By Andrea Swayne
Gems N’ Loans
34291 Doheny Park Road
Gems N’ Loans owner Mack Hembree opened his sixth store in the Doheny Village area of Dana Point in October, attracted to the city as an ideal location for introducing his upscale pawnbroker, jewelry and loan business to Orange County.
In business for 22 years, Gems N’ Loans stores have primarily been located in San Diego County and Temecula. The stores carry items from high-quality estate jewelry, diamonds, Rolex watches and coins to vintage and new musical instruments. Staff members are accredited jewelry professionals, knowledgeable in the sale and purchase of fine jewels, gold and silver.
“Because the word pawn shop in some people’s mind is negative, my goal when starting this business was to prove otherwise by offering nice merchandise, excellent service and great prices. We pride ourselves on carrying unique items you won’t find any place else and will meet or beat anyone else’s gold purchase price.”
Hembree, who had a career as a real estate broker before starting Gems N’ Loans, said one of the biggest contributing factors to his company’s success is his employees.
“I spend a lot of time recruiting and screening to find the right people,” Hembree said. “I search for employees who fit well within our company culture, which is built around the type of people who enjoy building relationships with customers, making shopping with us an enjoyable experience.”
Although Hembree continues to man the helm of Gems N’ Loans, about a year ago he converted the company over to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, or ESOP, technically making it an employee-owned company.
“I have some very loyal employees who have worked for me for a long time doing a very good job but don’t have any retirement plan,” Hembree said. “And because Social Security doesn’t pay much, I wanted them to have a solid financial future. It’s an exit strategry for myself as well because I’m looking at retiring within the next three to five years. The employees will buy me out and they will have a retirement program they didn’t have to put any money into, just their work, with no out-of-pocket expense.”
The ESOP has turned out to be an excellent employee retention and recruiting tool, Hembree added.
“I highly recommend the ESOP to other small businesses,” he said. “It’s working really well for us. If any other small biz owners in the area would like to talk about it, I’d be happy to share information with them. It’s a win-win for the employer and employee.”
The store’s loan program is offered as a confidential service and is in the process of adding an exclusive separate entrance, reserved parking and high security for loan customers.
“I opened in Dana Point because I fell in love with the location but also because I want to continue to grow the business, to increase share value so the employees will have something to look forward to,” he said. “We operate as a high-end pawn broker and know that even in a community such as this—largely middle class and upper middle class—many people experience a cash crunch and not everyone has credit acceptable to banks. We say we make it easier to get $500 to $5,000 in five minutes.”