Reality bites

By Caro U. Rock

Although I am not a fan of reality TV shows, my son Tom coaxed me into watching a favorite of his—Pawn Stars, a hugely popular American reality show on the History Channel. Pawn Stars, which takes place in Las Vegas, stars the Harrison family, who run the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. It basically is a 24-hour family business led by patriarch Richard Harrison; it has been operating for 24 years.

Harrison, his son Rick, and Rick’s son Corey, along with Corey’s friend Austin “Chumlee” Russell, wrangle over the price of objects with customers who want to either sell or pawn the items. Frequently, the items have interesting historical value, and a local expert is brought in to determine the authenticity and appraise its worth.

According to Nielsen, 9 million to 10 million Americans tune in each week to watch the trials and tribulations of this family in business. The challenges faced by small businesses such as the pawn shop are basically the same as those confronting larger family companies, although their management style and governance may differ. Issues addressed on the show include how they relate to each other, manage their family and employees, and plan for the future.

Pawn Stars spawned other family business reality shows such as American Restoration, featuring antiques restorer Rick Dale, wife Kelly Mayer, younger brother Ron Dale, son Tyler Dale, stepson Brettly Otterman and staff. Kelly handles the finances, budgets and payroll, while Rick and Ron select the items to be restored and Tyler and Brettly learn the restoration trade.

In addition to restoration challenges, the show exposes complex family issues. Topics such as motivating and mentoring the next generation and setting compensation are often discussed in between sandblasting and hand-painting. Tempers flare, mainly because of the stress of being filmed for TV while negotiating these sensitive family issues. However, by the end of each episode, conflicts are resolved and the business continues. 

Apparently, exposing the family dynamics to millions of viewers has had a positive effect on these businesses. Duck Commander, a Louisiana maker of duck calls, saw a huge increase in sales after the debut of reality show Duck Dynasty. Owner Willie Robertson sold 300,000 duck calls after the A&E show aired in 2012, compared with 60,000 in 2011.

While my son did not convert me to a regular viewer, I did enjoy the camaraderie and banter, and actually learned a few more lessons about family business. However, I cautioned him that many family issues aren’t as easily wrapped up Hollywood style, and it often takes an expert working with the family to settle discord.



Copyright 2013 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permssion from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

Article categories: 
September/October 2013

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