Insights on business -- and life.
Will Retailers Follow the Same Disastrous Path
They might, unless....
by Mike Dolan (March 23, 2009)
I was stunned when I saw that the Rocky Mountain News was
closing. I grew up and lived in Denver until I was 25. In the 60's,
there was fierce competition between the Denver Post and the News.
At that time, the News was delivered in the morning and the Post
in the afternoon (except for Sunday). I used to help my older
brother with his Post route. I then became a
"substitute" carrier for friends who delivered either
paper. At 13 years old, it was good money, but it also meant getting
up at 4:30 on a snowy morning, folding papers in a cold garage, and
delivering them in the dark. At 14, I got my own News route
in the early 70's. Not only did we have to deliver, but we also had
to collect the money each month, and sell new subscriptions, too.
While I did not have to compete with the Internet, I did have to
compete with the other daily newspaper.
In the 90's, child labor laws killed the teenager from delivering
the papers, and so adults started throwing the papers from cars.
Your paper usually ended up at the end of the driveway. When we
delivered, the front porch was always the target, and if you threw
it into the bushes, you stopped, got off your bike, and got the
paper out of the bushes and put it on the porch.
How does this relate to today? I think the first step that every
newspaper did was to cut back on customer service. When I delivered
the paper, I knew every customer by name and met with them monthly
(when I collected). If the service was good, I got a tip. If it was
bad, they let me know, and I gave the customer what they wanted so I
could get a tip the next month. If the service was really bad, they
stopped the subscription and went to the Post. Today, I doubt
anyone knows who delivers their paper, and you get the bill in the
The next big customer service cut back was when the newspapers
began focusing almost entirely on wire service stories, and only had
neighborhood news on Wednesdays. The last straw came with the
availability of high speed Internet, where I did not have to pay per
minute for slow dial-up service. Now I had a different choice, walk
to the end of my driveway on a cold frosty morning to search for my
paper, or, like this morning, browse through the news online. Oh,
did I forget to mention that instead of offering free classified ads
like Craig's List does, I can spend 15 minutes on hold to place an
ad for $40 in the paper?
I guess the local newspaper does not inspire me to subscribe,
much like the big box does not inspire creativity. Independent
stores must have the same customer service and inspiration as I did
at 14. You need to know your customers, engage in conversation, and
have sample displays so that they know to come to you rather than go
P.S.: I still have the 1962 Schwinn Paper Boy Special in the
(Note: Is Mike right? Is customer service the answer?
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