One of the successful pawnshops that I recently opened for a client in Detroit was purchased for a major television show.

I am very proud of the fact that what I set up was good enough for Les Gold and his great show, hardcore pawn, which is on truTV.


On June 26, 2014, the Chicago Tribune published an article, Tips to find a sale steal, which mentioned yours truly, Norman Gornbein, a couple of times.

There is some great advice in this article—good things to know when you are attending sales or are buying anything of value.

-Special to Tribune Newspapers / 5:28 p.m. CDT, June 26, 2014

By Danielle Braff

The plethora of fluorescent yellow signs and tiny flags cluttering every suburban corner of the United States may have given us a few hints: It’s prime season for hitting garage and estate sales.

But if you feel as if you’re the lone sole who goes week after week and returns home with flops — then it’s time you hear from the experts to learn how to score big, and how not to lose when shopping at an estate sale or at a garage sale.

Come prepared. “There are three pieces of equipment that are mandatory: A flashlight, a magnifying glass and a tape measure,” said Joe Rosson, antiques appraiser and former co-host of “Treasures in Your Attic” on PBS. “Without these, you will always encounter a situation where one of them is absolutely necessary to making a decision.” A tape measurer can tell you if it will fit in your living room or in your vehicle. A flashlight might help you peek into the back of a closet, or get a good look at how a piece was made. A magnifying glass might illuminate an item’s chip, crack or mark.

Bring a strong magnet. “Gold and silver will not stick to a magnet,” said Norman Gornbein, a California-based pawnbroking consultant and precious metal refiner and author of “How to Open a Successful Pawnshop.” While you may think that the piece of jewelry you’re holding is real gold because it’s got the 14-carat gold stamp, “There’s no guarantee,” Gornbein said. “For $2.50, anyone can buy a stamp.”

Buy a magnifying glass. If you’re looking for a diamond, you should come to the sale with a magnifier (Carson Lumil Loupe 10X Power Stand Magnifier, $10.99 at “Most diamonds have imperfections,” Gornbein said. “If you look at it through the loop and you see flaws, it’s a diamond. If there are no flaws, mostly likely — it’s not.”

Get organized. Rosson suggested choosing sales the night before, making a list and mapping the locations. There are two methods, Rosson said. One is the serendipitous approach. “You go, and you find things by chance that interest you,” he said. “But this method is not for the serious-minded.” The serious are like the Boy Scouts — always prepared. These people know what they’re looking for and what those items will look like when they find them. They’ve read about the items, they’ve gone to antique shows to see the genuine items and they’ve been to the museums that carry them.

Stay away. You might want to avoid the following items: bed pillows, shoes, stained mattresses, computers or electric components, bathing suits, hats, food, games and puzzles, Rosson said. “Be careful about buying things that need repair unless you are good about getting to projects right away,” he said.

Look for authenticity. If you’re buying a piece of artwork, ask if it comes with a certificate of authenticity, said Charlotte Marra, part-owner of Lori Palmer Estate Sales, which operates estate sales in New Jersey. You could also gauge the piece’s worth by checking to see what the last work sold for at auction. “But some art is simply decorative art, and if you like it, you buy it,” she said.

Check for a name. Better quality furniture should have a name etched into it, such as Baker, Kindel or Henredon, said Charlotte Marra, part owner of Lori Palmer Estate Sales. The name is usually marked on the side of the drawer. If it’s a good piece of furniture, it would be made out of solid wood rather than pressed wood, and it wouldn’t be wobbly. Another misconception about furniture is that you can simply upholster a chair. “But upholstery isn’t cheap,” Marra said. “If you pick up a chair for $50 or $100, you could put some money into upholstering it, but you shouldn’t spend more than that.” It’s all about the package. “When buying vintage toys, they’re worth more if they’re in their original packaging,” Marra said. If you’re a collector, you know how much the other vintage toys are worth simply from doing your research — but anyone can quickly catch up by looking up the toy on to see if it has value outside of the box.

Don’t expect a miracle. “Today, a lot of people are savvy as to what they’re selling and what they’re not selling,” Marra said. While it may be fun to watch someone on TV share stories of buying artwork for $3 at a garage sale and find out it’s worth $10,000, the reality is this doesn’t happen often.



