Paper Drive

This weekend’s post comes to us from Bill.
Photo Credit:  Ann Arbor District Library

Here’s a stream of consciousness for you:

Today I bought a roll of sisal twine to have on hand when I bundle tree trimmings or flattened cardboard boxes for recycling and I reflected that sisal twine always makes me think of paper drives. Remember paper drives? When I was in grade school and when I was in Boy Scouts, paper drives were a common way of earning money for extra-budgetary purchases. I especially remember the  school ones. We would each be given some lengths of twine and then, singly or in groups we would pull a wagon around the neighborhood asking neighbors, door to door, if they had any stacks of old newspapers we could have. There must have been a competitive aspect to it but I can’t remember specifically how it was set up. I don’t think it was individual; more likely it was grade against grade to see who could collect the most. I don’t recall a reward for winning either, other than the pride of coming in first. Paper drives have gone away because recycling has reduced the value of scrap paper and nobody has stacks of old newspapers lying around anyway.

It seems like there were a lot of fundraising schemes back then, most of which involved going door to door and trying to sell some commonplace item, like light bulbs, at an inflated price. An easy albeit unimaginative solution for some group of PTA parents to foist upon hapless students as a means to raise funds. Presumably, your native charm and powers of persuasion were supposed to compensate for the poor value of the transaction. Usually what happened is that your parents and grandparents ended up with a stockpile of off-brand light bulbs they had purchased at a non-competitive price. The only party to the scheme that made any real money was the company that supplied the fundraising products.

Door-to-door sales is almost extinct, it seems. Gone are the Fuller Brush men and I can’t remember the last time a kid came around trying to sell something. Although I imagine that would be considered child endangerment these days, most of us had some experience with that kind of commerce. I briefly considered trying to sell waterless cookware when I was in college. I had picked up the sample case and tried out my spiel on some female friends. I was so inept and so unconvincing that they were in helpless tears of hilarity before I finished. I returned the sample case the next day.

How about you? What did you sell?

34 thoughts on “Paper Drive”

  1. My grandfather lost his job (in a small town newspaper) during the Depression. He spent about a year trying to sell a newfangled household project door-to-door. He walked the sidewalks with a Hoover vacuum and little jar of sand. If he could get into someone’s home, he was supposed to dump sand on a carpet and use the Hoover to clean it up. As I remember the story, in one year he sold two Hoovers (one to himself).

    Makeup used to be sold door-to-door. I remember the phrase “Avon Lady.” Mary Kay was another company selling this way, and there were rumors about women who drove pink Cadillac autos and went to Hawaii on vacation based on their Mary Kay sales prowess.

    My erstwife was recruited to sell magazines door-to-door when she was just a kid. After her first day she played with the math when she got home. The next day she naively informed her supervisor (a guy who drove around dropping kids off to work different neighborhoods) that something was wrong because she had calculated they were selling magazines at grossly inflated prices. She was fired.

    I never did sales like that but worked for five years as a “paper boy,” meaning I went door-to-door delivering newspapers and then (on Thursdays) collected subscription fees. When we collected we wore little chrome devices that had four cylinders (for quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies) on a belt. I have many strange memories from that period.


      1. I used to read Blondie, the daily cartoon strip drawn by Chic Young. My interest was mostly historical. That strip used to be an eerily accurate picture of American life in the 1930s and 1940s. For example, the strip depicts Dagwood battling almost constantly with his boss, Mr. Dithers, for a better salary. That was exactly how such matters were dealt with in many businesses of the time, as my own father could have told you. A recurring gag in Blondie was the appearance of door-to-door vacuum salesmen who were adept at jamming a foot in the door when a householder answered the doorbell. If you want an intimate, knowing portrait of middle America in the middle of the 20th century, study Blondie.


  2. Hurry hurry, step right this way
    She walks ,she’s talks, she wriggles on her belly like a reptile.

    I am a salesman and it is a different story today than it was when I got into the business, I feel like willie lohman these days and being well liked is a thing of the re#pities of life.getti;g into the big dogs at target or menards in town here is a trick, it is much more easily done by someone with connections than by a newbie trying to find an opportunity

    I remember being sent out to call on the first potential customers and the nervous feeling in going from the freeway to the hardware store to the door to the office to ask to talk to the guy. Sweat started and then you meet the guy and he is as nice and understanding as could be. It is a pleasure to talk to him and he sees it as part of the big circle of life to listen to the sales guys who come around and tell them that he will consider and let’s them know.

