EGG HARBOR CITY — Business Cards Tomorrow is proof that, even in the digital age, quality still matters.
For 32 years, the small wholesale manufacturer has counted on people, businesses and organizations who want their printed representations on cards, letters and envelopes to look better than the rest.
Sure, these days anyone with a computer can make business cards and stationery. Or they can put into clients’ and customers’ hands communications that immediately suggest quality, precision and substance.
Once they’re using special business cards, people are reluctant to settle for less.
“We FedEx orders across the country because salespeople didn’t realize they’d run out of cards. That’s a common thing,” said Brian D’Agostino, co-owner with wife Diane of Business Cards Tomorrow.
At the company’s small plant on Cincinnati Avenue, the staff of seven uses techniques and materials beyond the ordinary scope of retail printers to produce business and appointment cards, window envelopes and stationery of distinction.
The top seller is thermographic printing, which creates the familiar raised lettering on better business cards — quality you can feel as well as see.
D’Agostino, 50, of Galloway Township, said most people look at the effect and think it results from the application of “really thick ink.”
Watching one of the plant’s three $80,000 thermographic presses recently as it printed sheets of business cards, that was obviously not the case.
While the ink was still wet, the sheets were dusted with finely powdered clear plastic. When at the next stage the powder was vacuumed up, the plastic remained on the wet ink.
Then the sheets went through a heater that melted the plastic, forming a clear covering on the letters and designs that allowed the color of the ink to show through.
From there, Nicole D’Agostino, 22 and also of Galloway, used a slitting machine to cut the cards and get them ready to be boxed. Her sister, Karen, 24, of Mays Landing, also works at family owned and operated Business Cards Tomorrow, in the office.
When raised colored lettering isn’t enough, customers can choose to have lettering or logos done in gold, silver or other metallic colors. “That’s the very high-end type of work,” Brian D’Agostino said.
A job for a government agency in Delaware showed what is involved.
A custom die with the government’s logo — produced by a third party — was heated and pressed through a roll of paper-backed, gold-colored foil onto letterhead paper.
D’Agostino said foil stamped cards and stationery are “double to triple the cost” of regular products.
He said he thinks the retail cost of such products is $150 to $200 per thousand pieces, while the typical order might retail for about $40 per thousand pieces.
Even more important than these specialty printing processes, though, is another variable that keeps the company’s wholesale work in demand: printing stock.
“You can print a business card on anything. What makes it stand out is the paper it’s printed on,” he said. “We have more than 100 stocks that give the finished product the look and feel that give a salesperson an edge.”
And just as important for stores such as Signal Graphics and Sir Speedy, jobs are typically turned around in a day — just as the name says, Business Cards Tomorrow.
“Because we specialize, we have on hand all of the common stocks used for business cards and stationery. We don’t have to special order things,” he said.
At the plant, the walls are lined with hundreds of boxes of paper stock and dozens of containers of ink.
And the D’Agostinos have other practices that help ensure fast completion of orders, such as buying almost exclusively from American companies so service is rarely more than a time-zone away, he said.
D’Agostino also has learned how to repair the machines in his plant, and follows another rule: If a part needs to be ordered, get two and keep one ready for the next time it needs replacing.
The results satisfy customers such as Riley Gunnels, owner of the Signal Graphics store on Tilton Road in Egg Harbor Township. Such retailers are the only place you can buy the products the D’Agostino family produces wholesale.
“We’ve had a good relationship with them the whole time we’ve been in business,” said Gunnels, 75, a former Philadelphia Eagle who lives with wife and co-owner Kay in Ocean City. “They do a quick turnaround — you couldn’t ask for any better — and they do a great product and are easy to work with.”
Gunnels said his store prints most of its cards itself, but for raised lettering and more elaborate jobs, “we send it over to them. We like doing business with another local business like us.”
Business Cards Tomorrow started in 1982 in another local spot, the Harbor Village Square center in the Bargaintown section of Egg Harbor Township. In two years it outgrew the small store and bought its current building in Egg Harbor City, D’Agostino said.
His parents, Anthony and Madeline D’Agostino, also of Galloway Township, started the business and still help with the bookkeeping and paperwork, letting Brian and Diane focus on customers and production.
Anthony D’Agostino said his son was “anxious to get into the business” from the moment it started and began working full time right out of high school.
Brian D’Agostino said the company has added new technology over the years, such as a machine that laser-cuts custom rubber stamps for businesses.
The occasional specialty job has included book covers and brochures, and sometimes requests for racy business cards come through, but usually as a joke for someone who is retiring.
“We’ll print them and usually have a laugh at it,” he said. “We’ve done cards for prostitutes in Atlantic City.”
The best times for the business are when banks merge — “everybody gets new cards and we could have 1,000-card orders for 50 people or more” — and when a New Jersey area code changes.
The last four or five years have been difficult, he said, and staffing had to be cut by about a third.
“Business has stopped going down and leveled off, so the future is starting to look brighter,” he said.
The firm’s territory ranges across South Jersey to the Delaware River, he said.
And although it seems like a free-standing creation of the D’Agostinos, the business actually was started as a franchise and remains so today.
Business Cards Tomorrow is one of 40 or so franchises of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based BCT — which started about the same time as the local business.
D’Agostino said that every 10 years the company’s franchise renewal comes up and the family evaluates whether it’s worth it to stay a franchise or become independent and quit paying franchise fees.
“We get special pricing on supplies and equipment from manufacturers, and sales leads,” he said. “So far, there’s been enough that’s positive that we’ve renewed it.”
With three generations of D’Agostinos more or less living and working together, the family is about as close as can be.
When asked if that presented any challenges, they all cited a rule that makes it possible: Don’t take any work issues home, and don’t bring any issues from home to work.
That leaves them free to keep engaged, use their skills and enjoy the benefits of a family business.
“The nicest part is when we’ll get the artwork on a napkin, handwritten, and we’ll set the job up and when we’re done, you’ll have a beautiful box of stationery everybody is happy with,” D’Agostino said. “It makes you feel good.”
Contact Kevin Post: