Friday, March 11, 2011

Lessons from a paper route: Getting the job done and keeping the customers happy

I was a paperboy. I had about 35 customers in a suburban town in New Jersey. After school each day, I stopped by the train station where the truck from the Bergen Record dropped off bundles of papers for the five or six boys that delivered in my part of town. I would either load the papers into baskets on my bicycle, or I would carry them in a big canvas bag.

The papers had to be delivered in time before all of the fathers arrived home from their jobs in New York City so they could read the paper before dinner. That usually was not very difficult. School was out by 3:15. If I started my route by 4:00, I could finish by 5:00 on a good day. Saturday and Sunday papers had to be delivered by 8:00. The Sunday paper took longer because it was always delivered in several sections, and it took extra time to assemble the paper before we delivered it.

All of this was a great experience for a not yet teenage boy, especially when the papers were small and the weather was good. The US Postal Service may not have adopted the words inscribed on the New York post office, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” as a motto, but they surely applied to the paper boys in Glen Rock, NJ. The papers were not always very small either. Large papers were difficult because they took extra time to assemble and because paperboys had limited carrying capacity. Large papers frequently meant that a route that could be walked or biked in half an hour could take as long as an hour and a half or more because the carriers had to make several trips.

You should be getting the idea that there were days that it just was not fun to be a paperboy. It always seemed as if it rained or snowed on the days when the paper was the largest. Those were the days that as I walked in the door after finishing the route, hungry because I was later for dinner, my mother would say, “Mrs. C called, and the paper was wet,” or “The Mr. M called and wanted to know why his paper was late.” I did not realize it at the time, but this was an important lesson, and it was good experience for later in life. I might have been cold and wet and hungry because I was late, but that did not matter. The papers were also wet and late. My customers expected me to deliver their papers on time and in readable condition. The weather did not matter. The size of the paper did not matter. Nothing mattered except that the paper was delivered as promised.

I hope it does not sound as if I had unbearable customers. My customers were fabulous, and they liked having me as their paperboy. They were generous with tips when I collected, and when they saw me in town, they always had a kind word for me.

The lesson from the paper route was simple. When I began my route, I agreed to deliver papers. My customers, who paid me for my service, expected me to deliver. It was not always easy, but that was our agreement. If that lesson seems too simple consider how many times service providers don’t deliver. The idea that getting job done means happy customers was a big lesson for a young businessman. It was a lesson from my paper route that I remember today.

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