    After I cut my teeth on hardware stores semi distant areas I was set loose on the corporate offices of the gambles hardware coast to coast hardware and many other groups buying here. Our own hardware, fok bought for ok hardware, United for hardware hank, Warner hardware and we had gold bond stamps and business incentives we vs works. . I used to sell hem paint sprayer and battery chargers and sprinklers and insect forgets. The big part of the sale that always closed the deal was that we would drop ship. The buyers were amazed that a kid knew what drop shipping was. I called on Dayton’s and donaldsons, thenfarm stores in Minnesota north and South Dakota nd Wisconsin and othe groups of grocery and drug stores like red owl and Snyder’s drug, shop ko and variety supply, I remember sitting in the office of American fuel supply in Milwaukee with Larry plotkin sompissed at me for not being in to see him before even though he had bought from me that he made me sit in the outer office for 3 hours before he would see me. When I finally got to see him I must have said the right thing because we had a good relationship after that. He had a picture of the ice man going around in the ice wagon and I asked if that was how he got his start. He said it was and I suspect the good relationship that followed was based on something as simple as that. A couple of sales guys talking shop

    Today I sell my new concepts on hoe to sell to folks who don’t get the amazon era marketing analytics. It’s a brave new world out there and the way stuff gets to market is a whole new deal . But they still do newspaper in the same old location every day,
    Over on the corner of cretin and university is the paper recycling place. They grind it up and newsprint and cardboard out of it. It smells a little like the paper mills in Wisconsin but only a little. Boy those mills over around Wausau could stink up a whole area for the majority of the year.
    Chuck at nekoosa hardeare is where I would go and trade samples.

    We always had to oreder samples for the year and we represented 10 or 15 companies so the sample inventory was always a little,out of control.,we would go see chuck and have a list of thensamples and the cost/ retail of each item. We would decide if we were going to go this trading session in wholesale or retail dollars.
    If it was wholesale I would get 40% off the retail price as my measuring tool. If it was retail obviously it would be the price sticker vs my suggested retail price sheet. We used to carry 3 price sheets back in the day. Retail, dealer and distributor, everyone understood. I think it spurred on people like John menard to be allowed to move from the dealer sheet to the distributor sheet. I called on menards when they had 4 stores. Target used to say we should treat them good because one day they would have 100 stores.
    10,000 auto parts, scheels hardware, individual hardware stores down around birs Winona hill country all bring back the memories of selling in the old days. It’s easy once you realize it’s just folks.
    Today my kids laugh at how easily I start up conversations with folks in line at the grocery store or outside the football game.
    I learned how to talk to people about whatever is in front of us at the moment.
    I remember some of the first sales tapes I listened to. Stories of the how and why a salesman makes good. There is no right way, just a way that’s right for you.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. For the uninitiated: Drop shipping is a supply chain management technique in which the retailer does not keep goods in stock but instead transfers customer orders and shipment details to either the manufacturer, another retailer, or a wholesaler, who then ships the goods directly to the customer. Wiki also provides a flow chart.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. I sell the possibility of change-change in thinking, change in behavior, change in parenting, all which can result in changes in feelings, beliefs, attitudes.

    Every summer, college age minority youth from out of state descend on us selling cleaning products. They are legit and licensed and are part of some leadership, entrepreneurship program. They must have success here, as they keep returning. The local college football team was selling coupons for local businesses. I bought a sheet of them. I have a hard time saying no.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I never sold anything as a child. And not as an adult, either until recently. More recently, I’ve sold some photos and photo cards. The events this year where I would seriously sell my photo products (Farmers Market, a WomenVenture event, and the upcoming Womens Art Festival) – I dropped out of all of those but I’m doing a few (emphasis on few) sales here and there.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Not sure what kind of help you’re thinking of, tim, but I’m content to let things be dormant for a while. In fact, once December rolls around, I will not sell to anyone, no matter how much they beg, haha. This will give me time to get things in order and pay the sales tax I owe to the state by the end of the year and then just let things sit until I am able to pick things up again (assuming I will be able again – and if I’m not able, then I won’t care).


