Back in 2008, amidst the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression, Grayson White found himself unemployed and trying to figure out how he was going to pay his bills. It was at that time his passion for trading cards was reignited. White came of age in the ‘90s when the trading card industry was booming. However, being from Australia he had always found himself detached from the fast-moving trading card hobby in the rest of the world. So, White set out to build up the trading card community in Australia by making the hobby more accessible, and he took his first steps when he co-founded Cherry, a trading card hobby shop based in Melbourne. In the years since the early years when White was running box breaks in an apartment closet, Cherry has become a globally recognized and respected hobby shop focused on educating new collectors, helping veteran collectors track down their grails for affordable prices, and providing a space for Australians to fully engage with the global sports and gaming card community.
We sat down with White to hear his story, get his take on the recent developments in the hobby, and talk about the Cherry Picked DropX releasing exclusively through StockX.
Tell me about the Cherry Picked DropX?
So, the Cherry Picked DropX is a repackaged buy-back [basketball] trading card. Some companies, like Leaf, have been producing amazing repacks for almost a decade and they’ve been popular with new collectors or collectors looking for cards that are no longer in circulation. We’ve used these repacks primarily here in Australia, a somewhat detached marketplace from the US, as a way of enabling a real positive cycle between customers and Cherry. So people buy cards from Cherry then, when they’re looking to sell cards, we put money back in their pockets. Those cards that we buy we push into a product, like the Cherry Picked DropX, to add more engagement points for collectors to buy cards from Cherry.
The chase cards that Dale, head of singles at Cherry, has picked for this DropX are either not readily available or are expensive in the secondary market! So it gives people a chance to get involved at an affordable price point and get cards and inserts and autographs of players that you wouldn’t get in many boxes under $500 a box.
Dale has been building repacks for years now and, in my opinion, has created some of the all-time greats. The historic sell-sheets for his repacks still give the guy nightmares, haha.
How did the StockX partnership come about? What are you excited about with this partnership?
From the moment that StockX started moving into the card space, it was one of the most exciting prospects of partnerships worldwide. I mean, StockX has created a tremendously popular trading platform for collectibles. And the fact that trading cards were becoming as exciting as sneakers certainly gave everyone in the industry, and particularly myself, a lot of confidence that this was a category on the rise. We started thinking about the best ways that we could work together to create something that was actually unique and interesting. And hopefully, the Cherry Picked DropX is the start of that.
What’s unique about Australian card culture?
Our trading card market is a bit like Forex trading, because you have so many additional taxes and import costs, and then add in a market that is moving in a positive direction where boxes and single cards continue to go up in value. You actually need to buy the “dollars” early, or else the cost of engagement for the customer down the track is just too high. It’s very difficult in Australia to look at some of the amazing things that are going on in the global markets, and then not be able to realize the same results. And that’s one of the reasons that StockX adds so much value as it grows here in Australia because it eliminates a lot of those pain points.
But Australia is very new in the space, we’ve only been collecting cards since the early nineties. We are predominantly basketball card and trading card game collectors. And we almost went into some sort of Sleeping Beauty-like period between 1997 and 2003, where there wasn’t much product, and no one was buying, even if there was product.
[Australia] awoke again over the last five to ten years. But the collectors here love set-collecting our domestic product. We’ve got a big brand here called Select that produces Australian Rules Football cards. They don’t have any cards numbered lower than about 40, because their feedback is that customers like to create sets. They don’t particularly like those one-of-one cards. I think that’s changing. I think it’s maturing into that global market where there is going to be value in having an entirely unique card in your collection.
Australians in non-COVID times do get out and hit the trading card show floors. I know in the early nineties there were stories of people lining up four or five blocks when the latest set of basketball cards was being released here in Melbourne, which is pretty cool. And even when we’ve opened up just a little bit during COVID we’ve had a line of seven people outside the store. It may sound a bit corny but this is what creating Cherry was all about and to be robbed of it by COVID, to an extent, is quite deflating.
Has your personal card collecting history been in line with how you describe Australians generally being more into set collecting than player collecting?
So I actually collected Eddie Jones cards, the guy who Kobe Bryant replaced, so I was anti-Kobe from an early age, which really hurt my collections value! So that was a poor decision. I’ve made plenty more since. But I do enjoy collecting sets. I still collect Marvel sets primarily. Occasionally, I’ll collect some of the sports sets as well. But I prefer the Panini short prints, like Optic Dragons or Prizm Tigers. I think that the Panini Optic Dragon card is tremendously undervalued. I feel like some other sets, like a Colorblast, are still quite undervalued. So there’s things that I pick up, but primarily I like sets. And I think more fundamentally, I like challenges and I get the feeling that collectors like challenges too. And maybe that’s a part of why we’ve blossomed during COVID because we’ve gone, “You know what? This is really challenging stuff. I wonder if there’s another challenge I could do right now?”
How did you get into trading cards?
I was caught up in the nineties boom. I would find every 20 cent piece that fell behind the couch to go to the trading card shop to buy a pack of cards. I got lucky with my first pack. I got a Michael Jordan Upper Deck Behind the Glass card, which I traded and I got a bunch of stuff.
