Les Gold knows the value of thoroughly learning your profession before opening your own shop. Star of the hit cable TV show “Hardcore Pawn,” which quickly catapulted him to national fame, he is anything but an overnight sensation when it comes to business.

Gold began working in his grandfather’s Detroit-based pawnshop, Sam’s Loans, as a child and made his first sale at just 7 years old. He spent 24 years learning the pawnbroker business before he stepped out and opened his own shop.

His business, American Jewelry and Loan, fist opened in a 1,500-square-foot store in Oak Park, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, in 1978. Gold built his business to where he could move into a 50,000-square-foot store in Detroit in 1993, which currently employs over 50 people. Gold’s continued success allowed him to open a second store in Pontiac, Mich., in 2011.

The “Hardcore Pawn” TV pilot aired in 2009 and the series began in 2010. Now seven seasons in, the show touts nearly 4 million viewers and is considered a remarkable success for a niche network (TruTV). Season eight premiered on Dec. 17, 2013.

Building a Small Business

In discussing his top tips for building and running a successful small business, Gold said, “It’s important to know your product inside and out. Don’t look at your competition, as losing that focus will cause you to make mistakes. If you keep your eye on the competition, you’ll have your eye in the rearview mirror and lose sight of what’s in front of you.”

In selling, he said, it’s essential to remember the three most important keys to successful negotiation:

1. Manage the emotion — When you’re selling, engage with the buyer on an emotional level and remind them of the emotional payoff. Stress how this new heating system will make them feel, for instance.

2. Know your bottom line — It’s essential that you do your homework.

3. Know when to walk away — There are times when a deal is just not the right fit. Know when it’s time to shake hands and walk away.

Expanding on how to engage the buyer on an emotional level, Gold said, “Always look them in the eye when you’re talking to them and be confident. Always be truthful and straightforward.”

Reputation is Everything

In promoting a small business, Gold believes that word of mouth is No. 1. “Word of mouth is paramount, and therefore it’s important to do a quality job and offer a fair price,” he said. “Your industry is like mine in that reputation is everything and a few negative operators can really give the whole industry a bad name. So your reputation is your biggest asset — do whatever it takes to protect it.

“When I started, advertising was centered on the Yellow Pages. So, I started with a small ad and kept growing. Now, we focus our attention on digital strategies like search engines, mobile, and social media. It’s essential that your customers be able to find your business and that you engage with them where they are.”

Running a Family Business

Gold’s business, like many HVAC contracting businesses, is family owned and operated. His son, Seth, is vice president and his daughter, Ashley, is store manager. Thus, Gold is also well versed on navigating the challenges of running a family business.

“Family comes first. Go into it knowing that you’re going to disagree and you’re going to argue,” he said. “Seth says it all the time, but it’s true — nobody can push your buttons like family, but no one has your back like family.”

In order to minimize family conflicts that could affect the business, Gold said, “Do your best to keep arguments and disagreements out of the areas where other employees or customers are aware of them. When you disagree, take it behind closed doors. It’s easier said than done, but it’s important.”

Regular meetings to discuss policies and issues that come up are also important. “We meet regularly to talk about strategy and policies and are in nearly constant contact with one another,” said Gold. “Things change fast around here, so it’s important that we have an open line of communication.”

As far as the challenges that the owner’s children face when they enter the family business, Seth said, “There’s an inherent respect that the staff gives to you because you’re the son of the owner. However, if you can’t do the job, that won’t last long or get you very far. So I started in the back and I’ve worked in every role in this store. I would never ask someone else to do something that I wouldn’t do myself and it’s been a great education to work my way up through the ranks.”

He added, “Yes, it’s very challenging working with family. But our dad set the tone from the beginning that from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., he’s the boss and it’s all about the business. But when we’re home, it’s all about family. That’s a simple, yet critical policy that has contributed to our success.”

Ashley noted, “Seth and I came into the business a little differently. Seth was in college when he decided to become a pawnbroker. I wrote my first pawn ticket when I was seven. So, not only did I need to prove myself as the boss’s daughter, but I was also a child in the eyes of the staff. As I grew older, I spent more time in the warehouse. As a female, I faced a whole new set of challenges in proving myself in this male-dominated industry.”

She continued, “Working with family is a challenge, no doubt. But larger than that, it’s a real gift. Many people don’t have the good fortune to be able to work with their families. Beyond that, I have limitless respect for my dad as a pawnbroker and business owner. Even as a 35-year-old, I learn new things every day working alongside him.”

Stick to the Plan

Gold has never flown by the seat of his pants. His business has always followed a formal structure and he provides equal advancement opportunities to family and nonfamily members. “When people come to work for you, they take a chance on you. They have confidence in you. You need employees outside of your relatives.”

Many business experts recommend a succession plan, especially for a family business. Gold said, “I just implemented a succession plan, in fact. Most companies don’t last through the next generation, so I would advise business owners to make sure that there’s a plan for what happens when you move on. One of the most important things is to make sure that the next generation sincerely wants to be a part of the business and that they’re passionate enough about it that they will invest their heart and soul into it the way that you have.”

Publication date: 1/20/2014 

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