This week I had a student in my management class ask which job taught me the most about running a business. As I thought back it, I realized it was probably my newspaper route in Ohio, delivering the Ravenna Record-Courier.
I’m not sure which is more unfortunate; the fact that fewer and fewer people read the daily newspaper, or if it is that young entrepreneurs don’t have the opportunity to be newspaper delivery boys or girls. I was given my newspaper route at the age of 11, and delivered between 48 and 54 newspapers every day of the week, except Sunday. The business lessons I took from that three-year career were as follows;
- Every customer is unique, and the quicker you learn that, the sooner you’ll gain his or her loyalty.
One of the first things you learn as a newspaper boy is how to fold the newspaper so that you can throw it from your bike, and get close to the porch or front door. It sounds easy in theory but I soon discovered that if the paper wasn’t folded tightly, the wind would catch it and send the sections all over the street, yard and driveway.
I also quickly realized that most people don’t want to walk into their driveway, or yard, or hedges to find the newspaper. Most people prefer you to walk up to the front door, open the screen door and gently place the newspaper there so it doesn’t get wrinkled or ripped. Yes, it takes longer, and you have to get off your bike every time, but you have happy customers.
If you take the time to ask each customer how that individual prefers to have the product or service delivered, you’ll have his or her loyalty. It isn’t the quickest or easiest method, but it keeps the customer happy.
- Pay the weekly bill before buying the bottle of Coke and chips.
My newspapers were dropped off at the neighborhood grocery store every afternoon around 3 p.m. That grocery store sold bottles of Coke and a bag of potato chips for 25 cents. In those days, we were also required to collect the 65 cents a week from each of our customers. Each week, I received a bill from the Ravenna Record Courier for 45 cents for each of the week’s papers.
Because I always had my punch-cards and collection bag with me, it always felt like I had plenty of money to buy a Coke and chips. It only took a few weeks of not having enough money at the end of the week to pay for my papers to realize that having cash in my pocket or in the bank isn’t the same as having money to spend. You need to buy your Coke and chips only after you have paid the bill and have money left over.
- Rain, snow, hot or cold, you still need to deliver the newspaper.
My memory of Ohio is that they have the hottest and most humid summers, matched with the coldest and heaviest amounts of snow in the winter. To this day, I think it is why I first moved to Arizona. Delivering newspapers on a cold, dark and snowy night when you are 11 years old isn’t fun.
But if you decide to be in the services business, none of those things matter. Customers expect to get their newspaper every day (preferably at the same time each day) and they want to know you are providing consistent service regardless of the weather (or what’s happening in your life).
- Stop along the route and play football.
My newspaper route in Atwater, Ohio, meant delivering newspapers to the homes of my friends from school. That meant, once in a while, putting my bike and newspapers down so I could play a quick game of football and tag. Stopping too many times, or for too long, meant getting home too late for dinner, or delivering the newspapers late.
But there is a balance. Taking the time to enjoy the route, play with friends or the customer’s dog or monkey (I actually had a customer who had a spider monkey, but it was mean and always tried to bite me) along the way helps make whatever you do more enjoyable.
I think, regardless of what you do, it is important to play football, have the bottle of Coke and bag of chips, or take a different route every once and a while. It’ll help you deal with the days when the snow is coming down, your bike gets a flat tire or the one customer won’t answer the door to pay you the 65 cents. FBN
By T Paul Thomas