And in today’s volatile economic environment, they can be a saving grace to people who are in need of quick cash but have poor or no credit, no bank account, or no credit card. However, pawn shops are not immune to the effects of the economy, with stiff competition from businesses like payday loans and stringent government regulations. Most notably, they have ongoing image problems, much of which is attributed to how they are portrayed in the media and movies (e. . Pulp Fiction). More recently, a highly successful reality television show set in a pawn shop has increased positive visibility for the industry and the National Pawnbrokers Association (NAP) is hoping to build off of that momentum by undertaking a new promotional campaign. The campaign would have two goals: to improve the image of pawn shops and to get more people to step foot into the stores. In late summer of 2010, the NAP sought the assistance of a Communication Research masters-level class at the university of SST. Thomas in Minneapolis, MN.

With help from the class, the NAP would benefit from the findings of ultimate, small, qualitative research studies. The information collected could be useful to the NAP in developing messaging and positioning strategies for a national campaign. This report is a result of one of the qualitative research studies performed. The intent of our study was not to focus on existing pawn shop customers, but rather to gauge general awareness and opinions of pawn shops and their relevance in peoples’ lives. We were aware that our study sample would likely not reflect the average pawn shop customer.

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The question we had was whether our study sample would represent potential awn shop customers. Our study focused on knowledge, experience and perceptions of pawn shops, as well as lending and shopping habits. In our analysis, we learned that people did not completely understand the services and value that pawn shops can offer. Additionally, people did not consider them as an option for short-term loans, either because they were not aware of the service or they were not considered counterintuitive as convenient.

People did consider pawn shops as a retail shopping option for bargaining and getting good deals. As for general opinions, there was a lot of indifference. People do not seem to care to use them; however, they are not willing to disregard them. This presented a potential opportunity to increase awareness, address common misconceptions and change opinions. We concluded that the only way to do these is to close the education gap. Pawn shops need to better promote their services and find ways to educate consumers. Moreover, pawnbrokers should consider placing an increased emphasis on retail opportunities.

As short-term loans are the primary driver of revenue for most shops, we also recommend that they continue providing this service and improve upon it if possible. Research Problem Our team expanded upon the charge provided by the National Pawnbrokers Association (NAP) and developed the following research problem: The negative perception of pawn shops are keeping consumers from using them for lending and/or retail. The purpose of our research project was that of understanding. We wanted to learn more about people’s habits, knowledge and experience with pawn shops and how that influences their perceptions.

Methodology We started our research with a preliminary literature review. We reviewed the NAP websites, participated in a conference call with NAP staff, and viewed a previously completed study about pawn shop users. Up to this point, the Nap’s most reliable source for understanding pawn shop customers was a study done in 1998 by the Credit Research Center School of Business at Georgetown University. The study, called “Pawnbrokers in the U. S. : A Profile of Customers,” provided an in-depth look at the operations of pawn shops and the characteristics of their customers.

While the study provides helpful insight, it is 12 years old. We also created a list of media in which we had seen pawn shops portrayed, including the reality show Pawn Stars and the movie pulp Fiction. From our preliminary research, including the 1998 study and 1 999 Census SHIP data, we were able to learn the characteristics of the average pawn customer. ; Age 36 ; Household income Of $29,000 ; All ethnicities ; 82 percent have a high school diploma or equivalent ; Most are UN-banked or under-banked.

We also learned about common misperceptionsmisconceptions, which include: ;Pawn shops are in bad parts of town. ; Pawn shops sell stolen goods. ; Most people think pawning is selling – they don’t understand the loan. Concept. ; Getting a pawn loan will hurt your credit score. The use of pawn shops contributed to the current financial crisis. ; Pawn shops lower property values in the neighborhoods they’re in. Some other key points that came out of our conference call with the NAP included: ; The biggest challenge for pawn shops is getting customers in the door. Most pawn loans are for unexpected expenses, usually by people living paycheck- to-paycheck. ; Common competition for pawn shops in the lending businesses are payday loan outlets and cash for gold businesses. Competition in the retail business include Crag’s List (scraggliest. Com), eBay@ (eBay. Mom), and used goods stores. Keeping this information and our purpose in mind, we began to discuss the format and content of our survey. We first discussed our unit of analysis, which we determined to be individuals. The sample we used for our research was a sample of convenience.

