At 11 years old, most boys are all about bikes, skateboards, and baseball cards. But I was all about starting a business.
It was 1969 in Glastonbury, Connecticut, a town of about 10,000 people just outside of Hartford, and I wanted money to buy things my parents wouldn’t pay for. A friend told me about a paper route coming available near my house. My parents were concerned — “You know you’ll have to deliver the papers every day, even in the rain and snow.” — but I was determined.
The Hartford Courant (which was and still is the longest continuously published newspaper in the United States) was a morning paper. I needed to start deliveries by 5:30 am to finish in time to eat breakfast and catch the bus for 6 th grade at Academy School. I also needed a heavy duty bicycle with double baskets to carry all 40 papers. On Sundays, Mom or Dad needed to drive me in our station wagon since the larger papers wouldn’t fit in my bike. I’m not sure they enjoyed being a part of my job, but I sure enjoyed sitting on the tailgate and running up to each door. I also had to collect money from each customer so I could pay for my papers on Saturday. Any money left over after paying for the papers was my profit. A lot of responsibility for an 11-year- old.
My ambition didn’t stop at the $10.00 per week I earned delivering the papers. Oh no. I quickly brainstormed ways to add extra services.
Happy customers are key to larger tips. This is true in almost every industry.
I offered to follow special instructions for each customer. Some people wanted their papers inside the outer door. Some people wanted their pets to run out and get the paper. As I learned and followed these preferences, my weekly earnings soon increased from $10.00 to $20.00.
I soon boasted a greatly enhanced stamp collection, a Raleigh Chopper bicycle, a horse, and a pellet rifle.
In the spirit of “more is better” — which has become a theme in my life — I added an additional service to my paper route. The owner of a horse farm along my route asked if I would feed his horses half way through my deliveries for an extra $10.00 a week. My parents thought I was biting off more than I could chew, but I loved the freedom of being able to support and feed my own horse with my own money.
It’s not the money or extra tips that sticks with me to this day, though. It’s the satisfaction I felt making my customers happy. That was always more important to me than the money. Their compliments and support of my work ethic and attention to detail built my confidence. It made me proud of my work. It’s amazing when, on visits home, my customers greet me after all these years and thank me for the great service.
To this day, I get up early, work hard, and brainstorm additional services to benefit our customers. But above all, I love and making people happy and keeping my animals well fed. Some things never change.