ALBEMARLE & Bond has hailed “the age of the pawnbroker” as it unveiled plans to open new stores in 2012.

The company, which has branches under the Albemarle & Bond and Herbert Brown brands – including one at King Street in Huddersfield – will launch 25 new stores over the next 12 months.

Albemarle & Bond opened 25 new stores during the last financial year and reported its 20th consecutive year of growth.

It said it was reaping the benefits of high street banks tightening their lending criteria and making it harder for people to borrow in a straightforward and inexpensive way.

Its 2012 growth plans will see the creation of more than 300 jobs across the country as it extends its portfolio to more than 175 retail stores and 42 Herbert Brown gold buying sites.

With a new management team now in post for more than a year, the company believes 2012 will herald the ‘age of the pawnbroker’, when the industry finally shakes off the misconceptions that surround it.

Chief executive Barry Stevenson said: “The pawnbroking industry has worked hard to change its image over recent years and people outside our existing customer base are now starting to understand how we work and recognise the value of the services we offer – it truly is the age of the pawnbroker.

“Since the recession, retail rates for high street locations have finally returned to a sensible level which allows us to be where our services are needed.

“However, compared to places like the USA, the pawnbroking market here is still drastically under-served.

“We intend to address that through our expansion into new locations and by developing new channels to help people access our services more easily.”

Said Mr Stevenson: “With fewer people able to get credit through the banks, pawnbroking has an opportunity to play an increasingly important role in many people’s finances, whether they need some quick cash to get the car through its MOT or run a business and need some cash to tide them over until a customer pays.”

In addition to pawnbroking and gold buying, the company sells high-quality new and pre-owned gold and silver jewellery in its stores, as well as offering a range of other financial services including pay day advances and Speedloans.