Why the business card keeps on keepin' on

Even in the digital age, business cards can be a strategic asset. Just ask illustrator Ralph Cabrera.

Nelson Arencibia did not set out to become a business card expert. But there he stands, his hands overflowing with business cards.

"Look," he says, sifting through a pile of cards, "Four Seasons Hotel, Jerry Weed, director of engineering... You have SMB Architects... The Spiced Nut Factory. 'Spiced nuts perfect for -- dot, dot, dot.'"

As general manager of Flanigan’s Seafood Bar and Grill in Coconut Grove, Fla., Arencibia is responsible for the monthly business card drawing for a free lunch. Over his 14 years at the restaurant, Arencibia has seen thousands upon thousands of business cards.

The box for free lunch drawings at Flanigan’s Seafood Bar and Grill in Coconut Grove, Fla, which has held thousands upon thousands of business cards. (Photo: Kenny Malone)

"That’s the restaurant business for you," he says, "you meet everybody from the senator to the plumber."

Flanigan’s is as interested as ever in paper business cards; the general public is not. Google searches for the words "business cards" have dropped off by about 50 percent over the last decade.

And yet: There still appears to be a place for the paper business card.

The company Moo, which helped popularize those fancy little business cards with stylish designs on the back, printed 108 million cards in 2013 -- up by more than 400 percent from 2008.

Stephanie Shore, Moo’s vice president of marketing, thinks the digital world has left people more desperate than ever for tangible, personal interactions.

"When you’re looking at someone’s business card," says Shore, "it’s like you’re looking someone in the eye. You want to understand what someone’s doing, you want to have a real connection."

A real connection that comes with real benefits.

"When you give someone a paper card, they have to pull it out of their pocket when they get home, so they look at it," says Cynthia Henry Duval, associate director of Career and Professional Development at Nova Southeastern University. "They put [the card] on their desk -- and it probably sits on their desk for about a week or so -- and then they pick it up because now they have to do something with it. And so that’s three points of contact with your information."

Compare that, says Duval, to what happens if someone gives contact information digitally: "It’s basically Rolodex-ed never to be seen again."

This is a key benefit, as demonstrated by Nelson Arencibian at Flanigan’s.

While flipping through the February business card entries, Arencibia remembers something. "As a matter of fact," he says, "I have [a particularly interesting card] in my car that I saved from this guy that’s an artist."

That’s all Arencibia can remember. This artist would be almost impossible to find if Arencibia had only input a name and number into his cell phone. Instead, he grabs his keys, walks into the parking lot, ducks into his car and pulls out a colorful business card.

"So his name is Ralph Cabrera. He’s a professional illustrator," says Arencibia. "But I thought it was cool. Little Superman here, things like that. All the artwork he does."

Arguably, Ralph Cabrera’s business card shows precisely why there’s still a place for paper business cards. It was personal and tangible; that’s why Arencibia kept it. Because the contact information wasn’t just "Rolodex-ed never to be seen again," Arencibia could produce the card, without initially recalling the artist’s name.

"Well, I’m here," says artist Ralph Cabrera, "because a card that somebody showed you. So it does work."

Ralph Cabrera worked for Marvel and DC Comics for about 15 years. Now he primarily does storyboards and mock-ups for advertising firms.

The flip side to his momentary business card success, is a cautionary business card tale.

That card he handed to Nelson Arencibia, it was actually a replacement card for a far less successful design. Cabrera pulls one of those old cards out of his bag.

"It’s got a black background, it’s a bold statement," he says. "I thought it worked well at the time."

"At the time" was any time before November 2009. Because the centerpiece of this card is a beautiful drawing, done by Cabrera, of golf legend Tiger Woods. And in November of 2009, a parade of alleged Tiger Woods mistresses started showing up.

"No one really wanted to look at my card at that point," says Cabrera. "My wife looked at it and says, 'man, we still have like another 3,500!'"

Cabrera had to scrap them all and make a brand new card. This time, the featured graphic was a cartoon drawing of Cabrera drawing a cartoon.

The old business card of Ralph Cabrera (top) became a liability in Nov. 2009 when Tiger Woods' marriage started to unravel rather publicly - so he made a new one (bottom).

It’s a card that can teach two important lessons. Number one: Business cards can still work wonders. But maybe more importantly, says Cabrera, "just showcase yourself. You don’t use somebody else, you don’t endorse anybody else."

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