Interview with Scott Britton

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
How is your book different from Rick Harrison's "License to Pawn" or Norman Gornbein's "How to Open a successful Pawnshop"?
I actually read both of those books after completing my own manuscript and I did a bit of rewriting to include references to those books where I thought my readers might benefit from them. To answer the question though, Rick Harrsion (Pawn Stars) wrote a book about the history of his pawnshop based on anecdotal events of interest over the years, although it is a very enjoyable read, one will find very little in it of consequence from the perspective of understanding the rules and systems employed by Rick's or any other pawn shop for that matter. I recommend License to Pawn for fun and for insight about keeping your focus on the positive aspects of the business. Rick also gets credit for actually pointing out that his television show does not really provide the audience with an accurate portrayal of real transactions in a typical pawn shop. First of all to do so would break the rules of confidentiality, that is if they were to exhibit an actual pawn transaction on television. What viewers witness are all buying transactions which of course are grossly influenced by the production requirements of the History channel.
Norman Gornbein's book is a better comparison to mine if only in the sense that he seems to attempt to write a "how to" book, Norman does provide some very good input, and frankly he ought to for the hundred eighty bucks he is asking for the book. His material on precious stones and guns are actually very well done. I recommend the book for those reasons alone. However curiously enough whole functions necessary to running a pawnshop are for some reason completely omitted from that book. My opinion is that Norman knew exactly what he was intending to do, i.e.,save those meaty topics for his consultancy business. I disagree with that strategy, it flagrantly short changes the reader who deserves better, As the title implies the reader ought to receive a thorough explanation of at least most aspects of the trade. I don't like that kind of marketing. I think as an author we have a duty to provide what the book implies and more, certainly not less.
Backroom Pawnshop Deals attempts to impart most, if not all, of the information one really needs to know, the stuff that you can't really learn anyplace else but from an experienced pawnbroker. I don't get into all of the aspects of everything, no one can. The ratings of various safes for example is superfluous. I didn't like that Norman inserted that kind of fluff in his book. I figure every town has at least one competent locksmith who will gladly help you to choose a good reliable safe. In backroom Pawnshop Deals, I by contrast, get into the layout of a new shop from a security as well as through a marketing and merchandising perspective. After having owned five shops I fancy myself as having a pretty good idea what people should know going in as opposed to what most of us think we knew about the business in the crucial early days.
Setting up the right financial controls, complying with regulations, merchandising, operating systems and procedures are the areas that even most intelligent people flounder at without proper training. Of course everyone expects to learn about merchandising and the loan aspect so Backroom Pawn Shop Deals covers those topics in great detail. The book also gets into important security concerns that are unique to pawnbroking. I had read four other books about pawn shops and none of them covered all the right stuff. People who endeavor to be a winner in this game need more than just a book about pawn shops, I felt that the material must be directly connected in a comprehensive way to the art and science of business as applied to pawn shops.
How do you approach cover design?
I ask my wife for her input and Maria being a communications arts major and graphic designer whips up a half dozen or more designs. More often than not, whether it be for a business project or in the case of Backroom Pawnshop Deals there is one design that I really like. Funny story when designing the logo for our company Time Capsule Videos one of our early designs was an oval shape thing that I initially thought looked pretty good. But when we surveyed others one person told us it looked like a prescription pill. Since It was suppose reflect a time capsule we decided that it wouldn't due to project the image of a pharmaceutical company, you know, attempting to medicate people, so we chose a different design instead.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
