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Showing an Interest

Kenyon Sayler, 12:55 am ET

WHILE VISITING MY mother, I walked along my old paper route. It made me wonder: Which customer am I?

It helps to have a little background on these long-ago entrepreneurs. Paper carriers were independent contractors with the local newspaper. We were given a territory—the route. We purchased the papers from the newspaper company and then delivered them to our customers. Every other week, we would also go around to our customers and ask for payment for the preceding two weeks. When they paid us, we gave them a tiny, preprinted receipt.

Of my 60 customers, I remember only two clearly. Neither was really a bad customer, but I remember the two extremes—my favorite customer and the one that caused me headaches.

Mrs. Kramer was my favorite customer. She was almost always home when I was collecting money. She usually rounded up her bill by a quarter or 30 cents. If she was going out of town for a few days, she would pay two weeks ahead. When I next collected after her return home, we’d settle up the difference for the days she was gone.

Mrs. Kramer always asked how I was doing in school or Scouts. On winter days, she would offer me hot cocoa. I never took her up on the offer, but it was nice knowing she was thinking about me. In December, she usually gave me a tip of $2 or $3.

My least favorite customer was the doctor. The doctor’s family was seldom at home. I often extended them credit for eight or even 12 weeks of newspapers. Even as I waited to collect from the doctor, I was paying the newspaper company. When I was able to collect, we settled up for the exact amount due. In December, the doctor would usually give me a $10 tip—by far the most generous of my customers.

From a total dollar perspective, I probably got more money from the doctor over the course of a year. But from a cash flow perspective, Mrs. Kramer was a more reliable customer.  I had many good customers, but only one who took an interest in me—a young paper carrier.

I’m sure that both the doctor and Mrs. Kramer were loved by their families. I doubt either of them based their perception of themselves on what a young paper carrier thought.

But it did cause me to think about which type of customer I want to be. My barber, snow shoveler and lawn service may not remember me 43 years from now. But if they do, I’d prefer to be remembered as a good customer who was grateful for the service they provided—and as somebody who took an interest in their life.

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Mark Schwartz
Mark Schwartz
1 month ago

Kenyon,
I had a similar expierence with my paper route with two customers just as you wrote. Mr. Decaprio would only pay about once every 5 ot 6 weeks so I floated his only source of informatin in the Times Hearld for that period. I should have charged him interest. On the opposite side Mrs. Lanahan was a single elderly lady who would pay every week and would leave the $0.50 in the mail box like clock work. I don’t think i every met Mrs. Lanahan cause she was consistent every week with leaving her payment. Sadly, years after I moved on to a better job while in High school Mrs. Lanahan died in her house due to a fire causes by smoking in bed so the firemen said. I still remember her to today.

David Hoecker
David Hoecker
1 month ago

I carried the Indianapolis Star, a morning paper, in 1960 to 1962 at age 12 to 14. We carriers had a perforated sheet for each customer in a small ring binder and we tore off the portion for each week when collecting, all in cash. The retail daily paper was 7 cents then, and Sunday was a quarter. Subscribers got a deal, 40 cents for the week and 20 cents more for Sunday. I had about 45 daily customers and about 65 Sunday customers over a 4-block area that I would walk, except Dad would drive me on Thursday and Sunday. Those papers had the extra ad sections, and I couldn’t physically carry them all myself. Most customers tipped a buck at Christmas. I had one wheelchair bound customer who tipped me a quarter a week to bring the papers to his side door. All the others went in the front screen door or on the front porch if the screen door was locked. One year I had zero complaints for late delivery (papers had to be delivered by 6am), wet papers, or anything else and received a nice varsity style jacket with a big Star on the chest, and my picture in the paper along with the other “honor carriers”. I gave up the route in high school as studies and clubs took up more time.

Jo Bo
Jo Bo
1 month ago

Thanks for reminding me to strive to be a good customer and care about those who work to serve others.

You are in good — nay, famous — company: https://www.yahoo.com/news/working-same-first-job-shaped-153500898.html

Newsboy
Newsboy
1 month ago

Great post, Kenyon! I delivered the morning paper from ages 11-18, and your reflections on the psychology of your customers mirrors my own. A few of my own life-lesson / observations gleaned from paper routes:

1) Always show up, even when you don’t feel like it – subzero temps or rain notwithstanding. If you made the commitment, get out there and do the job.

2) Protect your product – bread bags were hoarded from family and neighbors and later slipped over newspapers when bad weather arrived. The company did not pay for these. My tips were bigger compared to the kid who delivered evening papers that commonly got soaked in the rain.

3) Collection days might be the only human interaction some folks got outside their front door that week (particularly the elderly / infirmed). Be nice and say thank you when collecting – regardless of tip size.

4) Plan ahead – paper routes were like owning a dog – somebody had to take care of them when you were going away. Always cover a buddies route, even when it meant getting up at 5 am – he’ll likely be there to cover your route later on in a moment of need.

5) Own up to your mistakes – promptly. If an errantly thrown paper somehow ended up on a customers porch roof (doh!), always come back later that same day and help get it down. If your break a porch window (I did it twice..at the same house), be quick with the cash to cover the repair cost.

6) If you had the choice, it was always better to “rise with the birdies”. There were two papers in our town. The world was quiet and the bad characters were still in sleeping while I was working. Lured by a bigger route that opened up, I carried the evening paper for one week and was promptly mugged and robbed on my first night making collections. I was back on a (smaller) morning route two weeks later. Lesson learned…all that glitters is not gold.

Added bonus: morning routes allowed more time for after-school activities, usually while my buddies were rushing home to deliver the evening paper.

Like you, the life-lessons gleaned from this early chapter in my working life have paid dividends far beyond the meager dollars I earned back then. I’m more than a bit melancholy that such an opportunity no longer exists for kids today with the demise of so many printed newspapers in the digital era.

Last edited 1 month ago by Newsboy
David Sayler
David Sayler
1 month ago
Reply to  Newsboy

Great comments! The paper route taught lots of lessons that were valuable in later life.

Chazooo
Chazooo
1 month ago
Reply to  Newsboy

Maybe it is because of where I lived, but as a former paperboy I was saddened when as I became a customer, the newspaper routes were taken over by adults in vans and “productivity” became the key – no more newspaper on the porch rain or shine, etc. That all happened long before you read your newspaper online. And now, sadly, where do little budding capitalists develop – day trading on their iPhones?

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