We called on our friends, family and co-workers to participate in our survey sample. Given this, we anticipated that the majority of our sample would comprise mostly middle class people in their ass and ass. Considering our sample, we determined that an online survey would be the most effective format for reaching them. We knew that most of our sample population spent a great deal of time online, particularly on social networking websites, and felt that an online format would be most effective. We then began to discuss question content and order.

In order to address the research problem, we focused on the following key topic areas: ;Lending and purchasing habits ; Knowledge of pawn shops ; Experience with pawn shops ; Perception Of pawn shops In determining the question order, we discussed the fact that we needed to know about people’s current behaviors before we could ask about their perceptions of pawn shops. Given that, we used a funnel format, starting with broad base questions on experience and knowledge and then honing in on more specific information.

In determining the demographic information to be collected, we considered what information we wanted to cross-tabulate to pull out findings for the NAP. We also took care to provide a wide variety of answer response categories for our demographic questions to ensure our respondents did not feel alienated or turned off from responding. Overall, our survey design embodied the positivist paradigm, focusing on the collection of quantitative data. We chose to focus on quantitative data to low for greater ease in collection and analysis, as well as to accommodate the limited time and sample constraints we were faced with.

To do this, we used a variety of question types, but did not use any open-ended questions (with the exception of the option for people to provide detail when selecting “other” on some questions). Once the survey was complete, we distributed it using a link via email and through messages on Backbone. We each crafted our own “tee-up” for the survey, but focused on the fact that the survey was on pawn shops, took 5 minutes to complete, and would be anonymous. Anonymity was an important piece to note for our respondents, as we were requesting personal information such as income.

In total, the survey was sent to 488 people. 1 13 people responded to the survey, representing a response rate of 23. 26%. Rest Its The majority of respondents were female (68%) and at least part Caucasian (97%). Age was negatively skewed, with most respondents falling between the ages of 26-35 (65%). Most respondents were in the middle- to upper- class, with annual household income relatively evenly dispersed (See Figure 1). Finally, the majority of respondents had a four-year degree (52%).

Figure 1: Annual Household Income ending Habits When asked how respondents would deal with an unexpected need for cash, the majority stated they would use personal savings (77%) or a credit card (48%). They rely on friends and family rather than using outside sources (e. G. , bank loan, pawn) to obtain additional funds. Only 17% said they would sell a personal belonging or use it as collateral for a short-term loan. Other options respondents listed included using other investments, such as home equity and bonds. Figure 2 illustrates respondents’ preferred means of obtaining cash if presented with an unexpected need.

Figure 2: preferred Means Of Obtaining Cash if presented with an Unexpected Need #Answer 1 Use personal savings 77% 2 Use credit card 3 Borrow money from a friend or relative 35% 4 Take out a bank loan 17% 5 Sell possession for cash 6 use possession as collateral for a short-term loan 7 Get cash advance on your next paycheck 6% 8 Other (Please list) 4% When asked to rate what is most important in looking for a short-term loan, interest rate was ranked first, followed by repayment time period, ease of lending process and reputation Of lender.

Finally, when asked what the minimum amount was for which respondents would consider getting a loan room a pawn shop, 68% said they would not consider taking a short-term loan from a pawn shop. Of those who selected a figure, the majority selected $251-$500 as the minimum amount they would consider pawning. Purchasing Habits The survey found that 89% of respondents had purchased used goods other than a vehicle. Of these, the majority had done so at garage sales (84%) and thrift stores (72%).

One particularly interesting finding was that, when examined by gender, pawn shops were the only used good retail outlet frequented more by males than females (See Figure 3). Figure 3: Used Goods Retail Outlet by Gender Establishment Male Female Thrift store 27% Consignment Store 17% 83% Other Used Product Stories% 59% Antique Shop Pawn Shop 53% 47% Graveyard Sale Estate sale In-Person Auction 30% 70% online Communicates Site Other (Please list) 50. 0P. 00% Those who had not purchased used goods stated the primary reason was a preference to purchase new items. Pawn shops will likely not see these respondents in their stores, and there is likely little they can do to change their minds. Knowledge of Pawn Shops The survey showed that 65% of respondents had visited a pawn shop in the past. It also showed that 75% of respondents had bartered during a sale or urarches/p>

However, when asked to identify services offered by pawn shops, there were several misconceptions: 0 47% thought pawn shops offered payday loans 014% thought pawn shops offered bail bonds 03% thought pawn shops offered auctions Additionally, there was little knowledge of the actual pawn service: while 89% of respondents were aware they could sell something, only 64% were aware that they could get a short-term loan. The retail opportunity was clear: of respondents knew that pawn shops offer retail for used goods. Two respondents made note that they dididn’tnow what services are available at awn shops.