My Mom and Dad traveled for their work (both were avian field biologists, Mom did the work and dad did the fishing, trapping and most of the cooking). I spent my childhood shuffled between New England, Seattle and interior back-country Alaska. Interestingly my wife and I also travel and work together. To answer the question my passion for writing began when I was still a child, those long Alaskan winters huddled by the fire there was little else to do but read. There wasn't much in the way of distractions and getting into trouble basically meant certain death. This lent to reading everything I could get my hands on, fortunately among those were some great works like James Michener historical novels and the essays of Michael D Montaigne. My parents being PhD's themselves encouraged me to keep a dictionary and thesaurus handy when reading. I think spending time alone and being home schooled helped to develop my imagination and it certainly provided me with the freedom to own my thoughts. I had quite a few pen pals from various book clubs and things of that sort which further helped me to develop my own style of writing. Curiously, it is only recently that I decided to return to a somewhat rural lifestyle. I left Alaska in my late teens and never looked back. Follow a trap line with howling wolves on your heals just once and tell me how you liked it. I haven't returned to Boston, New Jersey nor New Hampshire neither since my teens. All places I had spent significant time exploring with my folks as a kid thirty plus years ago. Sure those experiences contributed to the writer I have become.
As a young Adult I decided to be an entrepreneur and contractor. That enabled me to live in great cites like San Francisco and Vegas. I have conducted brick and mortar business in Atlanta Georgia, Biloxi Mississippi, Atlantic City New Jersey, Chicago Illinois, New York New York, Nashville Tennessee, Indianapolis Indiana and all of those experiences teach first hand how commerce is shaped by geography, politics and culture. I always made it a point to join business groups and network with the locals. What is an education like that worth? Disaster Restoration work took me to the Golf states and the eastern seaboard fairly regularly. I spent over a decade living in Ludington and Muskegon Michigan, were I built my pawn shops, on West Shore, Lake Michigan. The cherry orchards of Shelby with their sauntering white spring blossoms and old route 31 have left an indelible impression on my heart. In all of north America, West Michigan is second in scenic beauty, in my opinion, only to the Colombian Gorge near where I live now in Walla Walla, Washington. The point is this: it all influences my writing. Life is so inspiring. We live in a beautiful nation full of possibility, it sounds cliche but I love the USA.
What's the story behind your latest book?
My latest book is "Cleaning for Profit" and it is still in the final stage of revision. I will have lots to say about that book in a few weeks (after my editor does her thing) when it is ready for publication. Before I ever owned my first pawn shop I had been a Disaster Building and Restoration Contractor (and a window cleaner). After twelve years of chasing storms I decided to put down roots in Michigan and built a successful full service custodial company along the shoreline. Well Scott's Janitorial and Window Cleaning became the number one company in Mason County in its market category and our reach was about ninety miles south and sixty miles north of where our shop sat. Going east we traveled no more than 40 miles. A mile west would have put us in the great unsalted sea known as Lake Michigan. It was actually the proceeds of selling Scott's Janitorial that enabled the purchase of my first pawn shop. I always visited pawn shops wherever I traveled. I would visit the local pawnshop in Ludington nearly every day after work, which as it were was right across the street from our James Street location. One day I asked Paul, the owner, some question about his business, I really don't recall exactly what it was, it was more out of curiosity at that point than anything else. I do tend to be very direct and unabashed when I'm seeking answers. It was his replay that surprised me. He bluntly told me in as many words that he had no intention of educating me how his business worked. In an unintended way, that really peaked my curiosity and it