From the top · 1 June 2017

Posh Pawn star James Constantinou uses TV riches to grow empire

James-Constantinou 2
James Constantinou: “Your desire for gain should always be greater than your fear for loss”

Business Advice chatted to the star of Channel 4 reality show Posh Pawn, James Constantinou, about the difficulties of handing over control as the owner of a growing business, and how pawn-broking could benefit cash-strapped small firms.

As the boss of the UK’s first “posh” pawn shop, there’s very little James Constantinou hasn’t seen. Everything from suits of armour, to a lump of moon rock, to an original Picasso have crossed the threshold at one of Prestige Pawnbrokers’ showrooms, and the 50 year-old continues to be baffled by the assets his clients have saved for a rainy day.

“I still get excited by what people bring in,” Constantinou told Business Advice. “We never know what we’re going to get through the door next, I suppose that’s why it makes good television.”

The Posh Pawn story began in 2013, when Channel 4 researchers approached Constantinou for a new show about alternative lending. Prestige Pawnbrokers had received some coverage in the national press, having launched three months previously, and the network wanted to meet its founder face-to-face to see whether there’d be enough material for a programme.

Channel 4 saw potential in Prestige Pawnbrokers immediately, and made a one-hour documentary based on the goings-on at the company over an eight-week period. That one-off show, called Posh Pawn, broke all previous viewing records for its time slot in the television schedule, and a series was swiftly commissioned.

Four years down the line, and there’ve been six full-length series of Posh Pawn, amounting to nearly 50 hours of reality television, with a seventh season airing soon, and Constantinou couldn’t have imagined a better marketing platform for his new business.

“We’ve seen incredible growth,” the entrepreneur said of Prestige Pawnbrokers as a result of the show. “It’s the best advertising a company can hope to get – you just can’t pay for that sort of coverage.”

Likening the show to a cross between Antiques Roadshow and 1980s British comedy-drama Lovejoy, Constantinou explained how his business has grown from just one small Surrey showroom to four locations across the UK because of Posh Pawn’s success. Like many entrepreneurs, however, he’s found it hard to give up some managerial control.

He told Business Advice: “One of the most important things I’ve learned whilst growing the business has been the importance of delegating. I like to run my own ship, but it gets harder to stay on top of everything when you’re growing.

Posh Pawn
Constantinou with members of his Posh Pawn team

“You can’t control everything, and of course you want to move the business forward. Your desire for gain should always be greater than your fear for loss, so you must make sure to employ really well – recruitment is everything.”

Having Prestige Pawnbrokers so much in the public eye has altered Constantinou’s view on hiring new members of staff. The company founder has become more of a sceptic, liking new candidates to be easily able to prove they know what they’re talking about early on in interviews. This is particularly important in pawn-broking, he explained, because success in the industry relies so heavily on reputation, and trust between brokers and clients.

The entrepreneur admitted being wary of franchising, but conceded that it represented one of the more favourable routes to grow a business for owners that are concerned about relinquishing control and protecting their brand’s reputation.

“Any mistake franchisees make can damage your brand,” warned Constantinou. “You’re putting your brand out there, and entrusting someone with its reputation, so you have to be careful who you bring on.”

As well as being able to capitalise on the fame of Posh Pawn to grow the business, Constantinou is excited to have reinvigorated an industry in bad need of a reputational makeover. He claimed other business owners wouldn’t think twice about pawn-broking as just another way to access finance if it weren’t for the shady, Dickensian impression many people still have of the industry.

Constantinou added: “The great success of the show is that it’s made pawn-broking more accessible. People watching the show can see there’s no difference from borrowing from a bank. In most short-term cases, pawn-broking is far cheaper than bank borrowing.”

Go back and read our interview with The Apprentice winner Ricky Martin, about life after TV and Alan Sugar’s mentorship

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Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.