Nic Wienandt loved sports and like just about every other kid who grew up in the late 1980s and early 90s, he collected sports cards while growing up in northeastern Wisconsin.
His career path took him down a couple of different roads but he never thought his old collection would someday launch an entirely new venture, born out of a worldwide pandemic.
Wienandt was in his late 30s when COVID pumped the brakes on his photography business. A married father of young twin girls, things were looking a bit unsettled.
“I didn’t have any other income stream. I said ‘I’ve got to do something to feed my family’ otherwise my business isn’t going to be here.”
Wienandt had heard of a percolating resurgence in the sports card hobby and decided to dig into his closet to reacquaint himself with his old collection. He was an avid sports fan who had collected as a kid but hadn’t done much of anything with his cards since he had tucked them away nearly 30 years earlier.
A collector in the junk wax era and slightly beyond, he had enough material to keep him busy for a while.
“I found my cards in my closet and I sat there for like eight hours and sorted them out, looking them up on eBay. The next day, I started a business. I put a post on Facebook, just to all of my friends and family.” The idea was to buy any collections he could find.
“I think I bought about six collections in a month.”
Wienandt went from having about 25,000 of his own cards to over 100,000 cards in just a few weeks.
He also began buying boxes at retail stores so he could learn about what the current cards–and the hobby itself–had become. Things had most definitely changed since he was 12 but the outlets to sell had exploded.
He started posting cards for sale on eBay, Facebook Marketplace and on social media.
“It was going well. I knew there was a lot of potential in it.”
There hadn’t been a dedicated sports card shop in the immediate area since 2017. Prior to opening his photo studio, Wienandt had spent 15 years working in sales for a software company so knew a little about the business world and wondered if the time might be right to fill the void.
“My dad was an entrepreneur who had a couple of different businesses and I learned a lot just by watching while I was growing up,” he recalled.
The photography studio was active again but Wienandt kept buying and selling and his online sales were booming. His mom began helping him list cards on eBay–lots of them. “That transformed us. We went from a couple hundred listings to more than 4,000 in a couple of months.”
He put the profits from his online sales toward a brick-and-mortar nest egg.
One day, after parking his car outside the studio, he looked down the street and noticed a building located just a few doors down was for sale. The wheels began to turn and he called the property owner.
“From that moment, I just fixated on ‘we’re going to open a shop.’ And then it was really just ramping up and trying to buy things that I think people would turn around and purchase from me.”
Cardboard Legacy opened in July on Oregon Street, not far from Oshkosh Arena, home of the Wisconsin Herd, the Milwaukee Bucks’ G League team.
There had been a few different shops in the area since the 1990s, including a couple that had fairly long runs but closed for a variety of reasons.
“Most of the previous shop owners have been in here to wish me well or buy some stuff so that’s cool,” Wiendandt said. His store is dedicated strictly to cards.
His mom helps out often and Wienandt has a small group of local young people who sort cards or do other things to help out, usually in return for store credit.
With the help of some nearby friends in the hobby, he began connecting with those who could supply him with products collectors would be looking for. While he found a Wisconsin company that makes supplies, getting products from card makers like Topps and Panini have been a different story.
“I still don’t have any real distribution. I don’t get any wholesale from anywhere. You have to spend like a half million dollars to even get on the list to do pre-orders so that’s kind of nuts.”
As many new shop owners in North America have discovered, acquiring cases and boxes to sell isn’t easy. With online breakers and giant online sellers getting a large share of product, newcomers have a tough time being able to acquire product at low enough price points to make a profit. It means making contacts and being creative in acquiring merchandise to sell.
“It was a giant uphill churn to get to this point but now I find out there’s another hill in front of me to get distribution but I’m using nine or ten different channels to get my product in,” Wienandt said. “People message me on Instagram, ‘Hey I’ve got a case of this, would you be interested?’ and I’ll just ask for their best price.”
He also had to find out which products would be the most popular to stock. He had been an avid basketball card collector as a youngster and loved the older cards of guys named Wilt, Oscar, Jerry, Kareem and Pete and made sure the shop had some of them in stock, but it mattered more what his customers would want.
“Football is the number one interest but the number one seller is baseball. I think it’s price point related because most Hobby boxes for baseball are sub-$200. I don’t get into Pokemon or any of that stuff even though it’s probably a good business. I don’t know anything about it so I don’t have any passion for it.”
That frenzied boom period of late 2021 had cooled by the time the shop opened, but Wienandt was convinced that there was long term success if things were done the right way.
“The focus before we even opened was building a community of collectors. If you have enough like-minded people, you can probably build a business that can sustain itself through whatever economic downturn that happens. The trick of it all is keeping people interested.”
He does that through social media content in several places, in-store only breaks and offering his shop as a place to drop off cards for grading and helps with all elements of the process. A customer had recently come in with a 2003 Chrome Gold X-fractor Tom Brady 1/1 redemption card that was still in the original Topps case. Wienandt took care of the grading submission process, carefully removing the card from the case, wiping away some 19-year-old dust and sending it off to PSA. It was recently graded a Mint 9.
“The customer doesn’t know yet. He’s going to be ecstatic.”
He does a weekly prize giveaway as well and tries to serve as a middleman when necessary.
“I’m not afraid of ordering a case for someone and just taking a few dollars off the top instead of trying to throw it on my shelf. I try to help anybody who wants to get cards and fill that need.”
He tries to stay competitively priced with current boxes and keeping the newest material on the shelf, even if his lack of distribution channels means he has to carry a lot of retail boxes.
The shop carries single cards, boxes and supplies with plans to continue adding inventory heading into the winter months when collecting can be a big help to get through the long stretches of cold, icy roads and snow.
In a smaller city especially, selling online is a vital part of revenue generation and the Cardboard Legacy eBay store currently has over 4,000 listings
Operating a store–even as a secondary business–means spare time is at a premium but Wienandt has rediscovered the passion for cards he once had and the enjoyment he gets out of helping others do the same, regardless of their age.
“No regrets at all. Life is a busy thing for me.”