WICHITA — A down economy means business is up for A-OK Enterprises, and owner Bruce Harris has big expansion plans.
“The economy has been very poor, and because of that, people are changing the way they’re shopping, and they’re buying a lot of stuff from me,” he says of his four A-OK Pawn Shops.
All of his businesses — the pawn shops, 12 check-cashing sites, two jewelry stores and two cell phone stores — are doing well.
“In the past year, we’ve doubled our business in the collateral loan business,” Harris says.
As banks turn away business, Harris says people needing money turn to his pawn shops.
Also, gold is at an all-time high of $1,400 an ounce.
“That’s unheard of,” Harris says.
He says $400 an ounce was the average price for the last 20 years.
“It’s helping the consumers.”
Two years ago, Harris had 70 employees throughout his businesses. Now he has 107, and he expects to have more than 200 within a year.
He plans to expand in several ways.
Harris in the process of doubling the size of two Cricket stores he owns.
He’s also looking to open two new pawn shops in Wichita.
“What I have, it just works.”
Harris is close to deals on new space but isn’t ready to share details.
“Not that I can talk about or the price will go up.”
Then, Harris plans to expand to Hutchinson, Salina and El Dorado in the new year.
In the meantime, he’s starting expansions at his existing shops.
Harris already created a center near Harry and Oliver for his 10,000-square-foot pawn shop, jewelry store, cash center and Cricket store.
He plans to do the same with his store near Central and Ridge.
He’s building a new building behind his existing 8,000-square-foot shop, then he’ll tear down the old shop and use that space for parking. He’ll then add more space on the new shop for a total of 28,000 square feet.
Harris has similar plans for his store near Harry and Broadway. It’s already 30,000 square feet, but when Harris bought it a couple of years ago, he promised himself he’d tear down the Quonset hut if business did well.
“So now I have to eat my words.”
Harris believes it will pay off, though.
“What I’ve learned in my industry is if you put in a brand new retail store, your business will grow like crazy,” he says. “It’s more comfortable to go into. It’s more like a retail store. . . . We’re becoming more mainstream.”
It’s a long way from when he started a one-man shop at Kellogg and Bluff 29 years ago.
Harris credits a night class on entrepreneurship he took from Fran Jabara at Wichita State University for inspiring him.
“I thought, man, I want to go start my own business,” Harris says. “He got me so excited about doing it, that’s what I did.”
Harris thinks other business owners need to think along more entrepreneurial lines in this economy.
“If you want the way it’s always been . . . you ain’t gonna get it,” he says.
“When they get over complaining about it and see what they can do, this is a tremendous opportunity right now.”