I eventually worked casually in that store as a young kid and enjoyed it. Then when I left Tasmania, the Global Financial Crisis hit and I lost my job. I had put all my belongings onto a boat to come to Melbourne, and I needed to pivot quickly, or else I was going to go home with my tail between my legs. So I happened to stumble across a box of cards. I couldn’t afford to buy it, but I did. It was a 2008-09 box of Upper Deck MVP Basketball. And it was actually terrible, but it got me thinking if there was anyone selling cards in Australia and doing it online. And there wasn’t really, so I built a site and started bringing in products, and the rest is history.
I went full-time with Cherry in 2015 and got our first store. We have a team of 15 people now. We’ve even hired six people through COVID. So it’s been a really exciting time. And there is something about having felt like I lost everything in a global crisis, and then being able to create jobs in a global crisis just seemed like a really good full-circle moment.
What is the biggest card you’ve ever pulled?
There are probably two memorable cards that I’ve pulled. One is from my first ever pack, when I got that Michael Jordan Upper Deck Behind The Glass, but I traded it for a box at the time. Then when I started my shop in 2015, someone brought one in, and I bought it, and I’ve kept it because it always reminded me of why I was here, and where I came from, and that’s important to me.
The other one is from very early on when we started Cherry, and UFC was getting quite big. Georges St-Pierre was the guy. My wife loved him. And when we turned UFC on I’d see a side to her I’d never seen before. So I bought her a box of Topps UFC for Christmas. She opened it and she got the Georges St-Pierre autograph. So, she cried, and then I probably cried. So that’s the other most memorable thing.
In terms of the breaks we do at Cherry, we pull amazing cards every single night of the week. And that’s not trying to pump our tyres, it’s reality. And you become somewhat desensitized to it because it happens so often. Our main breaker Blake hit the LaMelo Ball Panini NBA Hoops Rookie 1/1 on the release day. That was big.
We’ve pulled Steph Curry Rookie Patch Autographs from National Treasures, we’ve pulled Michael Jordan short-print on-card autographs. I remember one time someone going, “I’ll pay $3,000 for that Jordan auto,” and just thinking, “There’s no way this is ever worth more than this”. And of course, that card’s probably worth $15,000 now. So my advice to people would be to hold on, whenever you get these cards, just hold on.
Aside from the Cherry Picked Basketball Packs that you are about to drop through StockX, what’s been the best product of the year so far?
Spectra Basketball this year has on-card autographs, Color Blast inserts, which is the hobby’s favorite insert. It also has Luka Dončić autographs again, which is brilliant. It’s doubled, tripled, quadrupled in price, depending on when you first bought it. So that’s been a huge success. I think it’s been a difficult year because of sticker autographs. And despite the fact that they’re a necessity, people have struggled to come to terms with that.
Retrospectively, I would still be buying 2019-20 Panini Revolution Basketball. That has on-card Kobe Bryant autographs in there, as well as Zion Williamson rookie on-card autographs. It’s got Galactic parallels, which I think is one of the most underrated variations in the hobby.
It’s been so refreshing to see the growth in Panini UFC, Topps Formula 1, and of course all the Soccer brands! I’m excited to see what’s coming next.
What are your thoughts on so many professional sports licenses going to Fanatics?
I think that the Topps and Panini success, with exclusive licences, has created such a positive market that this is the natural result. Big fish are really interested.
It feels like there’s a lot of uncertainty. I’ve got friends in all those companies, great people, that I’m sure are looking to get some clarity on exactly how the future plays out. But ultimately, I think it’s the result of their positive work and therefore only good will come of it.
Fanatics clearly recognize the value that could be had by leveraging their business systems into it and Josh (Luber) who founded StockX, which is amazing, is likely to re-envisage the trading card landscape.
I think that’s what everyone in the hobby is hoping for is that somehow we get a superteam of brands. An Avengers of trading cards if you will. Sounds like fan-fiction but there is no reason for us not to be optimistic at the current time.
Is card grading making its way into Australian card culture at this point?
No one in Australia graded cards when we opened our store but it’s exploded in recent years. It’s huge here now. Our grading service options are currently so expensive but I think as the impact of both growth and COVID subside there will be some really positive changes in this space domestically.
You recently said that Zion Williamson will be a better and greater NBA player than Luka Doncic, but not as talented as Luka. What did you mean by that?
I talk a lot of shit. But I feel as though Luka Dončić is tremendously talented. He’s got so many aspects to his game. He can move the person slowly to the basket. He can bring other players into the game. He can spot up from ridiculous range. He’s obviously got the confidence to lead. People get better around him. There are very few players that can do that.
The flip side is that Zion Williamson is superhuman. His ability to completely dominate whoever they put on him and to do it at such a young age, with such incredible pressure on him, I think is something that’s pretty scary. I don’t believe that he will ever be as talented as Luka Dončić, skill-set-wise, but I think that he will change the number of people that watch basketball. He’ll change the way that teams play basketball. At the end of the day, I think Zion will be considered greater. But in the end, it’s just semantics.