ELKO -- Jeni-Lei Powell’s credentials as a business woman are impressive. Not only does she hold a master’s degree in business management, as well as state and federal licenses, she also has the hard-earned experience of 30 years in the pawn industry.
She opened her first pawn shop in 1989 in Utah.
“I researched it, and found out what it took and started it up. I was a mother of two kids and still going to college to get a degree in business and started the business and away we went.”
She often jokes that she made her first million and became homeless all in the same year.
“But that’s OK. I tell the people, even when we do the pawns, I have been on that side, so I know what it is. But I also know how to run a business.”
Although she has her business degree, she says the degree doesn’t help with the running of a pawn shop. It’s more a combination of business smarts and experience that makes the pawn shop work.
Growing up, Powell never had a lot of money.
“My mom always took us shopping to the secondhand store … I haven’t gotten out of that, going to secondhand stores, going to garage sales. Something about it just – if you enjoy it, you enjoy it and it’s just what you do. I don’t have a whole lot of things that I can say I’ve purchased brand new. I purchased a vehicle brand new and hated every minute of it.”
Powell has run Ruby Mountain Pawn for 21 years. She loves the business because she gets to help people.
“From everything that I’ve done, I’ve learned that every struggle I have had, every bad thing that I have survived … has happened to me because at some point I have had an opportunity to help someone else realize that you can make it through something. Don’t think of it as an end-all, think of it as a way to refocus. From that it’s your choice where you’re going to move.”
To keep moving Powell tries to keep learning, whether it’s at Great Basin College or a small seminar.
“People are always asking me, ‘What are you doing in this class?’ Well, the world is changing faster … while I am sitting in my business so focused on my business. Go back out, see what they’re teaching.”
Another way she uses her experience to give back is by sending care packages to those who need encouragement. Purple Provider LLC is a group that “even though it is a business it is philanthropic.” Powell said the group sends care packages to people going through cancer treatment or any long term illness, to our troops, and also “to families with recent baby angels.”
Purple Provider is “almost nine years strong. We started out as the Live Rude Girls!. Our first year out as Live Rude Girls! we raised a little over $10,000 for the POW-MIA. We were not an official group. We just kinda hung out and did this stuff in our community. And then we found the next little group.”
After five years many of her volunteers began to burn out. She decided that instead of giving up on the organization she wanted to find a way to keep going.
“So I reinvented,” she said. “And away we went.”