If you head to a hot spot for a night of dining, drinking or dancing, be prepared to do business. In fact, better bring gloves, a helmet and protective goggles just in case: Sometimes the business cards fly across the room at a wicked pace.
Such is life in L.A., where business almost always seems to mix with pleasure. And everyone, it seems, has a card.
Even 14-year-old Harleigh Reynolds, whose card lists not only his own home phone number, but his pager number as well. "Call Any Time," the card says.
"I got mine a year ago," Reynolds, from West Hollywood, says, "and now a lot of my friends have them too."
The business-card business is booming. Anyone can have a card these days. You don't need corporate blessing. Heck, you don't even need a job. Just drop by your local Kinko's. Twenty-four hours (and $32) later, you have 500 business cards. You can even design them yourself, using Kinko's computers. There are even vending machines that dispense cards at airports.
Printers don't seem to mind. Business has been increasing 6% a year for the last five years at Business Cards Tomorrow, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., company that produces more wholesale cards than any other. BCT makes almost 4 billion cards a year, many of which no doubt end up folded and crinkled in the back pockets of Angelenos. PIP Printing, an Agoura Hills-based chain of 675 quick-print shops, sells 175 million BCT cards a year.
"You can go to your local quick printer and they're back in a day and they cost next to nothing," says Jill Roth, editorial director of American Printer magazine. "That's why a 14-year-old can have a business card."
And it's why business cards are passed out in Los Angeles like so many flyers being stuck under your windshield wiper.
"Business cards have gotten real impersonal," says L.A. free-lance photographer Gregory M. Scaffidi. "If you go out to a bar in L.A. . . . you just want to have a couple drinks and relax, but everybody there is saying, 'What do you do?' Everybody's looking for a break. I wish it wasn't like that, but that's a part of working in L.A."
Scaffidi's own card is conservative. It looks like an old-fashioned calling card--which are in again. It has his name, number and address. He gives it out sparingly. "When I was less successful," he says, "I probably gave out a lot more cards with less response.
"Now I give out fewer with more response."
"Whenever I go out anywhere, my pleasure always turns to business because my business is music and clubs and entertainment," says Gary Richards, co-owner of a record label called Nitrus. "I always bump into people who want to send me a tape. I give them my card and say, 'Call me later.' "
Of course, there are those who lament this state of affairs. They say the more cards there are on the market, the less value they have. (Sort of like the declining dollar.)
"There isn't the same kind of status attached to it" as in the past, says Drew McDaniel, director of the School of Telecommunications at Ohio University. "It's not unusual for a student to come see me and say, 'Here's my card.' "
McDaniel admits that there is more need for more people to have cards with the advent of the fax machine, the pager and the Internet address. (No card? You'll need to write it on two napkins.)
"In the academic realm, the most important part of your business card these days is your Internet address," McDaniel says. "A good half of my communication occurs by e-mail."
By some accounts, the business card evolved from the calling card, a staple of British high society that was exported to America in the late 1800s. Calling cards were engraved, included only a name, and were very formal. They were left behind after a visit, used as an invitation to tea and were sent out to announce a party.
Today in Asia, particularly in Japan, business cards are taken as seriously as the calling cards of the past.
Glenda Roberts, associate director of the University of Hawaii's Center for Japanese Studies, says that in a class and status-based society like Japan, the business card tells people how you fit in. The exchange of business cards sometimes precedes the bow or handshake. For many, a card tells how low to bow--or how much respect is due. And many times, once the Japanese recipient gets your card, he studies it out of respect and places it somewhere that shows respect--such as a breast pocket.
"When you first meet someone, you need to know immediately what that person's status is so you can interact with them," Roberts says. "All that information is on that person's business card. You can tell what organization, what level, whether he's a senior or a staff person."
And in Japan, she says, a card really does mean, "Call me." Not as in L.A., where it can mean, "OK, OK, get off my back."