“What a wealth of knowledge-even for a pro like me!”
-Ken Rusty, Gold and Precious Gems of San Diego (4 locations)

“Extremely valuable information, even for successful pawnbrokers, like me.”
-Owner’s name Steve Hirschhorn, Unique Pawnbrokers (2 locations)

“This book would have saved a ton of money had it been out when I started my business”
-Gary Feldman, El Cajon Jewelry and Loan

How to Open a Successful Pawnshop is written by Norman Gornbein, a former pawnbroker and master jeweler with 30 years experience. The book is thorough, clear, and, yes, even entertaining, thanks to the author’s positive and engaging personality.

Norman Gornbein, whose extremely successful pawnshop was featured on CNN, now works as a consultant to existing pawnshops for a $50,000 fee. How to Open a Successful Pawnshop is all about how Norman Gornbein did it and does it, and how you can do it too. The book includes priceless and detailed information on how to evaluate gold, diamonds, and jewelry.

How to Open a Successful Pawnshop covers anything that will be brought into a pawnshop including watches, cameras, electronics, firearms, musical instruments, sporting goods, tools, and even vehicle title loans. Related businesses such as payday loans, providing debit cards, and online pawnshops are also included.

In addition, you will be shown how to organize your pawnshop, make it secure, staff it with the right employees, and even fill your pawnshop with a starting inventory at zero cost!

How to Open a Successful Pawnshop is well worth the price to those who aspire to enter the very profitable business of becoming a pawnbroker-and to established pawnbrokers who want to improve their business. For his full consultancy of a pawnshop, Norman Gornbein charges $50,000. His hourly rate is $250.

For far less than his rate of $250 for one hour, in How to Open a Successful Pawnshop, Norman Gornbein gives you a step-by-step plan on how you can open your own successful pawnshop—a business that is not only recession-proof, but which thrives both in good times and bad times.

How to Open a Successful Pawn Shop teaches you how and where to locate your pawnshop, and how best to lay it out.

You will learn how to organize your operation including accounting systems, and what what is the best software systems you should use—both for accounting and for keeping track of and securing your valuable inventory.

You will learn how to organize your pawnshop down to the last detail!

You will learn how to make your pawnshop secure in every respect—site security, with double doors, safes, and alarm systems in the most affordable way.

You will learn how to be safe from fraud, both from your clients and your employees.

You will learn how to value expensive items of jewelry, gold, and diamonds, and watches (remember, Norman Gornbein is a master jeweler).

How to Open a Successful Pawnshop will also show you how to evaluate, cameras, electronics, firearms, musical instruments, sporting goods, tools, and even vehicle title loans.

You will learn how to place a value on anything your client brings into your pawnshop—and will tell you what items you should and must refuse.

How to Open a Successful Pawnshop also teaches you about related business opportunities which can make your pawnshop even more profitable—these include money-making payday loans, debit cards, and online pawnshops.

How to Open a Successful Pawnshop will show you how to make money under any economic conditions.

The time to get into the booming business of pawnshops is NOW!

That’s the article and remember—you can get lucky—miracles do happen.

I get interviewed for articles like this all the time and there will be more coming your way—but, for now, that’s all folks.

If you want to see the original article, please click here.

Here’s one from the Wall Street Journal

Wall Street Journal Pawn Article Money Economy 11-9-2008


-The Southfield store, with mauve and berry décor, specializes in fine jewelry and art pieces.

By Eric Pope / Special to The Detroit News

SOUTHFIELD — When Cynthia Hunter needed $10,000 to solve a legal problem, she decided to pawn the wedding ring her husband bought for $35,000.

After one pawnshop offered just $3,000, she tried Norman’s Jewelry & Loan in Southfield. Co-owner Sharon Gornbein took her into the back room and agreed to a $10,000 loan after hearing her situation. Six months later, Hunter paid off the loan and got the ring back. “I was so grateful to Sharon for how she handled it. She made me feel special,” said Hunter, who is a general contractor for P&P Property Management in Southfield.

Since then, Hunter has returned to Norman’s to purchase half a dozen fur coats and several rings, most recently a six-diamond ring for her daughter’s graduation.

With its mauve and raspberry décor, Norman’s doesn’t look like most pawnshops. When owners Sharon and Norman Gornbein moved the business a mile and a half up Telegraph to Ten Mile in November, they designed it as an upscale jewelry store.

There’s no indication that two-thirds of the diamond rings, gold chains, watches and fur coats have been taken in through the pawnshop, except perhaps the prices that customers say are low compared to area high-end jewelry stores.

Norman Gornbein’s target market was affluent people with temporary cash-flow problems to feel comfortable taking out a pawn loan instead of filling out a lot of forms and waiting for a traditional loan. “We want people to feel good about themselves when they come in,” he said.

