From bangers to cash

From bangers to cash

An entrepreneur from an early age, business owner turned TV star James Constantinou started off buying and selling ‘old bangers’ at just 15 years old. Today, he is the man behind one of the UK’s most loved pawn stores. BQ found out how he made it happen…

In times of such economic uncertainty, many budding entrepreneurs may be deterred from setting up in business without knowing what the future holds.

There are many entrepreneurs however who have bit the bullet and set up during these times of ambiguity and have become a huge success.

One such entrepreneur is James Constantinou, founder and managing director of Prestige Pawnbrokers and most notably, star of Channel 4 TV show Posh Pawn.

A former property developer, James has been an entrepreneur from an early age and is proud to say he ‘has never worked for anyone but himself.’

“I didn’t bother with college or university,” he told BQ. “I left school at 15 and the thought of further education didn’t even cross my mind.

“I set out in the big bad world buying and selling a few old cars, old bangers really, and ended up moving into classic cars within a couple of years doing up some really nice old Jaguars and MG’s and so forth.

“That was the springboard for the rest of my business life, it was good grounding. I think entrepreneurship is just in some people. I can’t say I’ve ever had a job working for someone else, some people think it’s ridiculous, it just never really happened that way for me.

“I can still remember the first car I bought and sold, it was an MG BGT. It was £200 and was in citrus yellow, the worst colour you could get it in, you would struggle to give them away! I buffed the hell out of it, put some Duraglit on the chrome, and made a few hundred quid.

“From there, I went on to sell MK II Jag’s, E-Types, all sorts of stuff.”

James then moved into the property game before launching Prestige Pawnbrokers in his hometown of Weybridge at the height of the recession in 2009.

When the property market started to dry up and money was in short supply, James saw a gap in the market for a high end pawn broker.

The banks were reluctant to lend out money following the global credit crunch and James seized the opportunity to capitalise on this.

“I started off as a property developer 25 years ago. I worked in the industry until the market collapsed in 2008 and fell out of bed,” James told BQ.

“I was looking for something new and noticed a lot of my friends involved in the property game were driving around in Porsche’s or Ferrari’s and their banks weren’t willing to lend anymore money.

“I thought, there’s a gap in the market here, they’ve got assets that they’ve built up over good times, what now can we do to basically turn this into a business?

“I looked at the pawnbroker sector to see if we could adapt that in some way, it looked pretty stagnated at the time, but we managed to get our claws into it and offer the same loans that pawn broking sector were offering only for higher end assets.”

With this in mind, James decided to open up his first store in Weybridge in 2009 following a year of research and planning and Prestige Pawnbrokers was born.

The business model was simple, to provide loans against expensive valuables for those who found traditional lenders hard to deal with.

Prestige Pawn Store

“We opened our doors in Weybridge back in 2009. We set out to basically capture the high end pawn sector which wasn’t really being captured at the time.

“We started loaning against high-end assets including wine, art, cars, boats, helicopters, jewellery, watches, we market ourselves at that end of the market really.

“We gathered pace through the press, the BBC World News came to see us, The One Show and journalists from all over Europe.”

Since its launch in 2009, the company has opened a further three outlets in London’s renowned jewellery quarter of Hatton Gardens, Richmond and more recently in Manchester.

This continued growth has been aided by the success of the Channel 4 TV series Posh Pawn which first aired back in September 2013.

The programme is a documentary series uncovering the hidden world of high-end pawnbroking through the day-to-day life of the team at Prestige Pawn.

If you looked at the article image before reading and thought ‘I recognise him from somewhere’, this maybe why.

“Channel 4 were looking to do a documentary on alternative lending and they came up with the idea of looking at a pawn broker programme.

“They sent someone down to take a look at us as they had heard we did some pretty unusual stuff.

“The guys who came were jumping up and down and phoned Channel 4 and said ‘I think I’ve found something you’ll be really interested in, they’re a real quirky bunch of characters, we should get a pilot going’ so they sent a crew down, did a little pilot and that was it.

“The show has really helped keep the phones ringing, they ring constantly. Basically people can watch the programme, they realise we’re trustworthy, we’ve got integrity here and we know what we’re doing.

“A lot of the pawn broking sector is tarnished with a myth of seediness but we’ve done a lot to give it a bit of a facelift, it’s presentable and most people think of us the same way they think about a bank now.”

Each time the phone rings, James and his team never know who could be on the other side of the line and what they will be wanting to pawn.

As well as the usual cars, jewellery, helicopters and rare coins, the team have stumbled across some pretty bizarre stuff in their time.

“We’ve had Queen Victoria’s knickers, fossilised whales vomit, fighter jets from Nigeria, all sorts of stuff!

“The Jaguar fighter jets just popped up on an e-mail and we thought it was a joke at first. The title was just ‘Jaguar Fighter Jets.’

“We replied and asked for a picture of the backs and the wings then we realised there was actually someone in the field sending these images to us.

“We didn’t end up buying the load in the end as after we contacted the Nigerian Government we realised there wasn’t actually anyone authorised to sell us them. Had there been authorisation however we probably would’ve been involved!”

As a business born in the recession, James has managed to continue growing the business throughout both the good times and the bad.

Having weathered numerous storms, he is certain the business will continue growing no matter what happens in the years ahead.

“The recession definitely helped me come up with the idea, I would never have thought of it in the good times as I would’ve been busy doing something else.

“It is an established business now and even though we’ve seen a bit of growth in the economy, people still use our service.

"We’re relatively inexpensive compared to a bank if you’re talking about a loan for a period of one or two months as there are no arrangement fees, setup fees or early redemption fees.

“In three years time I see us having more branches. We’re really at the top of the tree at the moment but we want to keep on going, keep offering our customers a service they’re looking for and continue keeping everything as simple and transparent as possible.

“Where those branches are, you’ll have to wait and see!”


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