On the hit History Channel show American Pickers, Frank Fritz and Mike Wolfe, self described “pickers,” scour the backroads of rural America on the hunt for one-of-a-kind antiques and rarities. At Green Front furniture, Wolfe and Fritz are replaced by John Wingo and Den Cralle and the rural back roads of the United States are replaced by the gray skies and green hills of England. But their mission is the same. Find unique furniture, antiques and decor and get them back to Green Front’s U.S. customers.
On their most recent trip, they made a record breaking 13 stops in 2-and-a-half days. The weather was bitterly cold and rainy.
While Frank and Mike might rely heavily on their assistant Danielle who makes connections and researches places for them to pick, Cralle and Wingo have a different secret weapon: John Wingo’s 25-plus years of similar picking trips to the country. Over the years, Wingo has established scores of connections within the antiques and collectibles scene, and with the passage of time, those sources have become key in referring new locations and connections.
Wingo’s first trip all those years ago was facilitated through a friend who already lived in England. “I stayed lost most of the time,” he says with a chuckle.
According to Wingo, GPS has been a lifesaver. He describes the perils of navigating tiny country roads at night with only the help of a map. Not to mention the added challenge of driving on a different side of the road. These days, on-board navigation (Wingo refers to his as “Hazel”), has taken some of the difficulty out of the equation.
And once the various stops are located, there’s no telling where the goods may be stored. Although they visit a few actual retail shops, Wingo has found himself in storage facilities, sheds, garages, even hog barns. Much like their U.S. counterparts, collectors stash their treasures in a host of unique places.
Like the American pickers, the Green Front team is always looking for that special something. Wingo says he particularly keeps an eye out for things that will be useful and that will sell well, though that can be a bit difficult to anticipate. The popularity of various items varies through the years. Recently, antique English safes have been hugely popular with Green Front’s customers and Wingo makes a point to buy any he comes across.
The highlights of the trips, for both Cralle and Wingo, are the larger-than-life characters that come with the incredible finds. Eccentric types and rare collectibles seem drawn to each other and, according to Wingo, developing relationships over the years with these individuals has been the ultimate side benefit to the picking trips.
He recalls one gentleman he regularly visited on his trips, who always insisted on giving him a dozen eggs, regardless of the fact that Wingo had nowhere to store them.
“I finally stopped trying to argue with him,” Wingo says, “and just took them and put them in the back of the car.”
Once Wingo and Cralle have finished the picking process, the items are then moved to one of Green Front’s three different packing locations located throughout England to be prepped for shipment to the U.S. The long trip across the pond ends at Norfolk. Next stop: the Green Front warehouses and your home.
So while American Pickers’ Frank and Mike get the glitz and glam of a television crew following them around, Green Front quietly continues to go the extra mile – scouring the countryside to make their rare antique finds available for their customers.