James Constantinou of Loughton’s Prestige Pawnbrokers on pivoting in a pandemic
PUBLISHED: 15:59 19 November 2020 | UPDATED: 16:53 19 November 2020
‘Posh pawnbroker’ and ‘multipreneuer’ James Constantinou is a real pro when it comes to finding the opportunity in a crisis
James Constantinou, the man behind Prestige Pawnbrokers and the star of Channel 4’s smash-hit spin off, Posh Pawn, never stops. He last spoke to West Essex Life back in January 2019, soon after opening a branch of Prestige Pawnbrokers in Loughton, and since then it has proved to be a resounding success, attracting high profile clients with the high value items to match - think McLaren sports cars, designer handbags and sumptuous jewellery.
“To be honest with you, it’s far exceeded my expectations in terms of the volume of people that are coming in and with great assets too,” he reflects. “There’s a huge demand for it here.”
But, also in the months since last talking to him, Covid-19 has hit the UK and impacted every walk of life imaginable, which James admits forced a change in pace. “I’m usually so busy that I was at a bit of a loose end sitting at home, but I got myself into business planning, forecasting, and looking at where the brand was going,” he recalls.
“I also worked on other projects – we’ve developed another company that supplies PPE vending machines to shopping malls up and down the country, so in that respect lockdown worked for me. It got my creative juices flowing.”
It seems that this entrepreneurial mindset comes as second nature. Before moving to Surrey, James grew up on a council estate in Bethnal Green, which he admits was a ‘very different world’ to the one he knows today.
“I’ve lived in Surrey for 40-odd years, but I do always feel like I’m from the East End,” he smiles.
As a child, school wasn’t ever his forte: “Me and school didn’t get on, let’s put it that way. I’ve got a short attention span and wasn’t focused, and I was a bit of a loose cannon,” James explains.
“I left home when I was 18 and I used to deal in classic cars. I found that suited me quite well because I could buy a few cars throughout the year, earn enough money and go away for the winter.”
The recession of the early 1990s meant that good mortgage deals became available, so James seized the opportunity and entered the property development industry – with great success, needless to say.
Then, the recession in 2008 provided him with yet another opportunity: James could see that even the richest of the rich with supercars and multi-million-pound houses were struggling to pay the bills, which gave him an idea that would transform his career.
“Almost overnight, a lot of people were made bankrupt and that’s what inspired me to open Prestige Pawnbrokers because I realised that the pawnbroking industry had nothing at that end of the market,” he says. “There was no-one lending against cars, art or wine in the way that I was suggesting.”
In 2009 his high-end pawnbroking business was launched, with the first branch opening up in Weybridge in Surrey. A number of others soon followed suit, including the one in Loughton, along with the Channel 4 show, Posh Pawn.
Prestige Pawnbrokers prides itself on offering a unique service within the industry, whereby almost instant loans are made available against high-value assets, with expert knowledge on hand. They deal with everything from watches to designer fashion items and, as the TV show proved, some more unusual items too – a hovercraft from one of the James Bond movies springs to mind.
Like so many other industries, though, pawnbroking hasn’t been able to avoid the repercussions of the pandemic: “When your doors are shut, they’re shut, so it’s difficult to get any traction in the market. We had phones set up, but no one was out on the streets so it was very difficult to put together a deal. There were a lot of people needing financial assistance during that very difficult time,” James comments.
The branches of Prestige Pawnbrokers are now re-open in line with government guidelines, and James has found that the demand is very much there. “Over the last month or so, we’ve more than made up for the closures. We’re busier than we’ve been any other time for the last three or four years. But interestingly it’s not just on the loans side; online sales for luxury items are on the up too.”
Anyone who talks to James, and indeed anyone who watches an episode of Posh Pawn, will soon realise that the business isn’t just about the money, the glitz and the glamour. People are at the heart of what he does, and it’s often the customers - rather than their expensive assets – who shine through.
“There’s one story from the show which does stick out for me,” says James, “a lovely lady called Maggie, who unfortunately got cancer and everything seemed to go wrong for her whilst her goods were with us. I think everyone was taken by her story, and if there’s a lesson to be learnt, it’s that sometimes for no apparent reason life just isn’t fair. We went the extra mile to help that client out and I think that we just need to do that.”
Prestige Pawnbrokers may be a thriving business, but James says that there is a family-like feel amongst the staff, with a genuine desire to help the many characters that walk through the doors of the branches each day. This attitude, along with the Channel 4 show, has helped in changing perceptions of the industry.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve done. We’ve opened the public’s eyes up to the industry, and made it more usable,” James reasons. “There was always a sense of pawnbrokers being a little bit seedy, but I think people can see it in another way now and that it works no differently to a bank.”
There are big plans in the pipeline for James and his team too – they are hoping to open new branches of Prestige in the coming months, and the Loughton shop continues to flourish. “I think it’s going to be a good time for us,” James concludes. “The business is there, it’s just a matter of finding the right location for people to come in.”
172 High Road, Loughton IG10 1DN; prestigepawnbrokers.co.uk