Sunday, June 17, 2012
Fathers pass on more than merchandise, customers
When John DiNatale was young, his private detective father, Phil, told him plenty about how to do the job right.
Like, when you’re watching someone, move just your eyes, not your head. And, when you are trailing someone, stay on the right side in their blind spot. But the biggest lesson was more subtle.
“It’s all about knowing people,” said John DiNatale, who now runs the agency with his brother, Richard. “If you know people, then you can get the information you need.”
When fathers pass along their businesses to their children, they give them much more than a store, a stack of merchandise and a customer list. They give them lessons in doing business that can’t be taught in a classroom or gleaned from a textbook. The children who grow up in their parents’ business often develop a knack for it almost through osmosis.
Empire Loan founder Michael Goldstein’s first lesson at his father’s South Bronx pawn shop was how to wield a broom. He was great at sweeping by the time he started learning how to keep the ledger. His most important lesson wasn’t about the pawn business, however.
“What I really learned is a work ethic and a respect for the customer and the people you deal with on a daily basis,” said Goldstein, who now has five pawn shops and is opening another in Lowell.
Eleanor Greene’s father, Blarney Stone founder Michael Conlon, tried to teach her to stay out of the restaurant business, but that she didn’t learn. Although she spent 20 years in a television newsroom, she ended up at the Eat Drink Laugh Restaurant Group, which owns West on Centre in West Roxbury and three other eateries. She learned more than she realized growing up.
“Sometimes, it’s not what they say, it’s what they do,” Greene said about her dad. “I watched him handle different situations and now when I’m in those situations, I remember what he used to do.”
Michelle Barsamian, who works with her father, Mike Barsamian, at the Belgrade Group said she learned most from what her dad didn’t do. As she moved up through management and turned to him with important decisions, he told her to figure it out.
“He wanted me to take a risk and make a decision,” she said. “I’ve learned from my mistakes.”
Ronald Diep learned how to sell at his parents shop, Winnie Fashion Inc., in Hawaii.
“My dad taught me how to initiate conversations with customers, how to help them and how to analyze their actions to see whether they are going to buy and what they might be interested in,” Diep said.
Now living in the Bay State to attend Babson College, he’s translating those lessons to the virtual world as he runs swrvhawaiianshirts.com, an online version of the shop. Though he can’t see the customers, he still watches the analytics to see what they’re interested in and what they’re buying. He’s also found that good merchandising and being helpful are just as important online as in the store.
Tom Deans, author of “Every Family’s Business,” said he learned plenty about how to run a business from his dad, but the best lesson, and the one he tries to pass on, is the importance of the children investing their own money in the company.
“He taught us that in order to be the owner of a business, you have to risk your capital,” Deans said. “Businesses have a shelf life and when kids are asked to buy their businesses, it forces them to focus on that fact.”
Boston Globe: September 6, 2012
Q. How does it work?
A. If people need to borrow money, they bring in something of theirs, like jewelry or a watch. Let’s say someone brings in a Rolex. I get it appraised. We usually loan at 70 percent of the value. So if the watch is worth $1,000, we’ll loan $700. If the owner says yes, we make out the terms of an agreement. He has to show a government-issued photo ID, and we take a picture of him and the item. I give him the money, and he gives me the watch. I put it in an envelope and it gets stored in a safe.
Q. So how does he get it out of hock?
A. We charge 3 percent interest on the loan, and he can come in anytime up to six months after the loan and pay us back. If he comes back in three months, he would owe us $763 and he would get his watch back.
Q. What if he doesn’t come back?
A. He’s under no obligation to pay back that loan, because I have more than $700 in my hand, with that watch. But 88 percent of people who borrow money from us pay back their loan and get their merchandise back. If they don’t come back after six months, I put it in the showcase to sell.
Q. Who are your clients?
A. Most of them are blue-collar workers. We don’t see extremely impoverished people because they don’t own things.
Q. How has the weak economy affected your business?
A. The job market is down, certainly there are more people who need money. We have seen more suburban folks come in. But the economy hasn’t affected my business as dramatically as the price of gold has. When I started my business in 1985, gold was trading for somewhere between $275 and $325 an ounce. Five years ago, it started to spike, and gold has gone up to over $1,700 per ounce.
Q. What does that mean for your business?
A. It means the gold chain my customers took off their neck to pawn in 1985, with a $50 loan, now I can loan $200 on it. It’s good for my customers, and it’s good for me.
Q. What do you think of the pawnbroking shows on television?
A. I’ve spent my life trying to legitimize my business, and then the reality shows come on. Some of them are kind of fun, and I get more calls because of them. But Hardcore Pawn is my worst nightmare. This guy is awful. He lies to customers. He cheats them. It drives me crazy.
Q. Tell me about a memorable customer.
A. Noel had some mental challenges, a low IQ. He was a nice man, very simple. He ended up in a shelter, where he met Marie. She was also low IQ, and she was very sweet. One day, he’s dressed a little nicer. He borrows on Marie’s bracelet and says they are going to city hall and getting married. I asked him what they were going to do after. He says, “Not much.” I told him to come back to the store. I go to the bakery up the street and say, “You’ve got to make me a wedding cake, fast.” She put together a little tiered cake and we had a cake-cutting ceremony at the store for Noel and Marie.
