People who know a lot more about business than I do will tell you that getting out of the office and meeting your customers is a critical factor to your success. Ever go into a bank and find yourself being greeted in the lobby by someone who seemingly doesn’t have anything better to do?
That happened to me a few years ago at the old Bank of America office at 301 Carnegie Center. I kept an account there to handle federal and state electronic funds transfers — EFTs — nothing more. The greeter in the lobby asked me why I was there. I explained my routine deposits. She asked if there was anything else I would need help with. Half kidding, I announced I did need a couple of hundred thousand dollars for a home renovation. Thirty minutes later I walked out with a $200,000 home equity line of credit, which I have used over and over in the ensuing years.
All because a glad-hander said hi to me.
The experts will tell you that the publisher of U.S. 1 ought to be out in person meeting and greeting the people who pay the bills around here — the advertisers who are the sole financial support of this newspaper. And the experts are probably correct, which is why I was out at the Princeton University Art Museum the other night, and over at the Princeton Chamber midsummer marketing event last week in front of the Nassau Inn.
But as the editor of the paper, I figure it is also important to see the people who are the real customers of both the paper and its advertisers — the readers.
So here it is another week, another chance to deliver U.S. 1 newspaper to our readers — and, of course, another chance to write about it.
If you are editing a paper that contains editorial content, it’s amazing how many people know you, even if at first they don’t recognize you as your trudge into their office with a stack of papers under your arms. I walk into the offices of Kollevoll & Associates at 23 Route 31 in Pennington, and I am surprised to hear someone greet me by name. It’s Eric Kollevoll, an insurance broker, and I have met him exactly once before in my life — speaking at the Princeton Corridor Rotary at the Hyatt. Way out here in Pennington (relatively speaking) Kollevoll recognizes me.
A few stops later I run into Don Wenzel of Wenzel Advertising. If I say hello to Don I better also say hello to his mother. Shirlee, who has been in the ad business since 1976, holds forth in a Victorian-era structure on West Delaware Avenue. We trade gossip about who is still in business and who isn’t. If that’s not a reminder that the bottom line still counts in business, Shirlee also has a magnificent antique cash register sitting behind her.
At the Straube Center, I decide to look up the namesake of this unusual office center — developed from the remains of an old Cointreau liqueur factory. Win Straube not only stops to say hi, but he offers me a gift: a 20 by 30-inch print of an original piece of art created by Straube himself. The piece is collage consisting of about 800 canceled postage stamps from all over the world that Straube and his wife, Hildegard, have collected in their travels in the past 60 years. It’s no ordinary stamp collection.
A few stops later, the tables are turned. The clerk at Dahlia Flowers at 7 Route 31 North doesn’t know me but I know her store. “You’re the people who were once on the cover of this paper,” I announce as I enter the store. “It’s right up there,” the clerk responds, pointing to a wall. Sure enough, there is our March 4, 2009, cover, nicely framed.
Delivering papers also gives you some insight into the tempo of the business world. Sometime back in the 1990s I was delivering papers to an office at the end of a long hallway at Carnegie Center. I walked in and discovered the receptionist sitting barefoot and lotus-style on her desk, trimming her toe nails. She thanked me for the paper and resumed her trimming. I moved on, wondering if companies really needed receptionists anymore. Today receptionists are as rare as people who answer telephones live. (Here at U.S. 1 we have no receptionist but we have real people answering the phone.)
In my most recent delivery forays I have seen first-hand the effects of the current economic downturn. A few retail centers on the edge of our circulation area seemed particularly distressed. Franklin Park looks grim. There is a section of Ewing that makes me think of eastern Europe after the war. But closer to home the mood is more optimistic.
I am particularly struck by the cheerful disposition of nearly every store I enter at the Pennington Shopping Center, from Rita’s Water Ice to the office of William Fogler, chiropractor.
Their good mood rubs off on me, and I cannot resist having a little fun when I enter the store called All About Birds. “So,” I announce to the first person I see among the scores of exotic birds chirping enthusiastically in the background. “This is one place where the newspaper will surely be appreciated.” The woman in the store knows immediately the reference I am making, but tells me, no, the newspaper will not be used as a bird cage liner for any of these birds. The ink, she explains, has chemicals that could harm the birds.
Besides, she adds, she already has another use for the paper. “I read it,” she says. Now I’m just the delivery guy, but I promise to take the good news back to the writers and editors at the office.