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Hatton Garden-based entrepreneur of “Posh Pawn” fame tries to put a price on whale vomit

Prestige Pawnbrokers, catapulted into fame by the Channel 4 documentary Posh Pawn, was founded by James Constantinou back in 2009 during the recession.
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Hatton Garden is known for being the diamond centre of the UK, and one shop nestled away towards the end of the street has found fame on TV show Posh Pawn for its intriguing treasures.

Prestige Pawnbrokers, catapulted into fame by the Channel 4 documentary Posh Pawn, was founded by James Constantinou back in 2009 during the recession. Where others saw disaster, Constantinou saw a business opportunity for something altogether new.

During a drive around London for our Black Cab Entrepreneurs series, he tells us all about it.

“The banks were pulling the rugs from under a lot of good peoples’ feet, calling in their loans. I was quite fortunate, I was involved in property development which was quite hard hit, but I was cash rich at the time and looking to diversify,” he said.

He had friends that were complaining about having loans called in – some of these people had long-standing relationships with their bank managers and were used to getting hold of cash fairly easily. Constantinou wanted to find a way of lending his friends money while remaining secure, hence the pawn broking venture.

“The pawn broking industry was quite stagnant at the time in terms of what it would loan against – bits of gold, watches and so on. I thought it could be rolled out at the higher end, why limit your market?

“We started looking at wine and vehicles, and its progressed from there. A few years ago, we didn’t think of looking at luxury handbags for example, and now that’s a massive part of our business.”

Some of the handbags Constantinou loans against can cost upwards of £50,000.

Posh Pawn: Going to auction

Because Prestige Pawn deals with such a variety of assets, valuations can be tricky. The 20-strong team is comprised of experts in their fields, from gemmologists to watch fanatics.

“It can get a little daunting when you’ve got something come in that you haven’t seen before, but rather than saying no we won’t take it we get stuck in. I try to get the guys to think of themselves as private investigators,” said Constantinou.

Sometimes, the team will see something a little out of the ordinary that will throw them, like some fossilised whale vomit.

“That was worth a hell of a lot of money, and, to be quite honest with you, it was almost impossible to value,” he said.

When researching an asset, the team consults its own massive database of figures reached in auctions for various items. It’s important to know how much it sold for the last time it was in the public domain, how the market has changed since and what fluctuations might affect the price in the future.

This is job is made much harder when the item has never previously been up for sale, or is a real rarity, such as the vomit.

Posh Pawn: The magic of television

In recent years, Prestige Pawnbrokers has gained popularity through the TV series Posh Pawn on Channel 4. Constantinou says this has been a major boon to the company.

“The biggest benefit of having that sort of exposure is making the public aware of what you do, because a lot of people didn’t actually know what pawn broking is all about.

“It’s a window into your business. It’s like outing an advert in every paper all up and down the country. It gets the phones ringing, and I think people are more confident dealing with you once they’ve seen how you transact on TV.”

The show has also been sold around the world, and the shop has had foreign tourists popping in to visit. Looking to the future, this is great news for the business – it might consider franchising abroad, so the fact its already a well-known name would be a great benefit.

Posh Pawn: The desire for gain

For Constantinou, the biggest challenge has been relinquishing control and delegating aspects of the business as it has grown.

“You have to change the way you operate, and I so I don’t get to see all the assets that come through the door any more,” he said.

Seeing the assets has always been one of the perks of the job for Constantinou – almost every day there’s something different through the door. While he’s always had an affinity for the cars that come in, sometimes there’s a wonderful piece of jewellery or an amazing piece of art that will blow you away.

Constantinou has come a long way since 2009, but his advice to anyone starting out with a new business is simple: “Let your desire for gain be greater than your fear for loss, because if it isn’t, you’re not going to achieve anything.”

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