Aaron Harris for the Toronto Star
Case Studies

Toronto pawnshop tries to lure younger, urban customers with digital marketing

Vital Stats
James McTamney and Company Inc.
Chris Shortt
139 Church St, Toronto, M5B 1Y4
416-366-9646, info@McTamneys.com
Jewelers and pawnbrokers
154 years
Buying, selling and loans

A lot has changed since James McTamney and Company Inc. opened its doors in 1860.

Though the company still specializes in handling loans and jewelry, and still occupies the same storefront on Church St. where it has sat for almost a century, online shopping and big box stores now threaten the longstanding jeweler and pawnbroker shop.

In an effort to meet the demands of a changing marketplace, Floreen Shortt — vice president of McTamney’s and wife of Christopher Shortt, James McTamney’s great-grandson — has been working vigilantly to attract a new generation of customers.

Though she’s had no formal training in marketing or digital media, Shortt proudly explains that she graduated from “the university of life,” and has spent countless hours reading books, attending seminars and workshops, speaking with experts and dedicating herself to learning everything there is to know about finding customers in the digital age.

At 59 years old, she describes herself as a “granny-geek,” maintaining the company’s website, Facebook page, LinkedIn profile, Pintrest page, and Twitter account.

In spite of her efforts over the last two years, McTamney’s still has under 100 followers on most of their social media channels. Shortt is struggling to build and maintain an active online community, a feat that has become increasingly expensive and time consuming.

“Having social media is like having a second store,” she says.

Shortt adds that part of the problem was poor timing, as Facebook began charging more for advertising around the time that she created a page for the store.

But catering to that new demographic has become vital for McTamney’s, as their clientele changes from the older and affluent to the younger condo-dwellers that now occupy much of the Church and Queen neighbourhood — and from walkins to online shoppers, with plans to start selling on eBay.

While jewelry remains a focal point, the rest of McTamney’s offerings have evolved from land deeds, fur coats and silver tea sets, to guitars and electronics.

Shortt recently built a website to give the company a “fresher and more youthful face,” but realizes that won’t be enough.

“The great thing about social media is the ability to amplify a story, a brand message, and what I would tell McTamney’s is that they have a brand with a ton of historical equity in the city,” says Ira Haberman, director of marketing for Atomic Reach, a Toronto-based content marketing and scoring engine, which aims to predict the success of online marketing campaigns before they’re launched.

Haberman, whose father used to supply McTamney’s with jewelry display boxes, is very familiar with the Toronto-institution, and recommends building an online community based around the history of the company, the characters that work there and the interesting items they acquire.

“I would begin a series of storytelling on the site and through social media, and continue that story telling on a regular basis,” he says. “If they’re able to understand who their audience is and the types of customers that come to their store and tailor their content and their story towards those people under this idea of brand equity and the heritage of the brand, that has a lot of potential.”

Shortt often promotes the company’s history in her social media messaging, but with plans to semi-retire in the near future, she says she can’t simply hire someone else to tell her family’s story.

“You have to really know the business. You can’t come in as a new person and start tweeting and pinning,” says Shortt, who occasionally gets help from some of her younger employees. “You really have to be part of the family and that whole connection to who we are, what we’re about and where we’re headed.”

For now Shortt hopes she can find a new salesperson that can take over for her son, Jeff Shortt, providing him the time he need to preserve the family business’s story online, but finding a new salesperson presents its own challenges.

“It’s not an easy task to get someone to respond to a pawnbroker (job posting), because there’s that Hollywood image of who we are, so it’s not easy to recruit here,” she says. “We almost have to go out and handpick our people.”

The business also requires highly specialized skills. Shortt’s 15 staff is comprised of gemologists, sporting goods experts, electronics and computer salespeople, and appraisers, among others. Between the staff they speak a combined nine languages, as well as American sign language. Some employees have been in the business for as much as 40 years, while others are recent university graduates.

“Moving into social media swiftly was very difficult because we have staff who have been here 35, 40 years, and they’re not exactly the Facebook people. Some don’t even have email,” she said.

But like all things at McTamney’s — from the staff to the store itself to the items sold within — Shortt hopes the next generation will continue to find that balance between a respect for the old and an embrace of the new.


As Interviewed by: Rosemary Westwood

McTamney’s long, rich history in Toronto allows the brand some advantages over competitors. Consumers are loyal to brands that have personal meaning for them, positive associations, and genuine authenticity. The challenge is getting the brand message to its target market. Social media is great for storytelling, dialogue and relationships with potential consumers. For McTamney’s however, social media might not be as relevant to their specific target market (urban Torontonian bargain hunters of any age?). Determining the target market is a process called ‘STP’ — segmenting, targeting, and positioning. Segmenting requires categorizing the market in some way that is meaningful to the industry McTamney’s is in. Targeting is about picking one of those categories to focus on, while positioning is about communicating the meaning of the brand to those consumers. Once this strategy is determined, the media tactics can be selected based on where and how the target market responds to commercial messaging — such as local out-of-home billboards and transit advertising, as examples.

by Brynn Winegard - SEEC

Clearly what Floreen is doing isn’t working. I like that she’s become a “granny-geek,” but she needs professional help here. She need to hire a full-time person, maybe two: one for marketing, particularly digital marketing, and another for technical help. She needs someone to get a true media buzz marketing campaign going. To attract the downtown hipsters, she needs a new image. The current use of the brand’s history and website only reinforces the dotty old image of a pawnbroker. Leverage McTamney’s history and reputation to build an upscale brand. That will mean redoing the website — it should be interactive, with products, prices and purchasing ability. Keeping that up-to-date is a full-time job because it’s all unique pieces. In the jewelry game, she can offer a classier alternative, emphasizing museum pieces and the ability to redesign grandma’s broach, for example, into a wedding ring. To push the instrument and technology pieces, connect with the downtown club scene and bands/musicians, run campaigns aimed at them. She’s got a lot to work with here, and a lot to do.

by Deirdre Fitzpatrick - GBC

It’s common for family businesses to want to keep control of the key responsibilities within the family. They don’t often go outside to get the expertise they may need, and instead try to develop it from within. In this case, Floreen’s efforts to educate herself, while admirable, haven’t paid off. So many young people today are studying digital marketing concepts and modern business strategy, and have that expertise, and she should be looking to outsource to someone who can deliver the results she wants. However, digital marketing won’t be enough without recognizing pawnbrokers are location-based businesses, so she should develop a local promotional strategy, seeking out customers where they live, work or grab a coffee. Lastly, in the age of Kijiji and Craigslist, the younger demographic needs to be educated about the benefits of using a pawnbroker. McTamney’s should spend time and resources on developing a storyline on the value proposition. Then, the business’s history and the tradition can add a level of trustworthiness to that story.

by Steve Tissenbaum Ryerson