Lessons In Maximizing Payments And Providing Exceptional Service From A Teenage Paper Route

Peter Alcide learned several great lessons for leadership from his boyhood paper route, such as how to maximize payments by delaying collection from a group of beer drinkers until after they'd had a few.


My first paying job was a paperboy for the Rockland (New York) Journal News. I had a paper route of about 50 customers, six days a week in the afternoon, Sunday in the morning. Every day I would take delivery of the newspapers, fold them, and distribute them on my bicycle.

The experience instilled in me a work ethic, an early sense of responsibility and planning.

After school, when many of my friends were getting together to play and have fun, I had newspapers to deliver. Rain or shine. I learned how to prioritize.

I really had my own little business. The business model was wholesale-retail.  I accepted responsibility for paying for my batch of newspapers every Saturday. I collected from retail subscribers on Thursdays and Fridays. The difference between what I paid for the newspapers and what I collected was my profit. Plus tips, of course.

Like any business, I had to develop a bookkeeping system. I had to control cash flow. I learned that every business must collect money before it paid its bills. I learned about budgeting, accounts receivable, and accounts payable. I struggled with customers who didn’t pay on time. I figured out the best times to show up to collect.

Most of what I know about customer service was inspired by the paper route. The better I understood what customers wanted, the more I earned.  And that required talking to the customers and understanding their concerns. Some wanted their papers on the porch. Some in the mailbox. In the end, every job is about execution. Tips were a direct function of how well I executed.

Speaking of tips, I figured out that sometimes postponing collections paid off. I noticed that a bunch of men who were on my newspaper route got together every Saturday afternoon for a few beers after completing their yard work and home projects. So I made sure I collected from these customers later in the afternoon because I learned that their generosity was a direct function of how many beers they had. In this way I learned that extending credit by a few hours (I had to pay for the newspapers earlier in the day) often delivered real payoffs.

Saturdays were the best part of the job. I carefully counted all the coins and small bills and updated the accounts. I paid the circulation manager at the Journal News for my allotment of newspapers for the previous week. I then went to the bank to deposit my earnings. Most of the earnings went into a savings account. I also deposited a smaller amount in a Christmas Club account.  It felt great to see my accounts increase every week. Then all the other paper boys would meet for breakfast and exchange stories and laughs.



  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events