Lifelong sports card and memorabilia collector Chuck Whisman has spent nearly three decades as an engineer and business consultant for numerous Fortune 500 companies.
When his sports card and memorabilia collection become too much to have at home, he and his wife Stacey decided to embark on two herculean tasks.
The husband and wife decided to launch Wheatland Auction Services, which runs several events each year and would become well known for handling the sale of one of the hobby’s most memorable collections. They also launched VSM Sports Card Outlet, which has evolved into a state-of-the-art sports card shop in Lancaster, PA.
The store includes a box break section, thousands of hobby-direct boxes, a grading and autograph submission center, a social media room, a vault room, a large selection of graded and ungraded cards and other memorabilia Grading submissions are brought in daily with some customers consigning them to auction and others simply buying for their personal collections.
You can watch a brief virtual tour here.
After over a decade in the industry in both services, Whisman recently spoke to SC Daily about the inspiration to launch two companies, his a lifelong passion for the hobby, the Uncle Jimmy Collection, the art of customer service and so much more.
Tony Reid–I’ve done this for quite some time now that my interview process is pretty straightforward but there is so much I wanted to cover with you its difficult to pick a place to start.
Chuck Whisman– It’s a unique situation that we have between owing the card store and a pretty big auction house and combining them both under one retail operation and auction operation. We can help customers in different ways. It doesn’t have to be the auction. They can buy things directly. They can get cards graded directly. In many cases, we are getting cards graded and auctioned for people.
TR–About a decade ago you and your wife Stacey opened Wheatland and within a week’s time you opened the brick-and-mortar business, VSM Sports Card Outlet. What was the inspiration to start one and then the other and how did it go hand in hand from the beginning?
CW-I’ve collected since I was a kid. As early as I could ride a bike there was a sports card store down the road from me outside of Philadelphia. I fell in love with collecting. I have collected all my life. I am a professional engineer by trade. I still do environmental and civil engineering consulting. Over the many years of collecting and buying and selling collections we saw an opportunity for opening an auction house that could help people though the process. In many cases there are families that might have got a collection from somebody that passed away in their family. It might be time for somebody to get rid of a collection. It doesn’t really behoove them to just sell it outright where the buyer makes the most money. We help them through the process of getting cards graded and selling them.
The inspiration was it seemed like an opportunity for a professional, customer service oriented business on both the auction side and the retail side. We decided to go full force, 100 miles per hour in starting both of them up at the same time. We thought that would be a good opportunity to help local customers in different ways. It was a successful business for many years.
We always had many ideas and talked to our customers as well. If we grew and expanded, what would the ultimate sports cards store look like? What would you want to see? What are things you have never seen in a store?
We did the whole design and layout of the store to encompass a lot of ideas from a lot of people, ourselves included.
Stacey and I both came from professional backgrounds. She was a licensed occupational therapist. We are used to a high level of ethics and customer service in the professional world and we wanted to bring that into what we were doing, whether it be selling or buying or more recently helping people grade cards that they might keep in their personal collection.
TR–The combination of a top flight auction house with auction quality items within a card shop like your newly expanded facility is a rarity. Do you hear that often?
CW-Yeah we hear that all the time. We are in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where a lot of people vacation or travel through. It seems like every day someone mentions that they have never seen a card store like this. That is what we wanted to do and with having a larger space we are able to expand what we offer, too, in every kind of sports and non-sports products as well as comics, toys and other collectibles. If a customer asks for it we can probably find it.
TR–Even the name Wheatland is paying homage to the area, Lancaster, PA and President James Buchanan’s former residence.
CW-The Wheatland House is part of downtown Lancaster. It’s a beautiful estate. There is some great history with the name. When we came up with the name years ago, we wanted to pay tribute to the region. I would say the other thing that is unique about us is that with each auction we give back to the local community. We do a lot of philanthropic work and we are very proud of how we have been able to help different organizations. We contribute a lot to Lancaster Early Education Center. We help provide scholarships for homeless and low income families that need help to get back on their feet. The scholarships help the kids have daycare so they can go back to school or get jobs so they don’t have to worry about the cost of daycare so they can get back on their feet.