Figure 4 illustrates the percentage of respondents who believed each listed service is offered at pawn shops. Services in red text are not typically offered in the industry. Figure 4: perception Of pawn Shop Services Answer Payday loans 47% Short-term loans using personal property as collateral Auctions 3% Retail for new goods 29% Retail for used goods Exchange of personal property for cash Bail bonds Other (Please list) 2% Experience with Pawn Shops Of the 72 respondents who had visited a pawn shop, only about 57 (79%) actually used a service there.

Of those 57, approximately 47 (82%) had urresearchesn item, 20 (35%) had sold an item, and only 1 (2%) pawned an item for a loan. The other 15 people who had visited a pawn shop likely did not do any business there; however, since this was not an option, we cannot be certain. Of those who had visited a pawn shop, 69% rated their experience(s) “neutral,” and 27% rated the experience either “positive” or “very positive. ” Only 4% reported a “negative” experience, indicating that, overall, experiences were more good than bad.

Perceptions of Pawn Shops We asked respondents to rate various common beliefs or perceptions of pawn shops identified in our preliminary research. Figure 5 shows the mean ratings (on a five-point scale) for each identified ‘trouble spot,” with the highest mean equating to the best rating. The table is sorted from the lowest score to the best. Figure 5: Personal Feelings regarding Pawn Shops Question Mean Pawn shops are a good option for getting a short-term loan. 2. 19 Pawn shops are clean. 2. 71 Pawn shops are safe. 3. 03 Pawn shops are law-abiding. 3. 04 Pawn shop employees are approachable/friendly. . 08 Pawn shops are a good place to shop for used and new goods. 3. 21 The majority of responses were relatively neutral. However, 67% of esexponentsaid that pawn shops are not a good option for getting a short- term loan (disagree or strongly disagree). Only 6% agreed that this was a good option. Of those surveyed, 20% said that pawn shops are not law- abiding. During the course of our research, an anecdotal example of this belief came up. A team member’s friend that lives in Billings, Montana had her car broken into and various valuable items stolen.

When asked if that happens a lot she noted, “Break-ins happen all the time in Billings because there’s a pawn shop on practically every corner. It’s easy to sell stolen stuff. ” Of those who expressed this opinion, 75% have seen pawn shops portrayed in television and/or movies. This was the strongest correlation found between media portrayal and negative images of pawn shops. However, it is important to note that the majority of people have seen pawn shops portrayed in the media, and general awareness is high. Key Conclusions Based on the survey results, we formulated the following tentative conclusions.

It is important to note that these conclusions are tentative, as our survey did not use random sampling. Our conclusions help establish the foundation for our recommendations on how the NPNAPnd pawn shop wnwinnersay potentially improve business. Education Gap One of the primary conclusions is that there is a significant education gap around the need for pawn shops, the services offered, and their relative value in peoples’ lives. It is important to begin by stating that our results did not identify a lack of awareness of the existence of pawn shops.

However, the findings showed that some people think that pawn shops offer payday loans and bail bonds, which are services that pawn shops typically do not provide. Of the services that pawn shops do provide, far more people were aware of the retail opportunities versus the short-term loans. teTersestates In analyzing the participants’ borrowing habits and preferences, we noted that more respondents listed credit cards as a preferred method over loans, despite the much higher interest rate typically associated with credit cards.

If pawn shops can maintain that they consistently provide lower interest rates, beyond just competitive rates, this would be an opportunity to build value and awareness. Lending Preferences Our survey results show that people look to what they know as convenient quick cash options. Pawn shops do not overtly qualify as being convenient or a top-of-mind option. In the case of our participants, they do not represent typical pawn shop customers based on the data provided by the NPNAPMany of these people presumably have the creditworthiness to use bank savings and loans or credit cards.