Michigan law requires pawnshops to hold items for at least 3 months and limits the interest rate to 3 percent per month. The Gornbeins wait an additional month and send out reminder notes.

They say 85 percent of their pawn customers pay off their loans to get their items back, and many return for additional loans. “If they have a good track record, I’ll give them more money,” Sharon Gornbein said.

Norman’s doesn’t handle pawnshop categories like guitars, weapons and tools, although the Gornbeins do accept a few automobiles, artwork by famous artists and unusual pieces like an early Victrola phonograph.

Michael Banks is another pawnshop customer who continues to return to Norman’s to buy jewelry, even though he has moved to Aberdeen, Md., to work for the Department of Defense. While in Detroit recently to visit relatives, he stopped by to talk about a wedding ring. “They greet me by name and treat me like I’m the only customer … That’s priceless,” he said.

-Hocking your diamond ring used to be shameful business. Now everyone’s doing it.

By Gary Rivlin | June 19, 2011 10:0 AM EDT

To gauge the state of our economy, you could talk to the economists and other so-called experts. Or you could attend the annual pawnbrokers’ convention, as I did, held last week at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. There, I met Lee Amberg, his face sunburned from competing in the annual golf tournament that these days opens every Pawn Expo.

A 23-year industry veteran with a pair of pawnshops in suburban Chicago, Amberg says he could tell as far back as 2006 that hard times were coming. “Suddenly we saw our demographic expanding,” he says. “We had more customers coming to us from middle-class communities and even upper-middle-class communities. We saw the erosion of the economy before you were even reading about it.”

Except, who listens to a pawnbroker? “We have our thumb on the true pulse of the economy,” Amberg says with a sigh, “but we’re laughed at or ridiculed because we’re in the pawn business.”

These are fat times for the pawn industry—in no small part because these are hard times for much of America. Pawnbrokers are lending money to a new breed of customer—the kind who drives up in a sports car, lugging a large flat-screen TV to hock—and it’s not like their traditional clientele are any better off than they were a few years ago. Pawn is even hot in the popular culture, as reality TV has spawned no less than three shows starring pawnbrokers.

At first glance, the Pawn Expo could have been any trade show of its kind: booths for exhibitors selling their wares (diamond and gold buyers, mainly), breakout sessions for the more studious conventiongoer (“10 Successful Steps to Becoming a Watch Guru”), boozy parties at night. And the brokers—1,300 attendees in all—made for a friendly, casual bunch, dressed in resort wear for the 100-degree Vegas heat. Still, most people think of the corner pawnshop as a forbidding place, dingy and depressing and smelling something like their grandmother’s attic. “I would describe image as our biggest challenge,” says Kevin Prochaska, who took over as president of the National Pawnbroker Association at this year’s meeting.

But changing that image is no easy task for these lenders of last resort. “If someone is coming to us, that’s the definition of a bad day,” a pawnbroker named Kathy Pierce told me. Apparently, there have been a lot of bad days for the people living near the two stores she and her husband own in central Illinois. The loan volume at both “is higher than it’s ever been,” she says.

If you’re a fan of the hit show Pawn Stars, you might think that what pawnshops mainly do is buy used stuff. But the vast majority are really loan makers: that watch or wedding ring (usually the same watch or ring hocked the last time) serves as collateral for a loan that usually lasts from a few weeks to a few months. The amounts borrowed are typically small—$100 or less, just enough to make ends meet until the next payday. Four out of every five customers successfully pay off their loan and retrieve the item they’ve hocked.

But a pawn loan isn’t cheap. The fees charged work out to an annual interest rate of between 50 and 250 percent a year, depending on the state. Prochaska, the association president, defends the high interest rates by noting that “a lot of overhead goes into every loan.” That’s because pawnbrokers must store whatever a customer brings in—jewelry, mostly, in big cities, but plenty of weed trimmers, fishing poles, and power tools in less-urban areas. And there’s no guarantee that the pawnbroker will ever be able to sell the items if the borrower defaults. For some pawnbrokers, the sale of forfeited items has accounted for half their revenue, and a lousy economy means they get stuck with more inventory.

Yet for most pawnbrokers, the spike in loan volume over the past few years—and the corresponding increase in the fees they collect—has more than made up for the decline on the retail side. “It’s an awesome time to be in the lending business,” says Nancy Martin, a pawnbroker from North Carolina who has had her own shop since 1981. “Whether you’re talking about our traditional customers or the new people coming in the door, people are really hurting.”


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