Q. Have you ever pawned anything?
A. No, I have never needed to. I’ve been really fortunate and I feel an obligation to make sure that we as a company give back to the community. Through our Empire Loan Charitable Foundation, we recently pledged $125,000 to the Mattapan Community Health Center for its new construction. It’s a beautiful space
By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / May 30, 2010
As soon as his boys could walk, Francis “Fuzzy’’ Hector took them on airplanes at Air Force bases. He wanted them to stand inside the belly of a transport and get that rumbling feeling in their own bellies.
“Man,’’ Derek Hector was saying, “my brother Chris and I, we went to air bases all over the place when we were kids.’’
They called him Fuzzy because he was fast.
“My dad ran track for Boston English,’’ Derek Hector said, “and he could fly.’’
Then World War II broke out and Fuzzy Hector really did fly. He went to train in Alabama as one of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American warriors deemed good enough to be part of an elite Army Air Corps unit, but not good enough to be considered the equal of a white man. Fuzzy Hector was a gunner and a radio operator.
After the war, Fuzzy Hector came back to the South End and raised two boys with his wife, the lovely Edna. He went to college and worked as an account executive for a liquor distributor for 30 years. And he kept telling all the other Tuskegee Airmen he would see around Boston that they had to do something, that they couldn’t leave their history to somebody else.
So they formed a local chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen and they would go into the schools and talk to the kids, and they would get together, old soldiers, and tell war stories, and whenever a Tuskegee Airman would die, Fuzzy and the boys would be there, at attention, snapping a final salute to a Lonely Eagle.
Fuzzy and Edna were married for 50 years when he died in 1998. Tuskegee Airmen, old black men in gray slacks, blue blazers, and ties the bright red color of their airplane tales, lined Charles Street AME Church and saluted Fuzzy Hector one last time.
“When my dad died, Chris really was the one who had to take care of things, take care of my mom, look after my dad’s affairs,’’ said Derek Hector, who had moved West in 1992, eventually to Chicago, where he worked as a tailor.
Chris Hector had to take care of himself, too, and that wasn’t easy after Vietnam. He had joined the Air Force, because of and in tribute to his father.
“The doctors said he was exposed to Agent Orange, and he had other problems,’’ Derek Hector said. “When he got out of the service, he had health problems the rest of his life.’’
Chris Hector got a job in the post office and that’s where he was working when Mike Goldstein first met him. Goldstein runs Empire Loan in the South End, and Chris Hector would come in to pawn jewelry.
One day, after his dad died, Chris Hector walked in and said he wanted to pawn his father’s Tuskegee Airmen ring, a heavy gold band with a blue stone.
“He told me about the history of it, about his father, about the Tuskegee Airmen,’’ Goldstein said. “I knew he was just borrowing against it, because in all the years I knew him he had never lost anything to foreclosure, and he certainly wasn’t going to lose his father’s ring. He pawned it dozens of times, over a six-year period, and he always paid back the loan and got the ring back.’’
Five years ago, Chris Hector stopped making payments on the last loan, for $150, that he took against the ring. In fact, he just stopped coming in.
He stopped coming in because he got sick and died. This took Goldstein months to find out. Goldstein was entitled to sell the ring or scrap it, but he couldn’t do it.
“I held that thing in my hand and it felt like history,’’ he said. “I just wanted to give it back to the family.’’
Goldstein put the ring in a safe and tried to find the family. He left a message with Edna Hector, but its significance didn’t register, and so the ring sat in a safe at the corner of Washington and East Berkeley streets for the last five years.
“It was one of those things, I just put it on the back burner and I figured I’d get to it some day, and the months passed and the years passed,’’ Mike Goldstein said.
Then one day he was reading Lena Horne’s obituary, and there was a story about how when Horne went overseas to sing during World War II, German POWs got better seats than African-American soldiers. Mike Goldstein thought of Fuzzy Hector’s ring again. He was sitting in his office and he looked at the calendar and saw Memorial Day was coming up and he knew he had to do something.
Mike Goldstein is a pawnbroker, not a detective, so he asked the people at his advertising agency, Mittcom, if they had any ideas. One of the supervisors, Alicia Pensarosa, started looking around and found Willie Shellman, president of the New England chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen. All she had to do was say the name Fuzzy.
A couple of days ago, Derek Hector went back to the South End for the first time in so many years he couldn’t remember.
“I remember it as Dover Street, not East Berkeley,” he said.
Then he walked into Empire Loan and Mike Goldstein handed him his father’s ring. He told Mike Goldstein he had given him a piece of his father back.
“This is the only thing of my dad’s that I have,” Derek Hector said.
Edna Hector is dying, and Derek Hector is back in town, taking care of her in her last days. Derek Hector put the ring in his pocket and went to see his mother.
“Mom,” he said, “I got dad’s ring back.”
“That’s nice,” Edna Hector said. “You know, Chris has got to be more careful with your father’s things.”