Les Gold might not give you the shirt off his back, but he would sell it to you. Gold is the owner of the Detroit-based pawnshop “American Jewelry and Loan,” and the star of the TruTV reality show “Hardcore Pawn.”
“Everything's for sale. When I get off an airplane, they go, ‘Oh, Les, we love your earring.’ ‘Not a problem. You can buy it’," he told “Off the Cuff.” “I've sold more diamond earrings out of my ear, because people know that I'm not going to wear stuff that's not really good,“ he said.
Gold is the Ernest Hemingway of pawnbroking. But his trophies come already stuffed—like the lion he keeps in his office.
“Every day when I go to work is more exciting than the day before, because you never know what's coming through the door. If I were to have to sit at a cubicle looking at a computer every day, I'd shoot myself, kill—I couldn't do it. I like the thrill of the hunt,” he said.
Except when the hunt involves live insects. A man came into the store and “he had them under this carpet, this piece of material. He pulled up the material, and oh my God, a thousand one-inch Madgascar cockroaches, an absolute frightening experience,” he recalled.
Gold works with his daughter and son in a store that’s 50,000 square feet of stuff. “People bring in everything. Everything,” he said. There was the skeleton a woman brought in, a stripper’s pole, prosthetic limbs.
Gold’s career in pawn has spanned more than fifty years. He made his first sale at seven in his grandfather’s shop. He now lectures entrepreneurs on the art of negotiation, and has detailed his advice in a new book, “For What It’s Worth.”
“There are three basic things you have to learn when you're negotiating. Get the emotion away, know your bottom line and be able to walk away. Number one is when you're selling an item, try to draw the emotion out of the potential customer because they'll spend money, they'll have a desire to purchase it. When you're a buyer of merchandise, make sure you don't have emotion. You don't want to have that emotional bond when you purchase something because you'll spend too much. The next thing is know your bottom line. And if the deal isn't right, be able to walk away. The walk away portion is one of the toughest things for people to do,” he said.
Gold’s been taking criticized for profiting from the misfortunes of others. “Taking advantage of the poor, taking advantage of the rich, we're there to make a living! You don't go to a department store and say, ‘Gee, they paid $10 for this item. Why do they want 25?’ Nobody ever questions that,” he said.
“We are doing a service. Just because people have a job doesn't mean they can make ends meet. They use us as their bank, you know? They don't have a credit card. They don't have a checking account. We're not there to take their merchandise for free. We're there to give them a fair offer so that we can make a profit when we sell it,” he said.
The only merchandise Gold can't sell is his wife's jewelry. "If I give it to my wife, I can't part with it," he said. "She would kill me."