…
Bags are of course a big part of the business and we are the biggest buyers of high end luxury handbags in the country. People often forget, we are not just money lenders, we buy and sell all of the luxury assets that we loan against. On sale at any one of our stores are many high end luxury brands such as Rolex, Patek, Cartier, Chanel, Hermes, and Louis Vuitton to name but a few.
We have a massive on-line presence too and many items can be purchased at shopprestige.com
Do you have a typical client?
I wish I did, as it would make marketing so much easier and less financially taxing. The truth of it is that there are so many people from all walks of life that over the years have bought into the luxury market in one way or another. It could be a watch, jewellery, handbags, a piece of art or a car. You just don’t know who is going to walk through the door or what they may have parked outside.
In terms of the assets you deal with, can they be something very small right through to something very large?
We are not precious about what we see or handle. I always wanted to be able to service almost any client with any item that was presented. If it has got a value then we would love to see it.
What’s the most unique thing you have dealt with?
I’ve seen some wonderful works of art and some truly beautiful pieces of jewellery, but there are some items that are perhaps not as valuable to the collector’s markets that are in my opinion priceless.
I’ve spoken about this previously, but we were presented with some very personal letters hand written by the former Rolling Stones member Brian jones. They contained touching thoughts and personal details relating to his relationship and his career as an up and coming band member. The letters were addressed to Brian’s mother and father prior to the band becoming famous and were found in the attic of a house that was owned by his parents.
Brian was sadly found dead not too long after these letters were written, which made the content all the more poignant. The band are a massive piece of British rock culture and therefore these letters are priceless, they simply cannot be replaced, and as such there is no real value that can be placed on them. They cannot be replicated or surpassed as the moment has gone.
How did the TV show come about?
Well, I would like to say that my tap dancing skills were so mind blowing and after I pulled a bunny out of a hat the director couldn’t really refuse me. But I would be telling fibs, the truth of the matter is that Channel 4 wanted to make a documentary on alternative money lending and following their research they found us. They came down for a chat and a cup of tea and after some longer chats and some more tea we agreed to take part. It really was that straight-forward.
Did you notice a change in the way people approached you after it was first screened?
Yes, my parents started inviting me to their BBQs! There was no negativity and apart from some very nice people introducing themselves to me and saying that they enjoyed the show, I can’t really think of much else to report. I wasn’t chased up the road by hordes of screaming women throwing their underwear at me if that’s what you are getting at.
What was the biggest thing you learnt from doing the show?
One of the biggest things I think that came from the show and the feedback following its airing was that the public wanted to use the services of people they felt they could trust.
I really do believe that being up front with people and doing exactly what you say you are going to do goes a long way, especially in a world where so often that Is no longer the case.
You have opened three more stores during a pandemic – a gamble?
We have opened stores during the pandemic including Brighton, Chelsea and Guildford. We are about to open a new forth store in Richmond. Like everything in business, it’s a calculated risk.
God knows… 24 hr Pawn, Cyber Pawn, The Great British Pawn Off… There is much more to be done and so many untapped markets. The next couple of years are going to be interesting for sure.