Since 2009, Pawn Stars has dominated cable TV. With 15 seasons, 520+ episodes, and over 6 shows spawning off their own success, it has truly become the History Channel’s biggest show.
To understand how such a, once foreign, concept was able to cut into American culture for so long, one must take a trip back. Way, way back…
Growing up, Rick Harrison suffered from severe epilepsy. He spent the majority of the 60s lying in a bed. Being the head of a low-income family, his mother would check out library books to keep him entertained.
Rick says he could “never get into fiction.” Since there were only so many nonfiction books in their neighborhood library, Rick quickly began reading high-level text books. He was reading on advanced physics by 12 years of age.
Having such a unique childhood, as well as coming from a home with military parent, made Rick feel uncomfortable in high school. He dropped out after 9th grade.
He used his new-found free time to buy and sell whatever he could find and kept reading whatever he could get his hands on.
At 22, Rick went to City Hall in Las Vegas and asked for a Pawn Shop license. The clerk told him that the city had met its legal limit on how many pawn shops it could allow to open; that the next license would be issued once the population hit 250,000 people. Rick thought “well, we shouldn’t be too far from that.” From that point, he called the statistician at City Hall once a week to check on the population numbers. After one year, Las Vegas was at ¼ Million people.
Rick made his way down to the clerk’s office for a license and was told it would be issued to someone else; one of the larger companies. Rick took them to court. The court ruled in Rick’s favor and he was granted a license to open a pawn shop.
Once up and running, Rick says he had “no idea how to do anything else but buying and selling.” He did not know about bookkeeping, accounting, hiring, or anything regarding how businesses actually run.
“There are only 2 chains of pawn shops in the United States, not a lot of people know that,” he says. “One owns 50% of all pawn shops, the other one owns 49%. I knew I couldn’t go head to head with Walmart. I had to be Tiffany’s.”
Rick did not need to focus on buying and selling, once the shop was up and running, he knew how to do that. What he needed help with was running the actual business. For that, he found an old pawn broker and “called him almost every day for the first year,” with every kind of question from “how do you hire the right people,” to “at what time should I open.”
He also knew he had to be unique. Rick’s pawn shop had to be Tiffany’s. He achieved this by making sure he not only did what all pawn shops did (hang up paintings on the wall, sell jewelry, etc.), but that he actually did it better (have a real Picasso with a nice frame on the wall, invest in a jewelry case and organize every piece, etc.).
“I made money from day 1.”
It just goes to show you, the path to success is different for everyone. Rick led a very unconventional life. He spent his childhood in bed reading boring books, he dropped out school, and he dreamed of owning a pawn shop. He met challenges along away and overcame great odds.
Everybody is different. We have unique interest and we all face unique challenges. If Rick’s story can teach us anything it’s that there are only two things that matter to be successful:
- Always try to improve.
- Ask for help from people who know more than you.