July 31, 2011 in Business

When old is new

Dutch’s owner keeps business active by keeping up with trends
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

Pawnbroker Gary Singer says the state of the economy is sending “a larger range of people” into Dutch’s Inc. in Spokane.
(Full-size photo)

Five facts

1915: Year that Gary Singer’s grandfather started the business, which included traveling to small towns, repairing umbrellas.

$120: Average amount now loaned

Items most often brought in for cash: DVDs

Most unusual item pawned: a cow inseminator

Store motto: “If it’s in stock, we have it!”

Gary Singer is a third-generation pawnbroker who joined the family business, Dutch’s Inc., in 1971 after dropping out of graduate school. He spoke with The Spokesman-Review at his store at 415 W. Main St.

S-R: How does pawning work?

Singer: Someone brings in an item, and we agree on how much money I will loan on it. I type up a contract, give them a piece of paper, give them the money and take possession of the item. They then have 90 days to repay the loan, plus the specified interest, and reclaim the item. If they choose not to, then it’s mine.

S-R: What skills does it take to succeed in this business?

Singer: I wish I knew. For one thing, you have to keep up with trends, because things change, especially technology. We have to be careful not to become a repository for VCRs, laser discs and all the other things that not long ago were cutting edge and now have no value at all.

S-R: How do you tell the difference between a real Rolex and a fake?

Singer: Years of practice, and sometimes you still make errors. But you also evaluate the customer. If a 19-year-old kid is bringing in a gold Rolex, you’ve got to worry.

S-R: How has the weak economy affected your business?

Singer: We’re seeing a larger range of people. We used to deal mainly with lower-middle-class people, and now we deal with people who are used to paying quite a bit for things, but who have lost a job.

S-R: What’s your basic business strategy?

Singer: A farmer was once asked what he’d do if he won the lottery, and he said he’d just keep farming until the money ran out. My basic strategy is to just hang on, try to anticipate trends, continue to provide good service and try to set ourselves apart from the competition. We do things like repair guitars and violins, which the other shops don’t.

S-R: What is the biggest misconception about pawnshops?

Singer: That we deal in stolen merchandise. There’s lots of stolen merchandise out there, and lots of ways to get rid of it. There’s craigslist, there’s eBay, there’re garage sales. Police will tell you the average burglar is 13 or 14 years old, and we don’t deal with 14-year-old kids, only adults. We take a picture ID of every person who brings in an item. And every night, we send the police a description of everything we’ve taken in that day and who brought it in.

S-R: What are the best bargains here?

Singer: Anything that’s used and clean. We guarantee most everything in the store for 30 days, and musical instruments we guarantee for a year, which is what you’ll get on anything new, but you’re going to save money because you don’t pay new prices.

S-R: What items do customers pawn repeatedly?

Singer: We specialize in musical instruments and we know their value, so we tend to see more of them than most other shops.

S-R: If you hadn’t had this family business, what career would you likely have pursued?

Singer: I’d have been a college professor in economics or math or statistics.

S-R: Will any of your children take over this business from you?

Singer: Nope, all three of them got educated and had the sense to move out and start their own careers.

S-R: How do you relax?

Singer: I play bridge, although it’s not all that relaxing.

S-R: How many employees work here?

Singer: About half of them.

Spokane freelance writer and editor Michael Guilfoil can be reached via email at mguilfoil@comcast.net.


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