Old habits die hard. While I get much of my news and information online these days, like many people, I still enjoy reading the "hard copy" of my daily newspaper. So, I was a little disappointed last week when I found a soaking wet Inquirer and Wall Street Journal in my driveway after a heavy rainstorm. The incident did, however, bring back some great memories.
It was the fall of 1967. I was 12 years old and entering seventh grade at St. Cecilia grade school in Fox Chase. An opportunity arose to take over the neighborhood paper route and I jumped at the chance.
I had about 65 dailies and roughly 100 Sunday Inquirers that needed to be delivered. The papers were dropped by an Inquirer truck in front of my house just before 6 a.m. The first task was to use a pair of pliers to cut the steel coil that wrapped the bundles of newspapers. Then, I would neatly fold each paper and stuff it into my Inquirer bag. I was usually able to start my deliveries by about 6:15.
In the early days, I walked my route. It covered roughly a mile and took me a little over an hour. This left me just enough time to shower, eat breakfast, and walk to school by the opening bell. I still remember the names of the streets: Bleigh and Watson, Verree Road, Old Rockwell and Oxford Avenues, to name a few. The homes on Old Rockwell were particularly challenging because they were on the side of a hill and had about 20 steps from the sidewalk to the front porches. Fortunately, I had a pretty good arm in those days and learned how to toss the papers to land neatly on the porches, saving me from climbing each set of steps. After a month or so, I began to navigate my route on my Schwinn bike, which enabled me to get done in less than 45 minutes. (My first exposure to a productivity improvement.)
Of course, the papers came every day, seven days a week, in good weather and bad. I delivered in pouring rain, snow, ice, and summer heat. Understandably, my customers wanted their papers to be protected from the elements, and I took great care to keep them dry and placed in (or tossed to) exactly the location requested.
I was also responsible for collecting from my customers every week. I then had to pay the Inquirer's route supervisor. If everyone paid me on time, I would collect about $45 from my customers. My cost for the papers was about $35. The $10 was my profit (plus any tips I received). In a good week, I could earn $12. The problem was that not everyone paid on time. Some people were legitimately not home when I came to collect; others conveniently pretended not to be. The first time I collected, I had only about $35 and, after paying the Inquirer, had nothing to show for my hard work. What a great early lesson in the importance of effectively managing cash flows. I also had to keep track of my accounts receivable, which exposed me to the art of accounting and the importance of keeping good records at a young age. Wanting to have something to show for my efforts, suffice it to say I got very good at collecting from my customers!
Some of my customers were particularly challenging to deal with (they always seemed to have some sort of complaint), but most were great. The best time of the year was when I went around collecting during Christmas week. My tips would sometimes exceed $25. By 1969, I had saved enough money to buy our family's first color television set, which scored a lot of points with my five brothers and sisters and my mom and dad!
Hard work, discipline, showing up every day, dealing with adversity, assuming responsibility, being accountable, managing customer relationships, running my own business. I learned many entrepreneurial lessons from my paperboy experience that served me incredibly well throughout my business career. Thanks to the Inquirer, 50 years later, for providing such a valuable opportunity. I wish every 12-year-old girl and boy could have their own paper route.