Supercars, million-pound artworks and... Cornish pasties? James Constantinou on his life as a posh pawnbroker

James Constantinou

Tell us about your background

I grew up on a council estate in Bethnal Green in the East End of London but was fortunate enough to escape to Surrey when I was 10 years old. Don’t get me wrong I love the East End and missed it terribly when I moved away but it was a wise move on my parents’ part. I had trouble catching up with the Surrey kids in terms of my abilities but made good within a few months. The schooling in that part of London was not great back then but what you learnt hanging around the other kids on the estate was and still is invaluable.

In terms of my education, although I enjoyed school, like a lot of young teenage kids I thought I knew it all so unfortunately other than teaching me that, I couldn’t be taught anything it was futile in respect of giving me a huge amount of knowledge that would enable me to succeed in the commercial world. Unfortunately my schooling ended early, at the time exams were not big on my agenda and I ended up with zero in terms of qualifications.

How did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I’m not sure that I ever decided to become an entrepreneur; it was more forced upon me due to my inability to take instructions and my desire to earn money. I don’t honestly believe there was another path for me.

Where did you get funding from for your businesses?

I am self-funded thanks to my successes in the property market. I have been fortunate in respect of timings and was lucky enough to cash out of some of my property portfolio prior to the crash in 2008.

Tell us about Prestige Pawnbrokers? Why did you decide to set it up and how did you manage to attract high-value goods?

I decided to set Prestige up after reading an article on asset lending in one of the Sunday papers. I myself had funds available and was itching to get my teeth into something, most of my friends had the rugs pulled from under them by the banks and although they had assets they were cash poor. They had been used to popping into their local bank and pulling 10-20k out over the counter as a top up when required but those days were over. The computer was now saying, “no”, in fact it was saying, “never again” or not for a long time anyway. I knew people that were driving around in Ferraris and Bentleys pulling up to their million pound mansions but no longer could afford the petrol to run the cars or the electric to light the houses.

This economic situation and the opportunity to deal with high end assets was the driving force behind me embarking down the pawn-broking route. I quickly marketed myself at the high end as there was a definite gap in the market and this is where I focused my attention in terms of marketing.

What are the most expensive things to have been through Prestige Pawnbrokers?

I can’t and will not disclose figures in terms of assets as some of our clients items are very unique but I can tell you that we have been presented with major works of art valued at millions of pounds, priceless manuscripts, rare first-edition books along with some amazing gems and items of jewellery, not to mention millions of pounds worth of supercars and classics. It’s incredible what comes out of the woodwork when people need to raise capital.

Tell us about some of the exciting things about filming with Posh Pawn

People always ask about the filming and it’s not all glamour, there are times when you just want to bury your head in the sand and you’re not really in the mood for a four man crew filming you eating a Cornish pasty. Saying all that having the crew with us has been an amazing experience and they have captured some wonderful footage including discovering rare works of art, valuing rare gems and even diving to the oceans depths in a submarine. I’ve been truly blessed with regards what the production company have captured and the chance to share some of what we do with the viewing public is incredible.

What’s your net worth? A Google search says you’re worth over £30m…

I wouldn’t say I was worth anything. I will leave that to the likes of Google.

How are you planning to grow Prestige Pawnbrokers?

Prestige is growing at an incredible rate, it seems like only yesterday that we opened our Hatton Garden store but it can’t be, because yesterday we opened our Manchester store, it really has been a whirlwind.

We are currently exploring ways in which to grow the business and this will be my aim in the coming months. There are options such as external investment whether it’s with private individuals or consortiums looking for a healthy secure return on their capital. I have options but it’s about selecting the right path for the company.

James Constantinou

What do you think are the most lucrative investments?

In many respects it’s a great time to buy luxury items such as art, wine and jewellery. Purchase from the auction houses and not the retail markets as there are some great deals to be had. Luxury assets are still relatively inexpensive and buyers are fewer in number than pre-2008 so it really is a buyers’ market but you must know what you are doing.

For a safe bet with little risk in the short term (5-10 years) I would suggest property, interest rates are still comparatively low and there are still some great deals for cash buyers who can move fast and are not reliant on a mortgage. You can’t really go wrong unless of course it does go wrong.

What are the biggest challenges you faced scaling your business?

There are many challenges when scaling up a business from funding, staffing and stock control to changing markets and targets.

For me one of the biggest challenges in relation to scaling my business is control. I am a self-confessed control freak and I like to know as much information as possible. This information ranges from how many supercars have we loaned against in any one week to if we’re buying our Andrex in bulk. As its grown I have had to learn to let go and trust, for me it was a challenge but I think I’ve done rather well considering where I started from.

What’s that one piece of key advice you’d like to give young entrepreneurs?

If there is one piece of advice I would give entrepreneurs it would be to find a niche in an expanding market and then work your behind off achieving your goals. You may not get there the first time or even the second time and you may even require an element of luck but if you start young enough you can achieve great things for yourself. You must have a desire for gain over a fear for loss.

 

Posh Pawn returns tonight at 8pm on Channel 4.

 

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