Eggman — Part 5…Mergers & Acquisitions

chartWhen I left for college in 1961, I bequeathed the egg route, then at 160 dozen per week, to my younger brother Doug. He was almost 12. But when I came home for winter break, the route had declined to 100 dozen. It was too much for him to handle…not to mention the strain driving him around put on Mom, who was nine-to-fiving as a offset print worker for the Oxnard school system. There was little I could do to revive Doug’s waning business except cheerlead and chauffeur.

Points of interest on the accompanying chart:

[1] Steve leaves for college; Doug forgets to deliver the following week. Some customers quit.
[2] Doug resumes deliveries, but temporarily misplaces route book. Working from memory, he overlooks some customers. More defections.
[3] Steve comes home in December. Doug is surprisingly pleased to have his older brother back.
[4] Steve reconnects with high school friends; leaves Doug on his own again.

The first time I took him to pick up the eggs, a woman approached me, introduced herself as Mrs. Ramsden, proprietor of a competing egg route, based primarily on the north side of town.  She asked if I were the young man who had the other egg route in Oxnard. I said I wasn’t, and directed her attention to Doug, who, while waiting for his egg order to be brought out of the cooler,ducks was ineffectually tormenting the semi-wild ducks that scrounged for bugs in the piles of chicken droppings under the long rows of hen cages.

I did not know what Mrs. Ramsden wanted, but once she saw Doug, I could tell she was discomfited. Doug, like me, was a late grower. Although he was in eighth grade, he looked a couple of years younger. The woman explained that her husband was being transferred, and she wished to sell her egg route. Doug, clearly not interested, looked at me. I asked how much, and she replied, “One dollar per dozen. I deliver 220 dozen each week.”

I did a mental calculation. Given our gross margin, it would take less than five weeks for us to recoup our entire investment. Then I realized that I had chosen the wrong pronoun; it was not “us”…it was Doug’s business. In a few weeks I’d be back at Harvard. Clearly dissatisfied with the blank stare from my pre-pubescent brother, Mrs. Ramsden looked to me. I shrugged, indicating that it was Doug’s decision. He turned her down, tossed another pebble at a nearby duck, and we loaded the eggs for his diminishing route. Mrs. Ramsden was completely nonplussed.

When we got home, Dad was there. Since losing his clothing store eight months earlier (more on that here), Dad had been selling used Cadillacs at a local dealership. He didn’t complain, but it was clear he didn’t enjoy the work. Today he was off, and to our surprise, he offered to be our driver. We could work both sides of the streets while he drove. Glad to have him as company, but somewhat confused by his presence in our little egg route world, we packed the back seat and front trunk of his pathetically underpowered Renault Dauphin and set out.

renault 1958A half-hour into the deliveries, Dad offered to do the route book updating (since half of our customers weren’t home when delivered, we left the eggs for them and collected subsequently. Occasionally customers would run up a ten-week tab before we finally found them home. I never had a single bad debt.) “I’m just sitting behind the wheel…It’ll speed things up.”

A bit later we arrived at a street that was dense with customers. Doug and I jumped out and filled our arms with cartons, but before we got out of earshot, Dad announced that he’d take the two customers at the far end of the block and then come back to pick us up. He drove off. I was confused. It was awkward. My father…delivering eggs.

(Continued in a subsequent post.)

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