By Richard Mundy
A number of years ago the public perception of a bowling alley and a pool hall was not very savory. Owners interested in changing that perception (and thereby increasing their business) changed the name from bowling alley to bowling lanes, pool room to pool and billiards parlor. The bowling lanes created women's and church bowling leagues and the parlors bought pool tables with pastel colored felt.
The public perception of a pawnshop is similar to that of the old-time bowling alleys and pool halls. But savvy owners interested in creating the new version of the pawnshop are building attractive stores, marketing good merchandise in well-organized shops, adding collectibles and art, and emphasizing family values and helpful, courteous employees.
One such "modern" pawnshop is Mason Avenue Firearms and Pawn. Joel Murphy, the owner, is a tall, affable fellow with an easy-going manner and a positive attitude. He was born in this area and lived here all of his life. He ran a number of other pawnshops. He also is an entertainer and licensed auctioneer.
He uses part of his store to house his quite impressive collection of Remington and other Western "Cowboy" sculptures, Matchbox and Lledo die cast cars, Coca-Cola items, paintings, Hummel figures, Harley-Davidson memorabilia, other automobilia and two completely restored, antique matching barber's chairs. It adds a touch of class to the store.
With the collectibles, he also displays the firearms portion of the business.
Mr. Murphy's shop takes in items in pawn, lending money to his customers and holding an item as collateral until the customer redeems it by repaying the principle plus interest for whatever time period the item was in pawn. While Mason Ave. Pawn charges a state-wide standard percentage as others do, they will charge lower interest on loans for higher dollar items and "give them a break" if the item is redeemed early and offer several other incentives to help their customers. Mr. Murphy said, "seven out of 10 return" to pick up their pawned item.
Historically, jewelry sales are 50 percent of a pawnshop's sales. Several years ago, a national poll determined pawnshops surpassed traditional jewelry stores in the amount of jewelry sold. But the price of gold has changed that dynamic. Mr. Murphy said that "now about 10 percent of our business is jewelry sales."
Jewelry is actually still about half of his business, but not through sales.
"It's 50 percent of our loan business and 50 percent of our cash flow business," he said. "Eighty percent of our jewelry gets scrapped or turned into bullion. Unfortunately at $1,800 an ounce you don't get people buying it (as jewelry)."
Showing a chain around his neck he was wearing "for a customer," he said, "if I scrap it, it's $2,800, so if I put it out in a showcase it's going to be at least for $2,800, and nobody's going to buy it."
Mr. Murphy said, "The other 50 percent of our business is the retail side," including firearms sales.
He doubled the size of the store four months ago, adding the collectibles and firearms sales area, and took on a bigger product line, including the artwork. He said the expansion has had a positive effect on the total business of the store that he started four years ago. His firearms sales have gone up about 300-400 percent in the last 30 days. He remarked the same thing has happened throughout the whole country.
"Our business has also been helped by becoming more known, being a fair businessman, treating people with dignity," he said. "We're different from the big box. We want to know how you are, how your family is."
People have been to Vegas and been in the Pawn Stars store from TV, he said. "They come back and tell us we blow them out of the water."
His store employs five people as well as his wife of 30 years, Kim, and two daughters, Christina and Catherine.
The store opens earlier than most at 8 a.m.
"We open an hour earlier than others for the working man," Mr. Murphy said.
The largest item he has ever taken in on pawn was "a 40-foot motor home." The highest dollar amount was "$50,000 ... one diamond, 15 carats."
His next step may be to start an auction house. Finding a building with the right size and location has been the stumbling block so far. Some reality show producers have actually contacted Mr. Murphy about doing a reality show. He said he already considers his shop the "Pawn Stars of Daytona."
Mason Avenue Firearms & Pawn is at 347 Mason Ave., Daytona Beach. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call (386) 226-4653 or visit MasonAvePawn.net