Posh Pawn: the reality

James Constantinou is the star of Channel 4's hit show on pawnbroking. He reveals how his business works
BizAge Interview Team
James Constantinou, founder of Prestige Pawnbrokers

Hi James! Tell us about Prestige Pawnbrokers

Prestige was established in 2009 following the 2008 credit crisis.  The brand quickly gained notoriety and was featured in Channel 4’s long-running TV series ‘Posh Pawn’. Prestige has gained a reputation as the ‘go to’ lender in respect of supplying loans against high-end assets such as jewellery, watches, art, handbags, cars, fine wine and much more.

As well as the lending arm of the business, Posh Pawn has a separate online platform dedicated to retailing pre-loved luxury items, and this operates alongside our nine high street stores which feature fabulous merchandising areas for our customers to browse.

What made you think there was money in this?

After being expelled from school at the age of 15, I tried different things and eventually had my own businesses in various sectors - Classic & Vintage Cars, Importer of Asian Furniture, Land & Property Development.

The Lehman Brothers economic crash of 2008 impacted on these businesses (cars had stopped, imports had fizzled, property and land fell apart), but I was in a fortunate position as I’d just completed a successful sale in property so had some capital available.

At the same time, the banks were recalling their loans and restructuring their lending criteria which made it almost impossible for lots of businesses to function. Many individuals who needed capital could only borrow against their homes, which put them at potential risk if things didn’t go to plan. This, to me, identified a definite gap in the lending market.  I’d seen in a press article that in the USA that they loan against art, so this triggered an idea about lending against other luxury assets … i.e. high-end pawnbroking, something that didn’t exist here in the UK back then.

At that time, the pawnbroking trade was considered to be shady and Dickensian in its approach, but the fundamental structure and legal framework for loaning funds was in place, so this made the industry an ideal vessel for what I wanted to offer.

I sourced premises, obtained an NPA license and started leaflet-dropping and marketing. The existing downturn in the economic climate triggered some good publicity on the BBC's One Show, The Times newspaper, glossy Sunday mags and so on. So Prestige Pawnbrokers rapidly gained momentum.

The Channel 4 team then approached me about making a programme about the Prestige business and our customers behind it – and the TV show Posh Pawn’, was commissioned.  Following a successful pilot, 51 episodes were broadcast between 2013-2018. This propelled Prestige into the public domain – it made us a trusted brand and made people recognise what they could bring in.

Where is the business today? 

The business has grown year-on-year and gained a reputation as the go-to lender in respect of supplying loans against high end asset items.

Prestige has gone from strength to strength and, as well as our online platforms, it now trades from nine amazing stores across the UK (currently Hatton Garden, Chelsea, The City (London), Richmond, Guildford, Weybridge, Brighton, Loughton & Manchester) which, as well as pawnbroking, offer a luxury retail experience.

In this world of waste and climate change, the sustainable aspect of buying luxury branded pre-loved items is gaining ground, and many celebrities and influencers are helping this get recognised, which is beneficial to our business.

The global pre-loved luxury goods market is expected to grow at around 7% per annum for the next 5 years, we have seen this leg of our business grow at a much higher rate. Our online sales soared by 35% in 2021 driven by the Covid related increase in disposable income levels. This year we are seeing an increase in instore sales, people are returning to the High Street, and we are welcoming them with new locations and many sought after items.

What's your biggest strength?

I enjoy what I do and have a passion for the business.  Every day is different and brings new challenges and interest.  For me, pawnbroking has been on-the-job learning – I’m still learning now!

There is some risk of course, but I thrive on an element of that - if there was no risk, then anyone could do it and I wouldn’t enjoy it so much. But I have a good instinct and this has served me well.  I don’t always get it right, but there is learning in that too.

My desire for gain is greater than my fear of loss.

What is the secret to making the business work?

I love my job and have a passion for the business! It encompasses many of the things I enjoyed in my earlier careers – i.e. working with beautiful and unusual items, problem-solving, making our customers happy. 

I‘m always looking for new ways to keep the company ‘fresh’ and I want it to continue to grow and evolve. It’s important to keep an eye on other businesses in the industry because you can learn from them and you need to keep ahead of them too.

Prestige Pawnbrokers has a good and hard-working team of people with a wealth of experience between them.  They are vital to our success and they share my vision for what we’re trying to achieve.

I involve myself in all aspects of the business, am in contact with all my team on a daily basis, and regularly visit all our premises. I am always accessible and my colleagues know they can reach me at any time about anything.

How do you market the company?

Well, the company became very well-known across the UK due to the TV series Posh Pawn which has been broadcast both at home and abroad on Channel Four and Quest TV – this gives us a bit of a fan base in the US as well as here in the UK.

We also promote the brand via social media. We actively engage with our followers on Instagram and Facebook and these platforms prove great for driving our fan bases. In addition to that we have two websites which promote the brand, the business and our online retail.

I do lots of work with the media, including interviews for the press etc. This broad and extensive coverage allows the business to continually grow and be in the public eye.

What funding do you have? Is it enough?

Funding is an issue particularly when a business has fast-paced growth.  Fortunately we do have sufficient funds available in the short to medium term, after which we will seek further investment.

Tell us about the business model

The business model is to loan money and secure these loans against assets without the need of credit checks. Our loan contract is for 7 months, but the interest is calculated for the period the loan is outstanding. Customers can redeem their goods at any time from day 1 to month 7 or they can choose to renew the loan for a further 7 months by paying the interest due and entering a new contract. We have a team of expert appraisers across our stores, their hard work enables us to issue most loans within an hour. We can also offer immediate cash for those customers looking to sell their luxury items which we then market online, in our stores or using third party platforms such as Auction houses.

Are there any technologies you've found useful?

We have apps for our retail and pawnbroking customers, and also use a specialised software platform to help manage our sales, customer details, customer payments / redemptions, product descriptions, stock levels, and much more.

Technology came into its own when the pandemic hit because people couldn’t get out – they were driven to shop online, so our online store did well there!  Also during the pandemic, cloud technology and video conferencing enabled many of our team to work from home, which meant our business could continue to function.

And, I cannot imagine a world without my mobile phone – it means I can work wherever I am and gives me access to everything.

What is the future vision?

We have interest in the brand globally and there are many markets that still remain untapped.  This will be a focus for the future.

Written by
BizAge Interview Team
July 26, 2022
Written by
July 26, 2022