Monday, December 17, 2012

Storytelling from a Pawn Star

Rick Harrison, one of the stars of History Channel’s Pawn Stars, gave a keynote speech recently at the Word of Mouth Marketing Conference (WOMMA) in Las Vegas. He talked about his journey from epilepsy to self-made, TV star. I took away three main points from his speech

1) Don't give up. When Rick and his father (known as the Old Man on the show) first decided to open a pawn shop, they couldn't get a license for one. Licenses in Vegas were expensive and hard to come by. Still they wanted to open a different type of pawn shop. The city would only issue another license when the population grew to a certain size. Rick called the city office in charge of this every week until the Las Vegas population grew to hit that number. Even after that they had to sue to get that license. But they won. And now pawn shop licenses in Las Vegas go for more than $3 million dollars.

Rick also said he had tried to get the TV going for years. When he brought a TV crew in the shop to film a sizzle reel to try to help sell the show to a network, his father yelled at him for being impractical. Rick filmed the reel anyway, and the rest is Pawn Stars history. 

2) Do what you do, better than everyone else.  This seems like an obvious concept, but it is hard to implement. There were plenty of pawn shops in Las Vegas before the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop. Rick and his dad wanted to open a clean, well organized shop that was forthright with customers. If someone walked in with something valuable and they didn't know it, Rick told them. It struck me how similar this was to Walt Disney’s reason for building Disneyland – he wanted a clean, fun place to bring his daughters on Sunday. Yes, I know Disneyland is vastly different than a pawn shop, but the amusement parks in the 50s and 60s weren't so clean and there were a lot of rip offs in the carney games not to mention pick pockets. 

3) People don't buy "stuff", when they walk into his shop, they buy a story.  At the beginning of the Pawn Stars show you hear Rick Harrison say, "Everything in here has a story and a price." People want to have a connection to a story, which is why authenticated items sell for higher prices. Storytelling is important to the human existence and I certainly watch the show for the stories, but I hadn't thought about it in these terms before. 

I really enjoyed listening to Rick Harrison's story and I'll think about it every time I watch Pawn Stars. One thing he told us I thought was kind of sad. Because of the show's popularity, Rick can't even walk out onto his own shop floor during business hours. 

Speaking of stories, on the Pawn Stars website they have a great article about the history of pawn shops…the first pawn shop was in ancient China three-thousand years ago as “a method of granting short term credit to peasants.” It's definitely worth a read. 

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