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Early lessons learned

Commentary
by Mark J. Miller

President, Arizona Food Marketing Alliance

Tim Thomas called me a few weeks ago. He invited me to speak to his local in state newspaper group at Wild Horse Pass. His organization helps guide all the small-town newspapers across Arizona as they look for ways to be relevant in today’s electronic version of everything times.

Thinking about the newspaper business brought back some great memories. Growing up in a family of six children, there was not many extras. Going out for dinner at Bob’s Big Boy was only on very special occasions. We were always looking for ways to earn a little extra spending money. We would mow lawns and baby sit for our neighbors.

At eleven years old you could start delivering the Phoenix Gazette, the afternoon paper. They dropped off the papers at 3:00, so you could start your route right after school. I saved up your money to buy a paperboy special bike. That was a bike with a heavy-duty frame that had a spring on the front fork. Then you needed to add a basket in the front and on both sides of the back wheels so you could get all the papers in one load, so you did not have to reload. That was my first lesson in logistics.

Once you turned twelve, you could deliver the Arizona Republic, the morning paper. The papers would hit the driveway about 5:30 AM. The alarm was set but most mornings the brakes on the trucks would wake us up. The morning paper was where the big money was. If you really hustled, you could handle 100 houses a day. Lesson learned, get up early and work fast.

My dad told us several times, “the people on our routes were counting on us and we could not let them down”. Most people need the newspaper to start their days. That was my next lesson, when someone is counting on you don’t let them down.

The hardest part of the job was not getting up early, it was collecting the money for the paper. We had to go to every house every week to collect the 70 cents they owed us. Most people did not have the change so they would hand you a dollar bill. Instead of giving the change right back, I would ask, do you need the change. In most cases they would say, just keep it. 30 cents extra from most houses was a lot of money, the tip doubled the profit. The next big lesson, it never hurts to ask for a little extra. Most people like to say yes if you ask the right question in the right way.

My sisters saw that we were making good money and wanted to see if they could help. Since collecting was the part of the job that most paperboys did not like, I let them go around and collect the money. They could keep all the tips that they received. That was my next lesson, outsourcing.

Early on, my mom took us down to the Valley National Bank close to our house so we could open a savings account. After we collected all the money from our customers, we had to get a money order to pay for the newspapers, no electronic transfers back then. Whatever was left, that was our profit. Every week we rode our bikes to the bank and put in half of what we earned. My brothers learned that you could also take the money out of your account. When I was 18, I had enough money to buy a brand new 1973 Ford truck, both of my brothers had to buy old used cars. Lesson learned, save as much as you can it will pay off later.

It is too bad that the kids today do not have the same opportunities that we did in the 60’s and 70’s. We had more freedom and that gave us more responsibility. That freedom helped us in our personal and business life. The young adults today have to learn at school, from the internet, their friends and hopefully from their parents.