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Negotiating Lessons From a Pawn Star

By JemmaBlythe Alexander Shelton-Spurr (JB Shelton)

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Pablo Picasso’s etching of a dove. Tiffany & Company’s Civil War-era sword. A lottery ticket signed by George Washington. These are among thousands of items negotiated by Rick Harrison. He is co-owner of the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop near the Las Vegas Strip and co-star of Pawn Stars, a History Channel reality show phenomenon.

Rick applies his natural abilities as an entrepreneur, psychologist, motivator, historian and humorist to create fascinating and informative life lessons in negotiating. Using examples of his in-shop transactions, we’ll examine the skills and techniques he relies on to turn treasures into profit.

Treasure Trove of Experts

Pristine 1940s Western movie posters. Gaudily glittering Rolex watches. Shipwreck-retrieved ancient Greek coins. Rick goes beyond relying on his copious knowledge of the world’s treasure trove. His support system of experts covers a broad range of esoteric specialties. They give accurate history, authenticate, declare rarity, and value for retail and auction house prices. All this to the seller or pawner’s delight or dismay.

Experts on the topics of your negotiations can heighten your credibility, confirm your asking price, and liaise in communicating with your opponents.

Napoleon and Josephine
“Everything has a story and a price.”

Rick is a voracious reader and scholar with a bursting curiosity about historical objects. Over the show’s opening credits, he intones, “I’m Rick Harrison and this is my pawn shop. I’ve learned everything in here has a story and a price. You never know what’s going to come through that door.”

Yes, every negotiation has a story and a price. Although you prepare as thoroughly as possible, you never know beforehand precisely how the negotiation will evolve. Your in-depth research and planning are your foundations for communicating your goals and presenting your strengths.

“I have no idea what their value is, but I want them,” says Rick, into the camera, out of the hearing of the fellow who wants to sell hand painted miniature portraits of Napoleon and Josephine in ornate gold frames.

As the negotiation proceeds, it turns out that the customer hasn’t done his research about the portraits’ value. Rick consults with an expert, considers how much they’d tempt his clientele and makes an offer. The intimidated seller accepts and Rick’s profit margin is assured.

Your opponent can’t consider your counteroffer unless you make one. Timing is of the essence: Don’t stop negotiating too early just because you’re tired of the process. Close the meeting and come back fresh and ready to ask for what you want.

“Laugh and the World Laughs with You”
(from ‘Solitude’ by poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox)

While Rick’s on his own turf, most sellers don’t enter the shop filled with self-confidence and knowledge about their object’s worth.

Rick takes them off-guard, greeting them with a casual, humorous comment. He knows making someone grin or guffaw will lower the fellow’s stress level and make him more amenable to win-win negotiating. One clever seller responded humorously, emphasizing that Rick is the only pawnbroker who’d appreciate his childhood collection of Pez dispensers

Humorous interactions can evoke camaraderie and lessen tension by distracting participants from frustrating situations where minds don’t meet.

“I’m all about creative solutions”

Man has gun: Man wants guitar. As Rick says, “I’m all about creative solutions.” He offers to trade the fellow toting a 1750 French flintlock gun with bayonet for a classic 1978 Les Paul guitar. Rick’s not out any money and the seller happily walks away with the instrument of his musical dreams.

How creative can you be during a negotiation? Be sure your well-honed plans to achieve your goals include flexibility. Creativity covers imaginative ways to coax your opponent into accepting an offer benefiting you both.

The Traditional Las Vegas Question:
Real or Fake?

Pawn shops are subject to scams by unscrupulous misanthropes. Rick rapidly evaluates his customer’s appearance, demeanor and body language. “What do you know about this Rolex and why do you want to pawn it?” he asks. He’s suspicious when the fellow is overly nervous, claims history without provenance, and is anxious to deal quickly.

Pawn shops are decidedly open for folks who need quick cash. But their better part of wisdom isn’t, of course, to announce, “The rent’s due and I have no choice.” When Rick asks, “What do you want for it?” they give the first number.

Sometimes folks who are certain they have a treasure end up devastated. “One of the hardest parts of my job is telling someone a prized family possession is a fake,” says Rick. Pity the woman who learned the hand-carved, ivory elephant tusk she bought on a safari vacation is plastic.

In negotiations, don’t automatically presume your opponent is telling the truth.

Be thoughtful and careful about providing information. Ask yourself why you’re revealing details that may benefit your opponent and harm you. Rein in your emotions.

Business Sense

Rick insists, “If it doesn’t make sense, I’m not going to do it. This is a business. If I forget that for a second, I’m out of business.”

Successful negotiators have the uncommon quality of common sense. We’re in the business of knowing what we want and focusing on how to get it. We work and play intensely, fairly and determinedly to stay in business.

Negotiating Lessons Learned

Rick’s success reflects his passion for negotiating professionally and fairly. He does his research, has a broad knowledge base, consults with experts, treats customers with respect and a sense of humor, communicates effectively, stands firm on his top price, and usually doesn’t take himself too seriously. He celebrates success with his Silver & Gold Pawn Shop cohorts, co-owner Richard (Old Man) Harrison, son Corey (Big Hoss) Harrison and family friend Austin (Chumlee) Russell.

Learn Rick’s lessons and you’ll have more success negotiating on and off the Las Vegas Strip.

JB Shelton Photo
JemmaBlythe Alexander Shelton-Spurr (JB Shelton) is a journalist based in Raleigh and Oxford, NC. She writes about children growing up and grownups reinventing themselves. JB teaches Professional Negotiating Skills: Transforming Life’s Challenges into Win-Win Results at Duke University in Durham, NC.  Angel in Your Mirror: Musings from the Curly Mind of JB Shelton-Spurr is available on Contact her at [email protected].

Copyright © 2014 JemmaBlythe Alexander Shelton-Spurr
Copyright ©   2014  The Negotiator Magazine
The Negotiator Magazine  May 2014