When I was in fifth grade, a seventh grader was getting ready to give up his paper route. There were about five boys trying to get it from him. I gave him one of my skateboards and he gave me his route. I had just bought my first business.
Once I had the paper route, I felt like the captain of the paper industry. I was working for the “Herald Examiner”, a company owned by William Randolph Hearst. At 11 years old, I was a business partner with one of the wealthiest men in the world.
I had an afternoon route that covered 85 houses. When I got home from school, my stack of newspapers and rubber bands were waiting for me and I would immediately start the process of folding them in thirds, putting a rubber band on them and putting them in the bag that would hang on the handlebars of my bike. When I was finished, I would begin the ride and throw them onto the porch of each house. In all, it took me about two hours.
I lived in the San Fernando Valley, north of Los Angeles and the weather was excellent all year. However, afternoons (especially in the summer) it could get extremely warm. My route finished near a local liquor store, so I decided — being a man of employment — that I would buy a soda each day when I finished my route.
One afternoon, about three weeks into owning my own business, my grandpa Joe sat and explained profit and loss to me. It was my responsibility to pay for the papers at the end of the month. I needed to collect the payment from my 85 clients and whatever was left over was my profit. The Herald Examiner charged me $4.30 per month, per paper. I was able to charge $4.75 per month. I made $.45 a month per household. If I had 85 houses on my route, then I made $38.35 per month. I was motivated to add more clients (sales) and to make sure I collected every single house (accounts receivable). I also realized that my $.55 soda (entertainment expense) was eating over 40% of my profit.
My paper route taught me profit/loss, sales, marketing, customer service, and many, many other business lessons that I carry with me even today. I am sad that my children don’t have similar opportunities to learn life’s lessons. Adults in cars now deliver newspapers. Gardeners mow the lawns. Cars are washed by mobile car wash vans. Where are the opportunities for young children to learn how to run a business? Why are we surprised that young adults have trouble balancing a checkbook, keeping a budget and end up buying cars and houses that they can’t afford? They were not given the opportunity to develop good business sense at an early age.
If it were up to me, I would bring back the paper route and give young people the opportunity to learn how to run a business and become entrepreneurs. What do you think?
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