Lessons learned from a wet paper

“The highest compliment that you can pay me is to say that I work hard every day.” – Wayne Gretzky

Every morning, I talk to my dad and tell him how much I miss him. On Sundays, Thursdays and Fridays, I miss him even more. Those are the “new” home delivery days for our sort-of daily paper. Yes, the paper is published daily, but budget cuts and cost-saving plans now make for a three-day home delivery service. Out of tradition, we still get home delivery of the Detroit Free Press, “our” paper, and just seeing the masthead makes me think of Dad even more.

After a night of downpours and thunderstorms, I woke up to coffee brewing (I so love programmable coffee makers!) and, while on my way to the front door, I wished Dad a good morning.

Hey Dad, I bet you’re going to be ticked this morning,” I chuckled to myself as I opened the door.

I was right. He’d be livid. Heads would be rolling downtown.

My paper was soaking wet, even though it was in a plastic bag.

Dad was a circulation guy, just like his dad. A late paper was unacceptable, unless it was due to a late press run. A wet paper was completely unacceptable. Period. End of story. Trust me when I tell you that you wouldn’t win an argument with him over a wet paper. If you were one of his carriers, you would be told to “think ahead.” If there was even the slightest chance of that paper getting wet, you were going to go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that paper was dry – even if you had to triple bag the blasted thing.

I know this because my brothers, sister and I all had paper routes. So did our friends, our cousins and, eventually, some of our spouses. We learned from him how the newspaper “food chain” works. Here’s how (imagine him throwing in an expletive or two for emphasis):

“The carrier can make or break the paper he or she works for. Don’t you know that papers aren’t made for free? Someone has to pay all the people who get that paper on the doorstep every morning. So, the advertising rates are based on the circulation numbers. Circulation numbers are based on sales, particularly home delivery subscriptions. Sometimes content comes into play, but nine times out of ten, people quit the paper because of lousy service.

“So, if people quit over service, how do you justify ad rates? Or if the advertiser gets mad and takes his business to the competition, what do you think will happen? How do you pay people when revenues are down? You don’t. You lose numbers. You lay people off.”

Whoa – that’s one serious business lesson to learn.

Customer service skills were drilled into our heads at a young age, along with the world’s strongest work ethic.

Needless to say, the areas of circulation that were run by my dad were like a well-oiled machine. He knew the people to put into the right places to, in his words (and with his famous nod), “get the job done.”

At the time, I didn’t appreciate having to spend an extra minute on my route, bagging papers “just in case.” But as time has moved forward, and I am out and about in this world, I realize just how important those customer service skills are, and see the value in his lesson.

Sitting here, having a refill of coffee and waiting to get a dry paper, I lift up my mug and say, “thanks, Dad.”

And I will try really, really, really hard not to use an expletive as I patiently wait…

© 2012 – Lynne Cobb

7 Replies to “Lessons learned from a wet paper”

  1. Lynne – another fantastic blog about a subject that is near to my heart. Having retired from an industrial sales firm as VP of Customer Service, I agree whole heartedly with your statements. But, you have a way of sharing that I feel is truly from your heart. This sure brings back memories of my first paper route in Detroit. Back then, we didn’t bag papers, but we put them inside doors or in milk chutes to keep the papers dry. “Print” has a tough road ahead, with all the digital news available, and it will take superb customer service to maintain these print editions. I still prefer printed material, though. We subscribe to two delivered newspapers. We still buy printed books, even though we own Kindle e-readers. It is just so much nicer to have something to hold in your hands to read. Keep up the great work! We look forward to your next blog!!

  2. Funny thing, my father adored the Wall Street Journal — and whenever I asked him what he wanted for Christmas or birthdays, he would always say, “Just get me a subscription to the WSJ.” So I did. This year, I got it for my husband for Christmas, and we’re both addicted to the paper now, and it’s the only one we read from back to front every day. (Great writing!!!) I always think of my dad every time I see the paper on the table, which is another lovely bonus! Nice post, Lynne!

    1. Thanks, Cindy. It is amazing how a little thing can trigger such a fond memory. Apparently that love of ink runs deep! On a side note, my grandfather was at the Freep for 54 years! So I think of both of them when I grab the paper, and wonder what they’d think of all the drastic changes in the industry.

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