30 years ago, in 1987, John Little started a business called Fieldstone Jewelry and Pawn in Conyers, GA, a small town east of Atlanta. John’s daughter, Lisa Little, began working with him in the store after college. At the time, she had no idea what a pawn store was. After John’s death in 2013, she became the CEO and “do whatever didn’t get done” gal. She recently earned her Certified Pawn Professional (CPP) designation and became the program’s first female recipient.
National Pawnbroker (NP): How do you stay ahead of the competition in your area?
LL: We try to call customers by name, thank them for their business, and build long-term relationships. We also try always to be compassionate, fair, and kind. I have given out many hugs on the other side of the counter to people who have really needed them.
NP: In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing pawnbrokers today and how can they overcome them?
LL: Government regulations – there are so many! We must educate our lawmakers. Many have erroneous preconceived notions about our role in the community.
The huge decline in mom-and-pop brick and mortar stores is also a problem. The new generation is learning to buy and pawn online first. That’s a problem when we’re carrying the overhead of brick and mortar stores. We have to develop relationships with our customers that add value and keep them coming in.
NP: Do you feel being a woman has made it easier or harder for you to do business as a pawnbroker?
LL: I think being a woman is a double-edged sword in the pawn business. For many years, the image of the pawnbroker seemed to be a fat sweaty cigar-smoking bald guy (no offense to fat sweaty cigar-smoking bald guys.) I think coming into a pawn shop and meeting a woman was a nice change from what customers were expecting. In the beginning, I had to get to know my business and the typically-male products, such as tools and firearms, better than the men to be taken seriously by male clients. I do think being a woman sometimes makes younger clients and women more comfortable – especially first-timers.
NP: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the pawn industry?
• You aren’t going to like some of the people who come in to do business with you. Be kind anyway.
• Grow your loan base.
• Get a good education in jewelry, guns, tools, and musical instruments.
• Get to know your customers and their families by name.
• Know you are going to make mistakes. Learn from them.
• Always be alert. People may target you because of what you have in your stores (guns, gold, coins, jewelry, and cash).
• Sometimes help people just because you should, not because it’s profitable.
• Know that this industry ruins you from wanting to do anything else. Once you are a pawnbroker, it’s hard to change jobs because the business is so interesting.
NP: You are a participant in the Certified Pawn Professional (CPP) program. How has the program helped you as a pawnbroker?
LL: I have made changes in marketing, security, and operations because of insights gained in these courses. Although I have been a pawnbroker for many years, I found I benefited from hearing ideas from other pawnbrokers and have gained something important from every class.
NP: What is the funniest thing that has happened to you since you became a pawnbroker?
LL: There have been many, but let’s be real – it’s the people. There’s the girl who walked around my store with a racoon tail attached to her back side. There’s the guy and his dad who had matching piercings all over their faces (and I mean ALL OVER their faces.) There’s the girl who wanted me to solder her belly chain onto her belly ring permanently. There’s the lady who had painstakingly crocheted bright blue yarn into her hair extensions. And there’s the rose and cigarette lady who always pulled her wet, sweaty money out of the front of her shirt. They’re all funny, and I love them all.
NP: How does your company give back to the community?
LL: We like to give locally as much as possible. Over the years, we have supported many different organizations in our area, particularly those that help children, battered spouses, the military, and law enforcement.
NP: Why are you a member of NPA?
LL: We are in danger of being regulated out of business. We must have an organization like NPA to have a voice. I enjoy building relationships with other pawnbrokers from all parts of the globe. The NPA Member Forum has been a very helpful tool.