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Todd Hills got his first job at a pawn shop in 1985 before opening his own shop in 1990. Seven years later Pawn One was established. Pawn One was able to expand to 18 different locations by the year 2004 before he sold 15 of them to a public trading company. Todd’s goal was to take the pawn shop business to the next level, which was accomplished in 2009 when he launched Internet Pawn, the first online pawn shop in the US. Hills continued to grow the business and re-launched the company in 2011 as Pawngo with Lighthouse Bank as its main investor.
Pawngo is the first full-service online pawn shop in the US and allows individuals immediate access to the cash they need for life’s countless unexpected moments without leaving the comfort of their homes. Pawngo has recently been named by Inc. as a start up to watch in 2012 .
MO: How does Pawngo work?
Todd: Point, Click, and Pawn
• Answer a few quick questions about the item you want to pawn or sell.
• Soon after, we send you an email with an offer. Either print out a FedEx label from our website or we can send you a PawngoPak to ship it in.
• We pay for shipping, and of course, your item is 100% insured from the moment of drop off to return by Lloyd’s of London.
• When your package arrives at our pawn shop, our team of certified evaluators inspect your item and email a final offer.
• We immediately deposit the cash into your bank account and store your item in our pawn shop’s secure fulfillment center with 24-hour video surveillance.
• Once you pay back your loan, we ship the item back to you, again fully insured and completely on us. So now YOU can go back to doing the things you like with the people you love.
MO: How challenging has it been to take a traditionally bricks and mortar business and bring it online?
Todd: The real challenge that we have is educating our already existing customer base as well as our potential new customers. Given the current state of our economy, short term loans that don’t require a credit check have become a popular way to access capital quickly. We currently offer a service that doesn’t practice predatory lending and is safe and secure. The struggle is to take away the stigma of pawning and pawn shops, and even personal financial struggles as a whole.
MO: How did you manage to get Lighthouse Bank as your main investor?
Todd: Light Bank actually reached out to me. Its main investors always have interest in applying technology to traditional offline businesses to create disruption. Light bank recognized my vision of applying a cleaner, more transparent, and tech-savvy approach to the traditional business model of this 3,000 year old industry, which has largely remained stagnant throughout the years.
MO: How much did your business model evolve from when you first started Internet Pawn to re-launching as Pawngo?
Todd: Pawngo offers the same services as Internet Pawn, but has managed to make them even more efficient than they were before. Our business model and quality of customer service remain the same. But, our philosophy has shifted slightly. Internet Pawn focused intensely on being the experts of the industry. Pawngo has a softer approach in that we focus on helping people get through unexpected life events. To put it more simply, Internet Pawn was very transactional in nature. Pawngo is more relationship based.
MO: Have there been any barriers created by traditional pawn shop reputations?
Todd: Our biggest goal is to build a quality rapport with our customers that simultaneously creates trust and dismantles the stigma of pawning. We aim to help our customers understand that we are not the same as your local pawnshop, nor are we a payday lender. Local pawnshops are not transparent when valuing the customer’s assets and the cost of a loan from a local pawnshop is can be very expensive. Similarly, payday lenders may offer short-term loans but they maintain a business model that is predatory in nature, inevitably trapping someone into an endless debt cycle. Aside from offering services that set us apart from standard short term lenders, we have a dedicated team of dynamic people. Our Pawngo customers don’t deal with someone wearing gold chains that specializes in negotiating.They are personally assigned to a young, compassionate adult who truly wants to create ease and relief for our clients during potentially stressful life events. “That’s A Huge Difference”
MO: In these challenging economic times Pawngo offers an innovative solution to creating capital without having to go through the traditional channels of finance and lending. Do you have any case studies or examples of businesses or entrepreneurs you’ve helped with to your unique lending model?
Todd: Jennifer Diederich from Farmington, Connecticut applied for a loan so that she could open a dental radiology center with equipment that only releases 1/10th the radiation of an average dental x-ray machine. Having entertained the idea of taking a bank loan, it also became evident that banks didn’t want to fund to an idea that was so new and unique. Jennifer ultimately decided not to pursue securing a bank loan due to having already taken one out in 1995 which took 9 months to secure and she was looking for something more efficient and guaranteed. Instead, Jennifer decided to pawn 20 silver and 30 gold 1 oz American Eagle coins that she had purchased shortly after September 11th, 2001. By pawning her coins on Pawngo.com, Jennifer was able to secure $30,000 dollars in collateral which she put into funding her business. Jennifer now has her dental radiology center up and running.
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