Las Vegas pawnshop owner: Downturn can create real opportunity

By Rebecca Clifford-Cruz

For Michael Mack, a former Las Vegas city councilman and owner of Max Pawn, there are silver linings to be found amid trying times, not only as a businessman but as a human being.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought about such a time for the his pawnshop, his staff and his industry.

“We’ve always been customer-focused, but this situation has taught us to cherish them even more and to continue to treat each person with dignity,” Mack said. “There is a stigma with pawnshops and the treatment people expect to get; that doesn’t need to be the standard.

“We see a lot of customers in tough situations, and my team works hard to provide service and respect to everyone.”

Did you wait out the state-mandated business shutdown or were you able to remain open? What adaptations did you make as a result of it?

We were able to stay open as an essential business, and we did a lot to adapt to the changing times. We started offering Curbside Couture, affording shoppers who weren’t comfortable coming inside the opportunity to call ahead and have items brought to their cars. We also added stations with hand sanitizer and disposable masks, and increased cleaning throughout the store. We’ve started taking temperatures as well.

With budgets tightening for many people, have you seen an uptick in business? Who are those customers?

We’ve seen an uptick in retail and downtick in loans, which was unexpected. We’re lucky to see a lot of our regular customers stopping in to say hello and check in on what’s new. Being able to stay open I’m sure contributed to that since we were the only place to shop, but it was also great to be open to be able to provide extra cash to those who needed it in our hard-hit area. At the beginning of the shutdown, we offered interest-free loans, and we’ve just launched a new holiday layaway program to try to help where we can.

What is the percentage of the value you’ll loan people on most items?

It really depends on the type of item. On higher-valued goods — things like Gucci, Cartier or Rolex — we will lend up to 90%. That’s not to say we don’t offer loans on other items, like Coach or Michael Kors, but the higher-end brands give us the option of offering more. Regardless of the item, our focus has always been on creating long-term relationships with our customers, not just getting that quick dollar. On the flip side, though, if we loan too much, we’ve likely bought the item.

What is the most interesting and/or valuable item brought into the shop recently?

We’ve seen a lot of cars, we looked at a Ferrari recently but that didn’t work out. We are lucky to have some discerning customers including Floyd Mayweather, Ivan Moody, and many of our Vegas Golden Knights, so we place a lot of value on offering unique pieces. We did take in an amazing 1946 Hermes Doctor Bag — it’s a very rare bag.

Has “normal” forever changed, or will you aim to get back to what normalcy was pre-COVID?

You know, it has changed, but it has taught us more about consumer hygiene and really looking at how we clean the store. I’m grateful for that, and our new systems will stay in place. I think masks might be here for quite a while as well.

Describe your management style. How did you refine your management approach?

I have a great team and I allow them to do their jobs. I don’t have to manage them. Hiring is an art that I’ve refined with 30 years in the industry, and while we’ve had some people who didn’t stay long, I’m really proud of the team I’ve built. I have the best general manager in the business, and because of that, I can take real vacations and look at the bigger picture.

What is the best business advice you’ve received?

It’s not advice, but a statement that stuck with me. I happened to be at Floyd Mayweather’s while he was training for a fight and sitting next to a nice older guy with a wrinkled shirt. We had a great conversation, and as I was leaving, I introduced myself and found out it was Warren Buffett. What stuck with me was his statement — “I’ve always been able to make money in bad times, because I had the money to invest when things were headed down.” There’s obviously a lot of truth to that; many people hold onto their cash out of fear in a downturn, but it’s a real opportunity.

Do you prefer running a business over being a public servant? If you had a second chance in politics would you take it?

I wouldn’t take it, I prefer business. Business moves a lot faster, and owning my own business allows me even more freedom. Things tend not to move quickly in government, so while I’m glad I had the experience, I’ll stick to business.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Sold. We’re continuing to expand the business in e-commerce, and I’d like to look at giving my management team ownership. I’m not interested in another location, but there are so many opportunities to sell quality goods online with the level of technology we have now around authenticating.

If you could have a power lunch with one person alive or dead, who would it be?

Elon Musk, lunch on the go in his cybertruck. I think he’s one of the Einsteins of our era. He put our nation back in space and created a car company that’s doing well in a bad time. He’s also working on medical advancement and implanted chips — thinking outside of the box to solve real problems. That’s the kind of person I’d like to spend some time with.

What is on your bucket list?

I want to go to Africa — I’ve never been. It’s on my list for next summer. Space would be cool, too.

What is something that people might not know about you?

My house is the opposite of a typical pawn broker. A lot of brokers will bring items from the store until things get cluttered — I’m a minimalist.