  5. Boxes of candy for Little League baseball. HATED IT!

    My dad would never take candy to work and sell it to co-workers, but most other boys’ dads (and/or moms) did, so I always struggled to sell the minimum while the Ricky Himmelman’s of the world won all the prizes for selling the most boxes of candy.

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Even as a Girl Scout selling cookies I was not a great sales person. My volume was not high – it didn’t help that with cookies (or any other over-priced thing I was to be selling as a fundraiser) was something I had to sell. Unlike my friends who had parents happy to add their offices or co-workers as potential sales marks, I was left to fend with the neighborhood (where competition was fierce) and my grandparents. I am still a lousy sales person. I helped at a friend’s craft booth for a couple of years at the tail end of my Renaissance Festival days – but that was stuff that people were already inclined to buy, so selling was easier. These days I peddle ideas – vague notions of what we can get 1s and 0s to line up and do. It’s a little easier because it’s all in the story telling, and that I can do.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. In my home town, Ames, there seemed to be no way to fund projects that were popular but not bureaucratically supported. The classic example would be school bands or marching bands. How to fund them? Send hundreds of kids out selling special chocolate bars. The cynical assumption behind this was knowing that many chocolate bars would be sold by parents hoping to make the kid look good.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I did the Girl Scout cookie route when I was little. But the one I remember the most is collecting bottles door-to-door and wagon and then taking them up to the Krogers for the cash. We donated the cash to the Red Cross although I don’t remember what thecrisis was at the time that made me think the Red Cross needed the money.

    When I was a senior in high school I made a really good whole wheat bread. It took me about a year to come up with the recipe. My father was absolutely sure that I could make some serious coin by pedaling this bread door to door. He thought I could get people to sign up and then I would bake the bread for them. An early CSA for bread if you will. I was never even remotely interested in this scheme of his.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That would have been pretty labor intensive!
      Husband did a slightly larger version of this, with a couple of other people back in the early 70s. They were able to rent the Y’s kitchen (with large mixers, etc.) for $5 a day once a week, cranked out 100-150 loaves a day, and sold the bread to the co-ops and cafes… until the Health Department started sniffing around.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. YA is an excellent salesperson. Once when she was little she wanted to have a cotton candy machine at our National Night Out party. She hit on all of the neighbors for donations to raise this money. Took her less than an hour.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I sold Girl Scout Cookies one year. I still remember the person who bought from me… and how I knew this was something at which I was inept.

    We took an aptitude test in 9th grade where I tested off-the-charts low in the Persuasive category. My counselor’s comment was that that was not necessarily a good thing, since I wanted to become a teacher – teaching would involve plenty of need for persuasion.

    Now the only thing I try and convince people to do is come and sing with us at the Winona Art Center, Third Thursdays at Theven.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The photo is interesting. Here’s the original:

      It’s from 1942. Those boys share a body type you almost never see anymore—lean but not scrawny. There’s not an ounce of excess fat in the bunch, but they all look healthy enough and vital.

      Regarding the photoshop alteration, the White House has perhaps learned by now the mischief you invite when you hold up a document or proclamation for the camera.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Wow, paper drives! What a trip down memory lane, thanks, Bill. Hadn’t remembered or thought about that in many decades.

    We, too, had annual paper drives as part of some fund raising drive at school. I don’t remember what for, but I remember collecting and bundling newspapers and bringing them to school on my bicycle. I recall classrooms slowly accumulating large stacks of paper over the duration of the drive, but like Bill, I have no recollection of what prizes were involved, but clearly there was a competitive angle to the collecting.

    Thankfully, I was never required to sell anything as a kid; as an adult I have proven repeatedly that I have no talent for it whatsoever. Hans claims there isn’t a more inept salesperson on the face of the earth than me. I’d be hard pressed to sell ice cream in a desert. But I had to learn that the hard way.

    My first landlady in the US, Kate Garvin, a fifty-something year old spinster librarian who lived with her mother, Anne, thought I should earn some spending money. Somewhere along the line, Kate had signed up as a Mary Kay beauty consultant, but had never done anything with her kit and inventory, and that’s where I came in. It was easy she said, all I had to do was go door to door in the neighborhood, and I was bound to find someone who needed what I was peddling.

