Becoming the star of Pawn Stars on the History Channel
took several years of work, Las Vegas pawnbroker Rick Harrison told the
at the GIA Symposium on May 31.
After getting his pawn license and opening up the Gold &
Silver Pawn Shop on the Las Vegas Strip, he noticed that most of the
pawnshops “were owned by large corporations.”
“They would put items in, and the computer would tell them
how much they are worth,” he said. “That is a fine business model, it
them. I always try to do what the other guys are not doing, and improve
that. If they don’t take [something] in, I’ll take it.”
After his shop was featured on a PBS documentary, “it was
really good for business, and I decided I needed to be on TV more.”
Eventually he decided he needed to be the star of a reality
show. But the process took years.
“If you think the jewelry business is bad, wait till you get
into the entertainment business,” he said. “Hot dogs and TV shows: You
want to see how they are made.”
Eventually he landed a deal with HBO, but didn’t like their
approach, and ended up waiting out his contract for two years.
When he finally won a slot on History Channel, his show soon
became the channel’s top rated series. Pawn Stars is now
broadcast in 120 countries, and in 20 different
“It is the only game show on prime time TV,” he said. “The
first round is: Is it real? The second round is: What is it worth?”
The show attracts 4,000 visitors a day to his store—and his
clients range “from billionaires to pimps.” However, Harrison can no
step on the show floor, because that brings “things to a halt.”
He noted that to value items, he is “always consulting with
people” and spends “three to four hours reading a night.”
“I’m a total nerd,” he said.
He often weaves the item’s back-story in his sales
“The history conversations are what sells [an item],” he
says. “It’s the history and the fun. Like if you say the term, ‘Emerald
that is where the term ‘green room’ comes from.”
Still, he admits that he occasionally does “get burned”
“Last year, I bought a $40,000 pair of earrings,” he said.
“The next day, the police came in and took them from me.”