Biggest pawnbroker targets the affluent


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The Independent Online

The UK's largest pawnbroker, H&T, is targeting upmarket customers who have fallen on hard times, and is eyeing shops in affluent areas.

The group, previously known as Harvey and Thompson, is training its staff to value expensive watches as it seeks to tap into the Rolex-wearing wealthy. Chief executive John Nichols, who runs the 163-shop chain, has seen an increase in customers pawning expensive watches and wants to expand further into this market. It is thought the business is eyeing upmarket locations including central London areas such as the City and Mayfair.

Pawnbrokers have been riding a wave of good fortune with the rising price of gold and the growth of cash-strapped consumers needing quick loans.

H&T, which charges between 4 and 8 per cent for a loan of up to six months, has opened 25 shops last year with 30 planned in this financial year.

It has been snapping up smaller chains and independent pawnshops and recently bought businesses in Sydenham and Birmingham. It will open a store in Stratford, east London this spring.

Other pawnbrokers have already been cornering the wealthy. Online business Borro has traded everything from fine wine to art and jewellery. Mr Nichols said: "We are looking at ways to get into the sector with a store." But he added that the most important area for his business was training. "We have given every member of staff two workshops in the last year and we have given extensive training in expensive watches."

The non-standard credit market is estimated to be worth £64 billion and totals more than 10 million consumers with pawnbroking shops dealing with as many as 500,000 customers.