A CEO who pays $3 each for his metal business cards says people think he's crazy, but it's been one of his smartest moves

GiftologyJohn Ruhlin.
  • Business cards are an afterthought for many people, but for entrepreneur John Ruhlin, they’re a great way to make a good first impression.
  • Ruhlin spends $US3 on business cards and $US9 on company letterheads that are made out of solid aluminium and engraved with his contact information.
  • He says it’s smart to invest in things that will generate interest in your company and have a high chance of being shared among clients and potential customers.

How much is a good first impression worth?

For John Ruhlin, it’s $US3. At least that’s how much he pays for each one of his business cards, which are square and made of solid aluminium.

While many people treat business cards as an afterthought, Ruhlin said his pricey metal cards are an investment that has led to increased referrals for his company the Ruhlin Group, which advises on the art of corporate gift-giving.

When done well, Ruhlin wrote in his 2016 book “Giftology,” a business card can spark conversations that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

In the book, Ruhlin recalled an interaction with a former CEO of Lowe’s in which Ruhlin was describing his business, but the CEO was “completely glazed over, barely listening.”

That all changed when Ruhlin asked to exchange business cards.

“He slowly looked down at the card, up at me, down at the card, and up again, before exclaiming, ‘This is the coolest fricken card [except, he didn’t say fricken] I’ve ever seen! What do you do again?” Ruhlin recalled.


Read more:
Here are the secrets to a great business card

Ruhlin said he gets plenty of criticism for shelling out so much on business cards. No manufacturer he contacted had ever created such an expensive card, he said. But he didn’t go broke from making the cards – in fact, business went up after he started handing them out.

For Ruhlin, it’s all about keeping his company at the top of his potential clients’ minds.

“It’s an ironic question because I see companies spending $US10 on a brochure that will inevitably end up in the trash can,” Ruhlin wrote in the book. “To me, a three-dollar business card is a tremendously good investment because I know for a fact that the recipient will show it to twenty other people before he or she gets home. Plus, when I follow up with an email and write ‘Metal business card’ in the subject line, people know exactly who I am, when we talked, and what we talked about.”

Letterhead john ruhlinMark Abadi/Business InsiderAn engraved, aluminium letterhead from the Ruhlin Group.

Ruhlin uses the same logic to justify his company’s letterheads, which, like his business cards, are a solid sheet of aluminium engraved with his company’s information. Those cost $US9 a pop, Ruhlin says. His company hand writes messages on them in Sharpie.

“This is another area where cost per impression comes into play,” Ruhlin said. “Generally speaking, most companies won’t blink twice about spending money to print their logo onto a cheap tchotchke. Why not invest that money in something innovative that will get people talking and create multiple positive impressions?”

“It’s not necessarily about spending more money. It’s about being smarter about spending money.”

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