Imagine moving into a dilapidated chapel with no water, no drainage, and no permit to change its structural plan to convert it into a livable home. To many people this sounds like a nightmare but to Drew Pritchard, it was a dream. At 25, Drew invested everything he had into an old chapel, and spent the next two decades working to transform the dump into a collector’s heaven. 20 years later, the once run-down chapel had become a unique marvel that had buyers ringing their agents’ phones off the hook to get them in for a viewing, and put down offers. Drew had done what he does best. With his eye for valuable antiques, he’d collected unique pieces from all over the world, from Mick Jagger’s lavatory to on-theme religious relics, and co-ordinated them to create an interior design masterpiece. Drew’s remarkable ability to spot, restore and sell valuable vintage items, has earned him a seat in the antiques dealing industry and a spot as the host of “Salvage Hunters.” After a long stint buying and reselling antiques on television, Drew’s role in the show is uncertain after a series of unexpected shake-ups. So, what happened to Drew in “Salvage Hunters”, and what is he doing now?
The Rise of the Junkyard Genius
Growing up, children do not know what they want to be as adults – it’s not until college that most people discover what they want to do with their lives. Drew was lucky to discover his passion in his childhood. He was raised in Glan Conwy, where he would buy, restore and sell his first property. His father, a painter and sign writer, was passionate about art, and passed the passion down to his son. Drew learned perspective, form, and scale from his father, and honed his skills through their regular trips to museums, but went a different direction with his art. He fell in love with collecting antiques, and couldn’t understand people’s need to buy new things when they could simply buy old ones.
By the time Drew was 15, he was already dreaming, and drawing up plans to open an antique store. He was lucky to have supportive parents who let him go on a quest to collect things for the store he intended to open. A year later, Drew opened a store. He restored the premises himself, and started the empire that would take him all over the world in search of treasure in a few years. Although Drew had polished his natural ability to spot valuable antiques, he still needed to learn about the process of restoring them. He enrolled at a trade school, where he learned how to restore stained glass. By the time he turned 23, he was running a fully-fledged business in Conwy. In just two years, Drew had acquired his first home, a chapel, which he spent the next 20 years restoring, using pieces he collected from different parts of the world as he sourced pieces for his shop.
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As Drew’s business grew, so did his clientele. Before long, he was catering to wealthy collectors and celebrities, including celebrity chef and famous collector Marco Pierre White and Ralph Lauren. His rise in the antiques business didn’t go unnoticed by veterans in the industry and it was only a matter of time before the media caught on and gave Drew the nickname “the junkyard genius.” Drew wears the name proudly, and doesn’t shy away from an opportunity to sift through people’s junk and scraps in search of rare gems.
The United Kingdom is the second largest market for antiques behind the United States, making up 18% of the global trade in art and antiques. Drew’s rare talent had television networks knocking on the doors of his restored business premises, with offers of a television show to cater to the ready audience. He relented in 2011, and signed a deal with the Discovery Network for a television program dubbed “Salvage Hunters.”
The show has a basic premise, similar to antique collection shows such as “American Pickers.” Drew Pritchard and his friend and colleague John Tee travel around the world in search of antiques with resale or sentimental value. Drew uses his charm and knowledge of antiques to identify the items, estimate their value, and negotiate the prices while Tee, who doubles as the driver, loads the collectibles into the van. Back in Conwy, Drew works with a talented crew of restorers who clean, restore, polish, and photograph the antiques for sale. Each episode ends with calculations showing the profit realized from the sale of each antique. Over the years, the show has delivered several spin-offs as its audience grew, becoming the highest-rated show on the Discovery network in the UK.
Drew and his crew have worked together for 10 years, delivering 17 seasons of the show to eager fans in and beyond the UK. However, in July 2023, one of the show’s main cast members announced that he was leaving. The network, cast, and fans of “Salvage Hunters” were shocked when Tee, Drew’s long-time friend and companion during his local and overseas trips in search of antiques, announced his departure, just a few months after another team member’s exit from the show. In September 2022, expert upholsterer Craig Hughesleft the show citing a rise in costs, and growing competition from mass producers, who are manufacturing products that have an antique aesthetic, prompting potential customers to prefer the cheaper mass-produced items over valuable and restored antiques.
Drew fears that the competition that drove Craig out of the show, and threatens to drive him and other restorers out of business poses a real threat to his business and the entire antique industry. In a recent interview, Drew called out daytime antique shows for watering down the industry, adding that they had turned the business into an auction model rather than the traditional dealer model. Amid the exodus of long-term cast members from the show, and increasing competition from different fronts, fans are worried about the future of “Salvage Hunters” and its team, including Drew.
Out with the Old
The uncertainty over Drew’s future in “Salvage Dealers” is just one of the major changes that have happened in his business in the past few years. In 2022, he closed his antiques store in Conwy after running it for five years, an anchor business that brought tourists and antique enthusiasts to the city. Drew promised to set up a bigger business elsewhere, but is yet to announce the location of the new shop. Fortunately, he has continued to sell his wares online, as he plans the expansion of his business. He’s maintained the same quality he offered at his physical location,n by sourcing pieces from the 17th to 21st centuries that are original, well-designed, and are either completely untouched, or have only exchanged hands a few times.
Lessons from an Antique Dealer
As fans wait to learn the status of “Salvage Hunters” and Drew’s role in the show, all they can do to feed their passion for antiques and unique finds is rewatch old seasons or read Drew’s books. In his two books, “Man with a Van: My Story”, and “How Not to Be an Antiques Dealer,” Drew shares his tips on the business, from finding antiques to negotiating, restoring, and selling them to turn a profit. For now, Drew is enjoying the thrill of finding new pieces for his business since, as he likes to say, his work becomes more enjoyable the more he does it.