During a conversation with a friend of 20+ years we talked of our smallish hometowns and agreed that many of our work/life habits were formed with our first jobs-a paper route. Not to say that we both did not have idyllic childhoods just that Baby Boomer’s parents were not very “hands on” as mentors and you learned from your experiences rather than guided relationships.
A little context is necessary for those under 50. There were two ways of getting news in the 60’s and 70’s-there was television news: Walter Cronkite, Huntley/Brinkley and there were local newspapers. At that time, young boys and girls delivered daily newspapers to homes and businesses. It was a respected job in the community. Local kids from your neighborhood delivered the papers. They trudged through local neighborhoods and backyards
Way back when I was in the fifth grade in Westbrook, Maine I took over Teddy Labbe’s morning paper route of the Portland Press Herald. Teddy quit his route after Christmas because customers usually provided tips for the year. Christmas tips were for good work and usually amounted to about $40/season. Paper boys and girls had to sign up new customers, deliver the papers, collect the $ from customers and then repay the paper every Thursday. It was a lot like owning your own distribution business. It was a lot of responsibility for a kid.
The job took about an hour and a half every morning Monday through Saturday. I had 60-75 customers on my route and had to remember every address and where they wanted the paper placed. I made about $.015/paper. If I had extra newspapers, I could sell those at a pure profit of $.10
I woke up by alarm clock every morning at 5AM. I brushed my teeth, changed my clothes, ate a little breakfast and was at the corner of Berkley and Main Streets by 5:20. You wanted to get there early, particularly on snowy days because you did not want a snowplow to plow your papers under steep snowbanks-that happened to each of us…once... My first task was to cut open the with wire clippers which were kept at the sleeve of my canvas newspaper bag. I filled up the bag with about half the papers. Walking from house to house I would fold the papers in 1/3’s so I could throw them on the customer porches without having them fly open. Completing that part of the route I picked up the rest of my papers, folded them all so they could be heaved from my bike. The second half of the route was quite long about a mile and the latter part along a main thoroughfare. The last delivery point was Rowe Motors, a Ford dealership, where I delivered about 5 papers. It was off the beaten track and the mechanics would usually offer me a cup of hot chocolate in winter or a soda in the summer. When I was sick, or it was raining sometimes one of the mechanics would drive me home in his truck-they were great. I was usually done by 7:00-7:15 and could get home pick up my books and walk to school.
Saturday was the worst day-collection day, after I delivered the papers I would have to go out later in the morning and collect $ from my customers for a week’s worth of papers. If they were not home or could not pay, I would have to return later in the week on one of my school days. Some customers would not pay me for a few weeks. Very few prepaid or paid for multiple weeks.
What did I learn from this first job?
1. Consistency. I had to get up every morning and perform a task I promised. No excuses for being sick, tired, or bad weather it had to be done. I was ultimately responsible to my customers and to the newspaper.
2. Incentives. I needed to sign up more customers if I wanted to make more $ and take advantage of any extra papers. Provide good service and earn good tips.
3. Continuous improvement. Develop a consistent process to manage your route and then constantly improve that process, making it go faster, better for customers and more efficiently.
4. Manage cash flow. Not everyone paid their bills on time and if not paid after two weeks and numerous calls I stopped delivering their papers. Encourage customers to pay up front or pay for a month at a time. Leave pay envelopes for customers
5. Attitude. Customers could be genuinely nice...or not. Do not let the not nice ones ruin your day.
6. Branding. Do what you say every time and you’ll stand out.
Delivering newspapers were a great introduction to work for me. This type of work early in your life is valuable and humbling. I was not actively coached when I was young. This stuff is not learned by osmosis. We all need to help youth by mentoring them and talking about life experiences and particularly where we stumbled along the way. Young adults need to spend time talking about their core values and learning to make tough decisions. I still like mentoring and appreciate my mentees to keep me grounded and my values intact. Thanks to Jorinde, Alejo, Dixita, Chris et al.
Remember: We cannot get through these times without each other so use your mentoring skills to help others! What skills have you learned that you can pass on? One of my favorite quotes in the epitaph inscribed on Jackie Robinson’s gravestone. “A Life Is Not Important Except in The Impact It Has on Other Lives"
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