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Monday, May 23, 2022

Pawn Pioneer

As the owner of Traders Loan & Jewelry, Diane Taylor steps in where traditional lenders won’t. She provides loans to customers who turn over valuable jewelry, expensive handbags and even wine collections as collateral. If customers retrieve possessions, they get their property back; otherwise it is sold off for prices ranging from as low as $1.99 for used DVDs to $65,000 for watches and diamonds. Located at Reseda Boulevard and Sherman Way, one of the busiest intersections in the San Fernando Valley, the pawn shop has been a fixture for 60 years. “We are a destination,” Taylor said. “People are coming here because they need money.” The loans are typically four months and come with a 2 percent interest if paid off in 30 days – far less than the sky-high rates charged by pay day lenders. A Los Angeles native, Taylor had a background in retail prior to working at Trader’s Loan in 1996 and buying the business a year later with her husband. Taylor is one of the few female pawn shop owners and also serves as the first-ever president of the California Pawnbrokers Association. Question: What is the process of getting a loan on a pawned item? Answer: You bring in an item, say it’s jewelry. We ask how much you want to borrow. We explain the process – a lot of people don’t understand they are not selling it; they are borrowing against it and can come back for it. We weigh it, evaluate the gold content, if there are diamonds, rubies – whatever may be a part of it. If we are not too far apart then we can make a deal and decide on a price. It is only a percentage of what the value is. If we know you are at $7,000 and we are at $1,000 we would just say no. So everything on display here in the store has been defaulted on? Not everything. Some of the items we go to jewelry shows and buy; some we make. Some people sell to us, but the things we buy (from customers) are a small percentage of our business. We buy closeouts, and we don’t mark our stuff up so we sell at a much more reasonable price. What do you enjoy about running a pawnshop? I enjoy helping people. We are there for people that can’t get loans from banks. We don’t care what your credit history is. It’s strictly about the item. Ninety-five percent of people come back for the item, which is great. We don’t want the items. Why is that? We want the people to keep them because if we end up selling it one time then we have lost a customer. That is not what we are in business to do. Is it unusual to be a woman and operate a pawn shop? Yes, very unusual. I’m the first woman to be president of the (state) association. There are more who are getting involved, and a new generation is starting to emerge. It is usually men who are running it. Being a destination you draw your customers from all over the Valley? The traditional thing is you draw from within 5 miles of a pawnshop. We’ve been here so long that people have moved so our base is growing. They come back, they trust us and they appreciate the helpful, friendly service that my employees are giving. How did you get into owning a pawnshop? My husband (Douglas) is a jeweler and he was working for a jeweler in Northridge before the earthquake. His father was friends with the owners here and they wanted him to start doing repairs. It turned out to be a full-time job. Then there was an issue with the two owners and they wanted to sell the business. I had come here working by that time (1996). I gutted the place. It didn’t look the way it looks now. You made a lot of changes, then? I made a lot of changes, and also in the strategy, the advertising, things like that. Why do you think that wasn’t being done by the previous owners? There were dead things hanging all over. See all those (stuffed animal) heads up there? Let me tell you there are very few compared to when I started working here. It was great for that time and place but you have to clean up your act if you want people to come in here. I wanted to appeal to women as much as I can. How did you get involved with the state pawnbrokers association? The prior owner here, Paul Trietsch, he got me involved. He had me start going to meetings. I liked that part of the industry. I became a board a member and through the years I became vice president. The current president at that time, I didn’t think we were moving in the right direction, so I ran against him. I contacted all the members of the association – we had about 350 at the time – and reached out to them. Everybody loved that, and I won. What were some of the issues they brought up? They had a lot of questions about what the association was doing on things that affected them – questions about insurance, questions about education. We have set up educational areas for pawnbrokers. Pawnshops are strict when it comes to security, aren’t they? We fingerprint, we take ID, and we upload (information) to the police department. Second-hand dealers are all covered under the same (state) laws. As a lender, we are covered under more strict laws