These options seem embedded in the lives of the majority Of the participants, making the need for fast cash a decision Of convenience. The likelihood and amount at which respondents would consider using a pawn shop for a short-term loan suggest that the people we surveyed are not a key demographic for pawn shop loans. If pawn shops are interested in doing business with white, middle- to upper-class young adults, hey should not expect a great deal of loans. It’s important to note that reputation of lender was ranked the least important factor when looking for a short-term loan.

This indicates the assumed poor reputation of pawn shops would not be as important a factor as cost for those looking for short-term loans. Retail Preferences While the majority of respondents had purchased used goods, pawn shops were not highly used as a used good retail outlet. Because of this, there may be an opportunity to further study the retail side of the business to learn about what types of products people are looking to purchase from places ho sell used merchandise. We also found that many participants have bartered during a sale or purchase.

This indicates there is likely no hesitation to visit pawn shops based on fear of the bartering that often takes place during the sales process. Indifference Toward Pawn Shops Our findings suggest that there is more indifference toward pawn shops among those We surveyed as opposed to feelings of disdain and distrust. When it came to personal feelings about pawn shops, the majority of participants felt neutral in all categories ranging from safety, cleanliness and the friendliness of employees. Recommendations We propose the following recommendations to the NPNAPs they work towards improving the image of pawn shops and increasing use. . Promote and educate. To improve general awareness around the value of pawn shops and their potential relevance in peoples’ lives, we recommend substantially increasing promotion and education about key services, especially short-term lending, as our survey found this is a service of which not many people were aware. Since our survey showed a general feeling of indifference toward pawn shops, the NPNAPhould also look at what can be done to move people toward trtrotterositive feelings about pawn shops in general. . Expand business strategy to focus more heavily on retail shoppers. Business owners are always looking for ways to expand their business into related areas that their same customers want to buy. Our findings suggest that for business growth opportunity, stronger positioning targeted to middle class and upper-middle class men and women as a retail option for used goods is needed. This may include the need for more engaging storefronts, more merchandise options and more consumer-centric service personnel.

We recommend examining ptoptionso increase inventory variety, such as building merchandise and managing inventory at a regional level to focus on items that may be popular in a particular neighborhood or region. Pawn shops should also evaluate what type of goods middle-class shoppers are looking for and work to maintain or update their inventory accordingly. 3. Continue to support and retain current loan customers. It is important to state that we are not recommending that pawn shops cannibalize the loan business.

We highly recommend keeping this business and retaining current customers as best as possible. Our recommendation is o modestly invest in building this part of the business with the demographic surveyed. Unless pawn shops can maintain that they consistently provide lower interest rates, beyond just competitive rates, the real value proposition is that pawn shops are faster than applying for and receiving a credit card; they do not require complicated paperwork; and they do not affect one’s personal credit.

And because the loan is backed by merchandise, the person simply loses that item. With bank loans, a person could lose their house or car. LeLearningverall, we felt that an online survey was a great method for our research. We likely would not have been able to collect 1 13 responses had we used an in-person or telephone survey. The online format was relatively hands off, which allowed us to be more effective. It also allowed us to reach people across the country, which we would not have been able to do with in-person surveys.

We felt that using FaBackbones a way to distribute our survey was extremely effective. It allowed us to reach a large number of people in a short period of time. It also eliminated any barriers from not having contact information, such as an email address, for potential respondents. However, sing FaBackboneay have limited the age range of respondents. The literature review we completed was extremely helpful in framing our survey. It helped us learn what some common misconceptions were about pawn shops, which helped inform our questions.

Had we not done this preliminary research, we may have missed some key issues in our survey. While we feel our survey was designed well overall, there was one question we would have altered if we were to do it over. Question 9 asked, “If yes [you have visited a pawn shop], what services have you used? ” The options were: oPpawnedtem(s) for short-term loan oSsoldtem(s) for cash o Purchased goods However, we did not provide the option of “none/just looked. This made it difficult to analyze this question and utilize it as much as we may have liked for cross tabulation. After reviewing the results, we were shocked to see how many of the respondents were white. Although we were unsure of the exact cause, this underscored the importance of having a diverse survey population. It could be that the people of other ethnicities to whom we distributed the survey were not properly motivated to respond for some reason; of course, it is also likely that other ethnicities were simply not well represented in the survey distribution.