Paper Entrepreneurs

When my brother, Eugene and I were in junior high we had paper routes. We didn’t just have one each, we had six of them between us.

We delivered the Fargo Forum, Daily and Sunday Editions, The Times Record, Two Minneapolis Tribune Sunday routes and one daily Minneapolis Tribune route. Sunday was the hardest day; we delivered approximately 250 papers. When we grew older, we assisted in selling the Sunday paper on the corner of Central and 4th Street, right across from Foss Drug which was the only store of size allowed to be open that day.

Our Sunday routes were so large our father had to help us with the logistics. He would help by placing bundles of newspapers along the route to replenish our bike baskets. This was tough on him and I am sure he would have loved to have stayed home to drink his coffee. (If you really want to know how much you parents care about you, ask them to help you deliver newspapers Sunday after Sunday after Sunday!)

In order to really succeed in paper routes, you had to learn how to sell new subscriptions. New subscriptions were the key to building routes. It was just as easy to deliver 40 newspapers as thirty, if you sold the new subscriptions on your normal route you traveled. Sometimes you were given a customer that was off your route, which added length to your day. The only way to make it pay off was to add other new customers around that same area.

Not only did you build your route with new sales, some of the newspapers gave bonuses for selling the new subscriptions. The Minneapolis Tribune was especially known for this. Archie Anderson was the Minneapolis Tribune District Sales Manager and he was good at his job. He could wind up a bunch of 7th and 8th graders and turn them into a well oiled sales team. With the promise of plastic cameras, hand warmers and baseball gloves, they would hound their parents and relatives until they bought enough newspaper subscriptions for each child to reach his goal.

A person doesn’t do well in selling subscriptions without learning a few sales tricks. Eugene and I were masters of them all. If it was summer, our shoes had holes in them. If it was winter, we were missing hats and gloves. We were constantly supplied with sales order forms that had pictures of the reward premiums to show the potential subscriber. Eugene and I always circled the prize we were working towards. And, no matter what, we always needed just one more subscription to win that prize. People loved to fill in the last subscription blank knowing that their subscription put us over the top. We made sure we always had a sales order forms pre-filled with names and addresses giving everyone the opportunity to do just that.

With the Star Tribune alone, we won trips to Minnesota Twins Games, the Minnesota State Fair, and Water skiing on Lake Minnetonka. For boys from Valley City, ND these were huge prizes. Besides the trips, we actually did win some coats, gloves, hats, and cash.

At one point, we were doing so well, that Archie Anderson sent out a special edition newsletter to all his carriers telling them about Eugene and my successes and giving them some of our sales techniques. The biggest lesson we learned was to make sure to share our successes, it was important that customers knew they were part of the reason we made the goals.

Unfortunately, part of the business was collecting monies for the subscriptions. It’s a hard lesson to learn that people would purposely hide when we knocked on the door, because they didn’t have the money to pay. It was even a harder lesson to learn that if they didn’t pay, the money came out of our pay. Luckily this was a rare occurrence and we learned quickly to weed out the poor payers.

Even with the occasional set back, our income at that time was quite high. We were clearing over a hundred dollars a month apiece, not including the lawn mowing and snow shoveling businesses.

I’d like to say we saved the money for a college education, but we didn’t. It would be nice to say we bought clothes, but we didn’t. We did become experts at pinball and arcade games. If we got anything permanent from our paper routes it was experience. That, in fact, turned out to be the best reward of all!

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