Life lessons in business: Marty becomes a newspaper boy

In the summer of 1961, I decided to seek a job to earn some money.

Marty Relles

Marty Relles

At 14 years of age, a little extra money comes in handy. Unfortunately, at the time, the only jobs available to children under 16 years old were paper routes.

Both the Sacramento Union and the Sacramento Bee provided such opportunities. However, since Bee carriers delivered their papers in the afternoon, not in the early morning, I set my sights on a Bee route.

Because of their afternoon delivery schedule, the Bee routes were hard to come by, so I had a strategy for getting a route.

My good friend Gary Costamagna had the route that ran through our neighborhood, so I began by helping him with his deliveries. I folded papers with him every afternoon, and delivered his route when he went on vacation. This way, I hoped to get noticed by Mr. J. T. Ens, the district manager for all of the routes in East Sacramento.

Eventually, my strategy worked out as Mr. Ens hired me to take over a small route of 65 customers located on 51st and 52nd streets between J Street and Folsom Blvd.

Great, finally I had a route.

It allowed me to earn about $35 per month, but it took me a long way away from the neighborhood: six blocks each way, every day…including the climb over the hill at 56th Street with a full load of papers hanging on my front handlebars.

Back then the Bee printed a full-sized paper, so this proved quite a trek, but off I went every day over to my route and back. Soon, the money came pouring in.

Managing a Bee route involved three activities:

1. Delivering the paper daily, including Sunday;

2. Collecting the monthly fee for the paper from my customers; and

3. Trying to solicit new subscribers.

That is where J.T Ens came into the picture.

He held a Bee carrier meeting monthly at East Portal Park. There, he stood on the back of his big white Ford pickup truck and tried to drum up the boys enthusiasm for bringing in new subscribers. We earned a hamburger ticket (good for a hamburger, fries and Coke) just for attending the meeting, but we had to listen carefully as J.T. urged us to get new subscribers and try to win the Bee’s latest contests with prizes like trips to Santa Cruz and even Disneyland.

Sadly, I never won anything in these contests for a couple of reasons.

First, even though my route had only 65 customers, it included nearly every home in the neighborhood I delivered. Only 10 or so houses on my route didn’t take the Bee and they had no desire to take it, so to get new subscriptions I had to go on to other carriers routes.

No way, I would do that.

Second, I had minimal skills as a salesman. So when I went to a house to solicit a subscription, they just said “No.”

In the end, even though I attended almost every monthly sales meeting, I garnered few new customers for my route. Consequently, J. T. Ens never gave me a better route.

Eventually, I reached my 16th birthday and then went to work for my uncle Ross at Relles Florist. There, working weekends, I earned about $60 a month.

All things considered, I learned much from my Bee experience. I learned how to be a small business man.

I also learned the basic tenets of all business: Work hard. Satisfy your customers. Do a good job.

Those lessons have stood me well in life. Now, my experience as a Bee deliveryman is just another positive Janey Way memory.

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