was about that time that I began to research how to start a pawnshop. Although I would have to say that it was Ernie Dutcher, the pawnbroker who sold me his shop in Muskegon that taught me enough to get me going. Ernie stayed on for over a month to teach me the basics of the trade. He himself learned the trade in Nashville from a pawnbroker like most successful owners. There was no good manual back then to be had, and I realize I'm biased being the author of the book and all, but modesty aside. Of course I want to sell my book. Still, Backroom Pawnshop Deals was not haphazardly thrown together, like some project that took a few weeks. Writing the book took a solid six months and it is based on the knowledge of five independent pawn shops, both city shops and rural ones. I also read about twelve books on various related subjects to make sure that I had a firm grasp on the material that I presented. I really can't imagine a more balanced and thorough study of what it takes to start and build a leading pawn shop. I predict that Backroom Pawnshop Deals will turn out to be a professional reference book with a useful shelf life of decades to come. If you were to ask me a serious question that I couldn't answer right off I would turn to the book myself. All of its sources are trustworthy and meticulously cited. I am putting the same care and due diligence now into Cleaning for Profit. Becoming a writer has been a lifelong dream. When you really love something the chance of failure looms large. I have no intention of half stepping these projects. At twenty five bucks this book is a steal, anyone with a mind to really learn the trade has found the right source.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
To be honest I wanted to be published using the traditional route. I was a bit ashamed to not use a big name publisher. After sending about sixty queries, and complying with all of the idiosyncrasies of each of those publishers I received a lot of rejection letters. Most found the manuscript to be very professional but the feedback was few saw a large enough audience (within their respective channels) to make an investment worthwhile. Being a businessman myself, I understood. I mean if you are a publisher why put your apples into a basket that is located in a far off corner of the warehouse, when you can put them into a basket in the showroom where there are tons of people. Certainly a book written about How to start a Baby Sitting Service or something like would have better mass market appeal than a book about ho to start a pawnshop. How many people even have even thirty grand laying around to start a pawnshop? I get that.
But by the time I did find one publisher who was actually willing to entertain publishing my book I had done more homework on Indie publishing. I found out that the trend of eBooks continues to increase. From one quarter of one percent in 2004 to over thirty percent today. Honestly I wasn't aware of the exponential growth in eBooks. I'm an older reader and I actually prefer to read paperbacks. But the evidence is clear that paper has been losing ground for some time. I had to admit that I myself read a lot of stuff online these days. Factor in the massive worldwide distribution channels, lower costs and greater affordability to the reader, it was a no brainier. I'll be writing books and publishing them as an indie author for as long as I am able. And I even started surfing the eBooks myself. Who says that you can't teach an old dog new tricks.
What do your fans mean to you?
I don't believe that I have any fans, nor do I think that I want that. To be esteemed sure, to be worshiped, no thanks, I'll leave that for God.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Writing represents the opportunity to change the world, if only the world of a relatively few readers. The joy in writing for me is simply sharing knowledge. Peter Drucker said that "knowledge is and always has been the most important factor of production". If you think about it everything that is lacking in our world stems from lack of knowledge. Before 1952 polio was a death sentence, yet because of what Jonas Salk began to learn in testing polio was eradicated. We have the personal computer because Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak dared to seek the knowledge to do the impossible in 1976. Everything begins with an idea. I am credited with being a self made man. but the truth is that I could not have built my companies had I not first been enthralled with a hunger for knowledge.