because we are covered under banking laws as well. What else does the shop do? We have a full jewelry department, we do repairs and we do appraisals. We had a small retail section but it wasn’t appealing to the customers. We made it appealing and pretty. Social media changed a lot in the ways we advertise. How’s that? I was a big advocate of the newspaper and phone book. Now everybody has an iPhone or some kind of gadget. They are looking things up that way, not in the phone book. The newspaper unfortunately is dying for a certain generation. We had to hire somebody who knows more than I do about social media and blogging and all those things. What’s the most unusual item you’ve had here? We had one of those metal helmets that divers used to use. Before we owned the store, the prior owner had a prosthetic leg. Most of it is jewelry that we get. We are also a place where people can store their items. We have a lot of musicians that travel, they have expensive guitars they’ll come here and pawn them off to borrow money. You can borrow $5 on an expensive item. The sale doesn’t transfer unless you default on the loan. What’s the longest you’ve held on to an item? Thirty two years. They were Indian rugs. It was a $100 loan. They are no longer here. I had them specially sealed because I was afraid the moths were going to get to them. (The owner) passed away and had no next of kin, so the state took over. They found the pawn slip and picked them up. Did you see an increase in business during the recession? People were selling their gold. We had more people borrowing. But again, we want people to be able to pick up their items. We only charge 2 percent. We’ve helped people open businesses; we’ve helped people that buy real estate when they need closing costs. Banks are leery of lending to new businesses, especially restaurants, grocery stores, things like that. So they come and pawn their jewelry, and open up their businesses, and hopefully come back and pick up their items. How high do you go with a loan? I don’t usually publish it but we have made some very large loans. We have investors and pay them a nice interest rate. If I know someone is coming in with a very expensive item I will call someone to see if they are interested in investing and they will bring in a check. Is that typically how the industry operates? Yes and no. Some people have their own family money, which is nice. I have a few small lines of credit with banks. Have online auction sites like eBay affected your business at all? They sell things and we use eBay a lot to determine the value of items. Not so much jewelry, but musical instruments, iPods, iPads, different electronics. eBay being the worldwide marketplace is what we look at. Do pawnbrokers have a poor image to the general public? We are working very hard to correct that image problem but the movies have made the image what it is. Remember Rod Steiger in “The Pawnbroker”? That did not do anything good for our image. But with (reality series) “Pawn Stars” what it’s done is take the stigma away, and a lot more people are not afraid of pawnshops. I think people are interested to see the items that come in, and they like the concept of it. Speaking of “Pawn Stars” have you ever been approached about doing a reality show? We have, by the people who did “Pawn Stars” actually. We filmed (a pilot) and did everything we were supposed to do. But the History Channel said they were more of a male-dominated station and didn’t think a female-run pawnshop would sell. You listed your family as most influential in your life. Why? My kids are very supportive. I have son who just turned 21 and another one who is 26 who is in law school and going to take the bar soon. They have been supportive of my involvement in the community, and they like that. They’ve met a lot of people. Does either son work at the store? My younger son does work here. My older son worked here for about two years. It is different working with your kids. Why is that? Unlike working for a different employer they don’t get away with as much. It was good having him here. We have a lot of family that has worked here. I understand you have three dogs. Do you bring them to work? I bring Max; he’s my adopted puppy. I have a Yorkie and Shiatsu at home. Max is a husky malamute mix. He’ll be a year in August. He’s in training and he has to be entertained all the time. I do bring him here occasionally but it’s hard because I have to walk him. And there is nowhere around here to walk him. They love having him here; he’s a real character. What do you do outside of the workplace? I like to travel. I scrapbook. I volunteer a lot. I enjoy the industry so a lot of things I do in my free time are business-related. Where do you like to travel? Europe, England, Ireland. We like to take cruises and we’ve been to the Caribbean a number of times. I’d like to go to Asia; I’ve never been there. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and space reasons.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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