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The paper chase: national newspapers get Little Rock run with Delivery Systems Inc.

What do most couples do on their wedding night?

Whatever your answer, you probably wouldn't guess organizing newspaper delivery routes.

But that's exactly what Joe Fox, 39, and Lia Fox, 36, did on their wedding night in March 1982.

Just before the wedding, Joe Fox began a delivery service for Arkansas residents wanting the Sunday edition of The New York Times.

On the morning after the ceremony, a half-dozen wedding guests assembled to actually deliver the newspapers.

"I didn't want to lose the opportunity," says Fox, whose business was threatened by another person wanting to distribute The New York Times.

Today, Delivery Systems Inc. distributes newspapers to more than 8,200 newsstand buyers, news rack buyers and subscribers.

Fox distributes The New York Times, The Dallas Morning News and three Dow Jones & Co. publications -- The Wall Street Journal, Barron's and The National Business Employment Weekly. He recently added The Commercial Appeal from Memphis, Tenn.

Distribution sites are as far north as Fayetteville and Rogers and as far south as Texarkana and Magnolia.

The major Little Rock distribution areas are the Heights and Hillcrest neighborhoods and west Little Rock subdivisions. There are certain streets, such Edgehill Road and Palisades Drive, that have a high percentage of residents with at least one subscription.

Delivery Systems grew out of Fox's own need for news.

When he came to Arkansas in 1982, he was disappointed to find that the Sunday New York Times was distributed three days late.

"If you didn't get it on Sunday, it just didn't seem quite right," Fox says.

He and some friends decided they needed "a place to go have bagels and read The New York Times."

In 1983, Fox bought Community Bakery Inc., which had been at 1318 Main St. since 1952.

His bakery and distribution businesses are separate, although he runs them both out of the same office on Main Street.

And he's happy send pastries along with The New York Times to Sunday subscribers.

Delivering Dedication

Before Fox move to Arkansas, he made a list of the reasons he wanted to come back to a state in which he had once spent six months.

Fox remembers the Arkansas Gazette as one of the state's strong selling points.

"Now that's something I cannot claim as one of the shining stars of our state," he says.

But the Gazette's demise is helping his business.

Subscriptions to the Sunday New York Times are up by 10 percent since the Gazette closed Oct. 18.

Daily subscriptions are up by 36 percent.

Fox says people have told him they're looking for an alternative to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. And his numbers prove they're getting it.

In the first week after the Gazette closed, Fox received 47 new subscriptions to the various publications.

Normal Little Rock circulation is about 500 for the Sunday New York Times, which Fox says is comparable to other cities of that size. The number of daily issues of The New York Times sold in the city range between 100 and 200.

The Dallas Morning News sells about 700 newspapers on Sunday and about 400 daily in Little Rock.

Of the Dow Jones papers, The Wall Street Journal does the best, selling about 200 issues daily. Barron's and National Business Employment Weekly both sell less than 100 issues in Little Rock, as does The Commercial Appeal.

With 18 employees, half of whom work full time, Fox no longer has to deliver the newspapers himself -- at least not on a regular basis.

Supplements to The New York Times once came to Fox's home on Thursday nights and remained stacked in his living room until he and his wife would collate them on his front porch for the Sunday edition.

Now, Fox is only directly involved with distributing the newspapers when a large number of carriers are absent due to weather.

"One way or another, we're going to get it delivered," Fox says. "We want to be more reliable than the post office."

He has proved his dedication.

Fox spent 10 hours on Christmas Day 1983 delivering newspapers. His carriers couldn't make it due to snow and ice. People offered Fox hot apple cider that day.

All the deliveries weren't made until two days later.

The only time the Sunday New York Times wasn't delivered was when a delivery

truck caught fire and the newspapers were either burned or soaked.

A truck usually brings The Dallas Morning News, the Sunday New York Times, Barron's and The National Business Employment Weekly each weekend from Dallas.

A truck brings The Dallas Morning News from Texarkana the other six days a week along with a bundle of The Wall Street Journal five days per week.

The rest of The Wall Street Journal editions arrive in the middle of the night at Little Rock Regional Airport. The New York Times daily editions come into the airport at about 10 a.m.

The Commercial Appeal arrives each day by bus.

Fox's new general manager is Geoff Sherriff.

"Joe has told me stories about things that have happened," Sherriff says. "I'm still waiting for them to happen."

Building Business

When asked about profits, Fox says his business always has operated in the black because it doesn't require much investment. But he won't disclose the exact numbers.

Fox is taking steps to make the business more lucrative.

For instance, there are 1,500 Wall Street Journal subscribers in Arkansas who receive the newspaper by mail each morning. Fox plans to let those subscribers know he can get them their newspapers by 7 a.m. or 8 a.m.

Volume is the key to more profit, Fox says.

He's considering adding The Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune due to customer requests for the newspapers.

But the Sunday New York Times will remain Fox's bread and butter.

He's planning a Christmas package that offers The New York Times and pastries for four weeks.

Fox normally doesn't advertise or use gimmicks to win business.

His first 75 subscribers in 1982, in fact, were his friends and their immediate friends.

Fox built his clientele by jogging through neighborhoods and placing fliers beneath the local daily newspapers.

He intends to use the same approach for new subscribers now. Fox thinks the fliers will help build his business.

Besides, he says, "It's good exercise."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 4, 1991
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