It all began with reading books for me. The industrious men of early America like Ben Franklin, Nikola Tesla and Andrew Carnegie were my earliest mentors. If Mr Franklin had not taken the time to write his autobiography I might not have discovered that temperance and discipline necessary to persevere in life. Books are not the only route to knowledge of course, yet the good ones are typically the most expedient navigation to something far more important, which are the best experiences.
Wring books about business brings me great joy because sharing the value of experience is sharing my life with others in a meaningful way to them. We share an interest in a topic. I just happen to find the topic earlier and devoted myself to it to be able to have something of value. I guess the greatest joy of all would be to find out that my writing prompted someone to pass on their own life experiences in a similar fashion.

Just a business will only work if it can deliver value to others. My life doesn't seem to work for me if I am not contributing something important to others. . So much of the good stuff in life is intangible. You learn in business that intangibles can hold enormous value. A patent is an example of intangible, it doesn't have physical characteristics like property, a building or a company vehicle, yet you have to purchase it and it counts as an asset on your balance sheet. Goodwill is another example of an intangible that shows up as an asset on your financials after you have acquired a company. Similarly, knowledge always has some cost, an investment and although you might not have the the ability to see exactly how to leverage that know how, you might just figure that out if you stay the course. I would contend that knowledge is more important to success than even capital. With knowledge capital can be obtained. Without it money will be lost.
My life probably won't change the whole world, but if the lessons I have learned in my trade changes the lives of those of my readers that has to be worth something. One of the many lessons of business is to learn to accept your own need for esteem. Accepting that seeking esteem is a natural condition of being human is liberating. It allows us to be great at something without needing to justify ourselves. And my wins from playing the game of business well make it possible to forecast for others a path to realize their own dreams. And then there are the failures. Usually when I got it wrong I knew intuitively that there was that risk. although I wasn't always immediately willing to accept that mind you. Writing forces me to face those realities. When I get an idea on paper I am free to mull it over until I am satisfied Iv'e got it right. In reflecting ion that and researching what others have to say about a given subject, my own horizons are certainly expanded. I can only hope that you enjoy that as much as I do.
What are you working on next?
A novel.
Who are your favorite authors?
In what genre? I have favorites in all of them.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Thinking. Not nearly enough time connecting with my loved ones. Such is the burden and reality of those of us with great drive we sacrifice not only our own lives but those of whom we love.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I wrote a eight hundred word essay for school on how to start an electrical contracting business. Since I was only in the fifth grade my teacher thought I had plagiarized the assignment. I thought what a wonderful endorsement of my sophistication. At the time I wanted to become an electrician. I have wrote only one unpublished novel and although I love story telling I haven't figured out how to merge my need to educate with the thriller genre well enough to make a series. Maybe I should just go for it, I suppose I am afraid of being rejected. If someone doesn't like my business book I can rationalize that they aren't really interested in the business. But with fiction, my writing and creativity become the elephant in the room. I'm not ready to be critiqued at that level. Not when my own expectations for fiction are so high. I love the work of Michener, how he wove the educational value into his historical novels. That is a high bar to contend with.
What is your writing process?
I start with an idea of course. Next draw an outline, Third fill in the blanks. Set it down for a week. Come back for another iteration. once the text becomes more mature I reread the manuscript and change my font color on all areas that require research. usually by this time I have reorganized the chapters and found areas that I want to extrapolate. When I feel that my manuscript is ready to publish I set it down again and research who are my competitors and read what they have published. I take notes and evaluate how my content compares to theirs. If I feel that they have covered something important or from a different perspective than mine I then rethink my own work and rewrite. I also reference other authors who I feel did an especially good job and share the source with my readers. I view my books as a product and my readers deserve the best product I can give them. I would be a liar if I didn't admit that I learn things from other authors.

So far my two books are written from the vantage point of my own experiences. I think that makes the books more interesting and engaging by comparison to a traditional text. Real life experience somehow makes the subject matter more memorable than simply citing what you assume other entrepreneurs were thinking when they took a certain course of action. Not to discredit case studies. they have their place in teaching. But when the case study is appropriately your own business, and if you are honest, open, and willing (h.o.w.) than you should have something worthwhile to share.

Of course critiques of such an approach will contend that an author writing about his own business experience will be biased and that is a valid point. I trust that people who read my books are capable of thinking for themselves. I always encourage people to try new things. Do it differently if you can. There is more than one way to skin a cat. But before you try to innovate you owe it to yourself to learn the tried and true methods so that if any part of your new approach fails you, than at least there is a trap door to escape failure. the basis of scientific inquiry is holding a baseline ; that is a benchmark of safety to return to. Often times the threats are external and not internal. Business analysis is much an art as it is a science.

For instance the gap between marketing as it is taught in many business schools and the way marketing is approached in real life. So much of marketing is counter intuitive. These are many lessons we can only learn by recognizing the patterns from real experience. If your professor has not owned a business his knowledge can be unknowingly shared without proper context. I have several academics in my family so trust me I know what I'm talking about. If you have trouble understanding what that means Try the following exercise. Go and ask thirty people randomly what their birthdays are. Would you think that any two of those polled would share the same birthday? I wouldn't have thought so with 365 days in a year. But I learned long ago that the probability is you that will find at least one match . This in my opinion is why so many people fail in business, they simply haven't learned the ropes.

So writing to me is another business. one I am presently learning on the job. I imagine my process will evolve as I myself evolve at the craft. The process improves as I learn to ask the right questions, just like any other business.
Published 2015-01-25.
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