To welcome our very first stockist, we caught up with Glen Napier, owner of Newly Defined & African Pickers. Based in Heidelberg in the Western Cape, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place for treasure hunting and we’re very excited that you will now be able to pick up a copy of Slow Drive at this (massive) antique store while on your road trip up the coast!
You are originally from Cape Town, how did you end up in Heidelberg?
My folks retired to Heidelberg so we have been visiting the town for some time. Prior to living in Cape Town I grew up in Knysna when it was still a relatively small town so the idea and childhood memory of a small town has always been present and something I wanted my family to experience and appreciate. So we made the call, then the premises where Newly Defined operates from became an option – skip a few hurdles and here we are!
How did Newly Defined & African Pickers start?
There is a definition of Innovation which reads: “Innovation is the process of putting together known elements in a different way to meet a newly defined need”. Having grown up in a woodworking environment, I am very lucky to have the very unique combination of being a Fitter & Turner and an Interior Designer. Newly Defined started in 2001, I had the office corporate job and on weekends and evenings I used to box frame old tools and any other interesting items accessible to me. I also used to do small design jobs and installations, in 2005 I opened my first shop in Muizenberg, Cape Town but closed down in 2007 due to lack of funds. Oops! So I had to become an employee again! I still operated on the side and introduced African Pickers in 2010 focusing on the antiques and collectables mixed in with my own work. The experience, passion and love I have for what I do reopened here in Heidelberg, October 2013 …
How did you find this space in Heidelberg, what was it before? How big is the space?
Being a small town you would have to walk or drive past the premises and one day I saw it advertised for sale on the internet. We didn’t think much of it as our focus was elsewhere and on the move out of CT, then my dad started making enquiries and when we opened our eyes again – here it was. The premises used to be a car dealership – back in the 60’s a Ford agency, then a Toyota and by the early 90’s a Nissan agency (maybe not exactly like that but you get the idea). By the time it came onto the market it was being run as a second hand car dealership – a showroom up front, offices in the middle and the workshop (for servicing etc) at the back. All of this under an 800 square meter structure allows me plenty of room to showcase all of the stock, my own workshop and a swimming pool where my wife teaches swimming! Every morning when I open up, I am so taken away by how awesome my shop is that I literally say out loud “Good morning Newly Defined!” Haha!
Without giving away your secrets, how do you go about finding new pieces?
I try and stick to a formula but it never works, one needs to be so disciplined when buying in this industry because what I like doesn’t necessarily mean that you will like it – I learnt that the hard way! But having such a big space also allows me to take some risk in what I buy, which is a good thing (if it sells). The internet has its advantages and disadvantages too, I can place on-line bids which is cool but a private collector can demand higher prices from seeing what is on offer blowing a dealer out of the water. Some days good stock will come off the street/walk-ins, auctions are always good fun with cheap coffee and oily food but for me it is all about the scratching and picking. Spotting that one piece in-amongst the thorns and yes, the roses! If you know what I mean?
Do you often have to restore pieces? Or do you prefer buying items that are in a good condition already?
I do a lot of restoration, for me the more the better! I have learnt and gained so much experience from being forced to do it myself that I can identify the necessary with and in a realistic approach.
How do you keep track of everything in the shop?
I keep quite a detailed stock inventory, my code system can tell me when and where it was purchased. At the moment I have approximately 1600 items coded but having said that, any job or business ? if you love it you remember it!
What are the items that people are always on the looking for when they walk in here?
This is a very common question and it is one I struggle to answer, every day someone is looking for something different. Off the top of my head though, the top 5 would be: Signage, Afrikaner memorabilia, Silver and Vintage toys. Let’s make it 6 – 6 being my works !!
Do you find that younger people are interested in the pieces that you stock? You know, like typewriters, record players and film cameras – in a sort of misplaced nostalgia for an era they may vaguely remember before everything turned digital?
Big time, a lot of my focus is the younger generation! I find that there is a big void between the two generations considering all of the changes in the past let’s say 60 years. For example, the older generation will focus on a Stinkwood chair circa 1880s and they grew up typing letters on a typewriter (maybe I am stereotyping it a tad but certainly not knocking it!). Then as you mentioned, I go and sell a typewriter to a 23-year-old who has never used one. That is their Stinkwood chair! And I’m just grateful to be in the middle with a massive appreciation, respect and love for the two.
Do you ever get customers who have travelled from far to visit your shop specifically? Or do people mostly find it by chance?
International visitors are pretty frequent but unfortunately they can’t squeeze a 1920s egg incubator into hand luggage! I do get customers that drive down from CT on a Sunday requesting that I open up for them. I have signage on both sides of town on the N2 which helps tremendously. My clientele base is continuously growing: social media and a decent phone does go a long way. My goal is to create the destination, I have recently relooked at my goals and plan, which sums up my new slogan: Emporium Van Nostalgia, a destination of stock specific & design?
If you were to do a road trip through South Africa to find unique antique items, which towns would feature on your list? Why?
I am 200% pro South African, every one of our towns boasts South African architecture, design and culture. Never drive past or through one of them thinking it will have nothing to offer. I have found pieces in the smallest and biggest of them all. As for the list? Somewhere over there, a little to the right, more to the left, up, down… Haha!
Interview: Nadia Krige
Photos: Guillaume Marais