NAPERVILLE, Ill. (STMW) – When a pair of Naperville pawn shop owners decided to adapt their business so that it would primarily appeal to women clientele, the move paid off more than they could have ever expected.

It turned out The Learning Channel had a series in the works titled “Pawn Queens” that was looking for just this sort of shop. After reading about Naperville Jewelry & Loan’s new direction online, producers called the business and spent the month of August filming at the store’s Ogden Avenue location.

The first episode of “Pawn Queens” airs at 9 p.m. Nov. 18.

Tom Brunzelle, who opened Naperville Jewelry & Loan with business partner Greg Holloway in February of 2009, knew they would need some help if they were going to attract mainly women customers.

“We’re dudes,” he said. “We don’t know about purses and brand-name jewelry.”

And so they brought in Nikki Ruehl and Minda Grabiec, who invested their own money in the business and joined the staff.

Ruehl, of Naperville, had experience working at high-end boutiques and upscale department stores but had never worked at a pawn shop before.

“It’s a lot different in certain ways but it’s also a lot the same,” she said. “As much as I could I would also bargain with people at Neiman Marcus. I’d give a couple of different free samples if they’d buy something that day so I would make my quota.”

Her previous experience also helps Ruehl spot fakes, which Naperville Jewelry & Loan tries to avoid buying.

“Sometimes when I walk in and the guys bought something I’m like, ‘Please tell me you didn’t buy that thinking it was real because that’s a disgusting fake,’” she said.

So far, relying on such woman’s intuition seems to have paid off.

“Now my typical customer is a female, 20 to 55, who has never been in a pawn shop,” Brunzelle said.

Those first-time customers tend to come back, he added, including one Naperville woman who initially came to the shop to sell some silver jewelry and now regularly purchases or trades for other items.

To expand on this business — and in anticipation of the publicity the “Pawn Queens” series might bring if its first two trial episodes lead to a full season — Naperville Jewelry & Loan is moving next week to a space at 605 E. Ogden Ave. that is three times as big as their current location.

As for the taping of the show, Brunzelle said it was “all pro” and labor-intensive.

“It was 12 to 14-hour days, seven days a week,” he said.

Producers taped the staff working with customers and making appraisals. The first episode centers on an incident in which a $9,000 diamond ring went missing.

“It wasn’t where it was supposed to be when the customer came to collect it,” Brunzelle said. “There was like a flip-out for a day here. A lot of finger pointing.”

Brunzelle insisted that such drama “wasn’t staged. It really happened.”

For Ruehl, the taping was grueling thanks to the long hours and excessive heat. The crew used intense lights and the air conditioning couldn’t be turned on because it interfered with the sound.

“It was hot. Really, really hot,” said Ruehl. “We had to stop frequently to wipe the sweat. At one point I looked and it was 96 degrees.”

All that being said, Ruehl added, “I miss the excitement of it.”

And how does she feel about the prospect of being a Pawn Queen?

“I’m really nervous,” she said, noting she hasn’t seen any of the footage yet. “They can do anything. It’s all in the editing. I have no idea what they’re going to do.”

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2010. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)