Five Cent Nickel’s most recent article, “33 Ways to Earn Extra Money” reminded me of a time when I was home from college during winter break and tried to earn extra money delivering phone books. It was one of those newspaper ads that sounded too good to be true. I could earn a couple hundred extra bucks delivering phone books during my time off. This turned out to be disastrous.
First off, let me point out that my hometown is outside of Cleveland, Ohio right in the middle of the Lake (Erie) Effect Snowbelt. It is not uncommon for it to snow 2-3 feet overnight in December. At the time, I also drove a 1991 Ford Probe. So the deal was that everyone who wanted to deliver phone books would meet at this location and pick up a route or two. So being young and naive, I wanted to earn the most money possible and I went with two routes. This turned out to be a couple thousand phone books loaded into a Ford Probe! It was definitely over the maximum weight capacity, but I was not going to ask them to unload any at this point.
To make matters worse, each one of the phone books had to be individually stuffed into a clear plastic bag. This does not sound too bad as it can be done while watching television, but it really was a huge pain that took more time than it was worth. Think of the process, unload the car, bring the books into the living room, stuff into bags, repeat a thousand times and load the car back up. I guess there is a possibility for some process improvement here, but this was before I had taken any classes in manufacturing or process improvement. This was not even the worst part in the whole deal.
The hardest part was that the phone books had to be delivered to the front porch/steps of EVERY residence. This equated to parking the car full of phone books and walking up and down every driveway or driving up and down the driveways. Neither of these options were easy. I’d say it took three minutes on average to deliver each book. At the time, it paid between ten and twenty cents per phone book delivered. At roughly twenty books an hour at twenty cents a book that is only $4.00/hour! That does not even figure in expenses such as gas money or wear and tear on the vehicle. The profit would be significantly less.
It did not help that I was delivering these phone books in the middle of the winter after a recent snow storm left a couple feet of snow on the ground. More than once, I got stuck trying to get up peoples driveways with a car full of phone books. It also did not work well to try and walk since I lived in a semi-rural area where almost all the driveways are at least 100 ft long. It was even worse to try to follow the houses parallel to the road and trudge through the snow door to door. In the end, I gave up and returned the phone books. The company did not even pay me for the books I did deliver.
I do realize this scenario might be a bit different in other areas and climates, but I know for sure I’ll never waste my time with it again. Even a phone book every minute at twenty cents a book, that would only be $12/hour. I made more than that busing tables at the local restaurant.