Peddle your own papers

When I was 11 years old, I bought my first franchise business. Yes, you read that right. I hadn’t thought of it this way before, but my Detroit News paper route was a franchise. I purchased the route from the former delivery boy based on his number of customers. It was a violation of the company policy to sell a paper route to a boy who was only 11 so, why did they pick me? I’d been volunteering to help the boy who owned the route for almost a year. I just asked him if I could help. It was fun for me.

After a while, I knew where all his customers were. When he was sick or couldn’t deliver the papers for some other reason, I was his substitute. It was a natural transition for me to take over the route when he wanted to sell it. I was the most qualified, despite my age.

I didn’t own a decent bicycle for the job. My mother agreed buy me a bicycle “on time” from Congdon’s Hardware on Pearl Street in Ypsilanti, MI. After we picked out the blue Columbia bike I wanted, Mr. Reynolds Congdon wrote out a simple contract, explained the terms. My mother leaned in to sign it, when he stopped her, “This is between Larry and me.” I signed the paperwork to buy my new bicycle to make the $6.00 monthly payment. He shook my hand and said, “Larry, I trust you.”

Our house was right in the middle of my route. This made it a lot easier early on Sunday mornings. The papers were two or three times thicker than weekdays and heavy for an 11-year-old. I’d get 20 of the newspapers up on my handlebars and deliver one side of the route, come back, and deliver the other 20.

Running a paper route is a real business. I bought the papers from the area manager, sold the papers to my customers with the appropriate mark up, made payments on my bike and kept the remaining profit. I had to pay for my papers every week, even if some of my customers hadn’t paid me. I always had a few customers who were behind, some as far as a month! I paid extra every week until the franchise fee was paid off. I had to pay my bill or lose the route.

Did you follow the chain of events? Volunteer to help, be an intern. Pay your own way. Buy the tools you need to succeed. Organize your work to make it manageable. Collect what you’re owed. Manage your money. Pay your bills.

Great lesson for an 11-year-old to start learning. Read the lessons learned one more time. Do you see any areas to apply more discipline to in 2021? I do.

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