H&T chief’s handling of the pawnbroking boom made him a Retail Star.

Nominations are now closed and the Hot 100 photographers are out taking shots for the Professional Jeweller Hot 100 2012 in association with The Company of Master Jewellers and supported by gold partner Ti Sento at this very minute, but those chosen won’t be unveiled until September. Until then we are looking back to the leading lights of the jewellery industry who made it into the Hot 100 2011 and today is the turn of H&T chief executive John Nicholls whose masterful grasp of the pawnbroking boom made him a Ti Sento Retail Star.

“My career in pawnbroking started with a phone call,” says John Nichols, who today oversees the running of H&T across Britain. “I was asked ‘What do you know about pawnbroking?’ and I said ‘nothing’.”


Despite his lack of knowledge, John accepted a role with H&T in 1997 and used his diverse business background, which has included stints in the air force, the leisure business and bingo, to drive H&T forward.

John’s focus at H&T has been on bringing pawnbroking up to date, modernising it for today’s market. “Like any retail offer, pawnbroking has to be attractive to the public,” he says. “You’ve got to treat it in a modern way. The pawnbroking industry is old – H&T started in 1897 – so it’s no longer about a side door next to a jewellers, it’s about open spaces and welcoming the public in.”

Fresh store designs introduced by H&T have led to a rapid increase in growth for the business and John says he will continue to push the chain forward by mirroring high street jewellery retail, not pawnbroking. “It has taken us 10 years to improve our appearance but we’ve caught up and I truly believe we have the best balance of products and service,” he says.

H&T has celebrated a record financial year to date as the company has boomed thanks to rising gold prices and the explosion of the cash-for-gold market. H&T’s retail network has expanded at a rate of knots, with 20 to 30 new stores or units opening per year.

And what does John do when he’s not putting all his energy into H&T? “I’m a hunting, shooting, fishing man, along with my three golden retrievers,” he says proudly. “I’m also a rally co-driver and have won the British Historic Rally Championships, sometimes in a Mark II Escort, sometimes in a Porsche 911. There’s nothing like going 120mph through a forest.”

This interview was taken from the Professional Jeweller Hot 100 2011. Nominations for 2012’s edition are now closed and this year’s list and photographs will be unveiled at an exclusive invite-only party at The Freemason’s Hall in London on September 4. To find out how you can get invitations as a sponsor email andrew.martyniuk@itp.com.