    Now keep in mind that I didn’t, and don’t, wear make-up, so I wasn’t exactly a walking billboard for my wares. But, I put on my Sunday finest, including white gloves (I had apparently seen some Avon commercials on TV) and ventured out with my little suit case. I must have knocked on at least twenty doors that day, but found very few people at home, and no one interested in what I had to offer. I tried a few more times, but it was hopeless, my hearts wasn’t in it. And then I found the job as admissions clerk at the local hospital, another disastrous match that I’ve written about before. (As a matter of fact, I think I’ve told this story before, too.)

    About forty years ago, I once again tried my hand at selling door to door. This time it was baby pictures. I attended a couple of training sessions and was assigned a “mentor” to tag along with for a few days. Armed with the reassurance that the worst that can happen is that a potential customer might say no, I ventured out on my own. In three or four tries, I didn’t sell a thing, but I was invited inside a home for a visit with a new mother. I guess she was lonely, but didn’t have any money. That career came to a halt of a Saturday morning in Brooklyn Park. I rang the door bell of an apartment in some run-down building at around 11 AM. A woman in a bathrobe opened the door and asked what I wanted. While I was trying to tell her, a male voice from within hollered “Who is it?”. When she told him “someone selling baby pictures,” his response was “Tell her to go shit in the street.”

    Liked by 4 people

      1. No thanks tim, I’m retired. I’d rather panhandle at a street corner than try to sell stuff to people do don’t want it.


  12. I once concluded that doing cold call sales was my perfect vision of hell. Then I realized that while it might be hell for me, some people are put together in such a way that selling doesn’t hurt and can even be fun.

    One of the strangest men I’ve known was a guy with an extremely low threshold for boredom. If John could see a sales opportunity as a diverting test, he became irresistible. You couldn’t take your eyes off him. I once wrote “John could have sold ice cubes to Eskimos.” What wound John up was the challenge of understanding the target’s intellectual and emotional makeup and then devising a pitch that would make them literally unable to resist. He was a supremely skillful con man. For better or worse, John rarely found sales opportunities very interesting. We’re all lucky he didn’t take his pitchman skills into politics.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Right there with you, Bill. Our grade school must have a paper drive twice a year. We would tell our teacher how many lengths of twine we expected to need and were issued precisely that number; we could get more if we ran out. I clearly remember pulling the family wagon through the neighborhood and going down into some very dark, dingy basements piled high with newspapers. We would tie the papers into manageable bundles and haul them up the stairs and into the radio flyer. Some people had more than a wagon-load of papers and we’d go back a couple of times to clear them all out. There was a huge Waldorf Paper trailer parked in back of the school for a week and we’d bring the previous day’s collection each morning. Occasionally my dad would load the papers in the back of the station wagon when the previous day’s haul was particularly large. As I recall, the stacks were weighed before they were thrown (or maybe stacked) in the trailer; it must have been a grade vs grade competition. I haven’t thought of those paper drives for years.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m not good at selling unless it’s something I could endorse as a good buy. Last Mother’s day, I remember talking to a woman who had called the flower shop I work for. She asked about a potted plant for her mother, and I recommended a Jasmine plant, which is one of the pricier options our shop featured. A nice patio plant that will grow pretty large over a summer. I also suggested a box of chocolates, and she went for it. I told I would like to be her mother, because I would really love to get a jasmine and a box of Abdullah chocolates. She laughed and told me I was a really good salesperson.

    After I turned the order over to the design table, one of the designers said it was a really weird order. A plant and chocolates? She thought that was odd; flowers and chocolates seemed normal to her, but a blooming plant and chocolates was just weird in her opinion. But I still think that was the perfect gift.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Might want to tell you shop owner shop owner that while everyone else is selling roses on chocolates maybe she could focus on plants that last for a long time and chocolates and be different
      zero competition
      great concept
      instead of thanksgiving and christmas centerpieces how about live plants
      poinsettias are ok but christmas cactus lasts years and it as pretty

      Beier and Chasr and offer a different


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.