The Bank Gun & Pawn opened in downtown Havre de Grace, MD, in September 2006 under the partnership of Diane Barrow and her mother, Bobbi Barrow. When Diane’s daughter, Kati Wilson, turned 16 and needed a job, she joined the team. Eight years later, the family-run store operates seamlessly by these three women alone. They have no other employees.
Each of the three women has distinct and separate roles. Bobbi handles jewelry while Diane takes care of gun sales and keeps the books. Kati helps with the guns, but is the primary person for taking pawns and buy outs. She’s also in charge of shipping since they sell a lot of merchandise on eBay. However, like most small businesses, everyone pitches in wherever they are needed.
The three women enjoy working together in the flexible, laid back atmosphere and know they have that rare opportunity to spend more time with their family members than a lot of others. There are some disadvantages, though. Sometimes they know too much about each other’s business. When asked how they handle conflicts, Diane admits, “Honestly, there are times we just yell at each other and move forward from there. [But] usually we just try to listen to each other and agree to disagree.”
Three generations all working in the same store is unique, but three generations of women is pretty rare. The women at The Bank Gun & Pawn say they don’t sense any real stigma as a woman-owned business in a predominantly male industry, but say people are surprised when they realize there are no male employees. They are often asked, “You don’t have any men here?” The typical response is, “Now why would we need a man?”
Once in a while they have to ask someone to watch their language, but most of the time customers are very respectful. According to Diane, “I think, in some ways, being women can work to our advantage because we come across as more compassionate and caring. Being in the pawn business is sometimes like being ‘Dear Abby’. They just want someone to listen to them.”
Separating work and home isn’t a problem for these three women. Diane and her mom have worked together for 25 years and it’s become second nature to them. They do spend time together outside of work, but they don’t talk about the business when they’re away from it.
Succession can be a difficult decision in a family business. Bobbi loves what she does and Diane doesn’t think her mom will ever retire from it. As for her own retirement, she says Kati will have to decide if she wants to continue the business, and then they will handle the logistics from there.
Their secret to success so far, according to Diane, is that they are fair and honest with their customers. “Plus, when you like what you do, it makes it a lot easier and more enjoyable.” She doesn’t think a family business is that much different than any other business. “We have to continue to grow and change with the times. This can be difficult in the gun business – especially when politics plays a role. We will be getting a new president in November, and we have no idea what that will entail. We are always looking for ways to bring new customers in the door, and the economy plays a big role in that.”
The next time you’re in Havre de Grace, MD, be sure to visit The Bank Gun & Pawn for a pawn store shopping experience with a feminine twist.