TR–I have spent time in the area and I mentioned to my wife after our last visit to a bed and breakfast in the area and the image of Lancaster is farmland, Amish country and things of that nature but if you go just a few short minutes outside the farmland it feels like a big city, similar to Philadelphia. It’s such a unique area to have such a unique business.
CW-Yeah, definitely. One moment you are driving by a field plowed by horses and then you are still surrounded with shops and restaurants you would have in any large city. They are helping to make everything else a good experience.
TR-I’m sure there are hundreds of examples but who is the most memorable customer you’ve helped recently?
CW-I remember a nice old woman in her 80s. She came in with a Sandy Koufax rookie card a couple of years ago. She said her husband passed away three years prior. She was finally ready to sell his favorite card. He paid $300 for it and that’s all she wanted. I told her I would love to give her $300 for it but if she trusted me let’s get it graded and then auction it. I thought it should grade well. I think it graded a PSA 7 and we got her over $3,000.
We like to think that we are here to help people. That’s why when we created the new store and moved here in November, it’s not just a larger space but we wanted the layout to be unique. It probably looks more like a jewelry store than a card store but you can get anything from a dollar to unopened boxes that are $1,000.
TR–The Uncle Jimmy Collection was one that made national headlines. Can you encapsulate what the entire Uncle Jimmy experience was like for you?
CW-It was amazing for us. Here is a family that lost a loved one. We got to know the family before Uncle Jimmy passed away. They always told us “Wait until you see what he has.” At the beginning of COVID, at the time a lot of Pennsylvania business were shut down and not allowed to operate, right after he passed away, the family brought us truckloads of stuff from his basement.
When we started to go through it, we pieced together the life of a man form the 1930s through just a few years ago. We pieced together things the family didn’t even know. They had no idea that he would jump on a train in north Jersey and go to New York City to see the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Yankees. He was there for all of the big moments, from Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig’s last games to Mantle, Mays and Jackie Robinson’s first games. We had the ticket stubs and the programs, let alone all of the cards he would send to the players to get signed.
What I love the most about some of those cards, there were many cards signed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig but some of the cards look like they were printed yesterday with the way he preserved them. The best part about it all was telling the story of the person behind it. Everybody who read the story hears about a former veteran who fought in WWII who was a janitor and as blue collar as you can get and he loved baseball. He collected every day of his life. When the family first came to us they probably thought there was $10,000-$20,000 worth of stuff and at the end of it, it was many, many millions of dollars. The story is more valuable than anything. Once the story got out there it was on the nightly news, it was on ESPN, and it was in newspapers in Japanese and in Spanish around the world. Every day I would google Babe Ruth and Uncle Jimmy and just see what would be the new story somewhere in the world.
TR–What is the best part of you day? What happens in a given day that makes you say “This is why I do this.”?
CW– The best part of my day is making a difference in somebody’s life. Every auction we can have 30-50 different consignors. Some of the people have no idea the value of the items. We educate them. We use our expertise to figure out what is worth getting graded and ten let people compete against each other for it. A wonderful couple we just helped couldn’t believe the check they just got from the last auction. It’s awesome when you have people who don’t have any expectations and they are blown away and it makes a difference. A father and son whose mom passed away were struggling a bit. Somebody offered them $3,000 for their collection. We got them a check for about $95,000. That check made a difference in their lives and helped them get a path forward. It’s fun for me if I am helping out on this side of the business and away from my engineering work, which I also enjoy. It’s all about helping people who could easily go down the wrong path in selling their cards and collections.
My wife Stacey, after the kids were old enough and we opened the business, she actually got her Pennsylvania Auction license and went to auctioneering school. She is the brains and the muscle behind the auction business and helping to support that. The new store has allowed us to bring in new employees and grow but we want to stay true. It would be easy for an auction house to say ‘we are all about generating revenue and income’ and throw something out there every week and run for seven days. We have stayed pretty true to running auctions that run for four weeks so the buyers have a lot of time to see things and the consignors have lots of time to have those buyers look at their items and bid on them.