His two district managers, the supervisors who hire, fire and oversee the company's 78 paper carriers, had a waiting list of 252 names eager to grab one of the 116 routes, making advertising moot.
That's 252 possible carriers, in the middle of winter, for a position that circulation departments from Coeur d'Alene to Washington and across Montana know can be impossible to fill in more prosperous times.
"There are times when we have to take a warm body," Mr. Phillips said about his department, which had 25 open routes last summer. "Now we can pick and choose."
In flush times, the seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year position is hard to sell. When times are tough, the work-hungry form a line, and a survival of the fittest mentality weeds out weaker workers. But unlike almost every other business across the country, circulation service has been booming since November across the inland Northwest.
For about $550 a month, plus customer tips, carriers line up every morning to pick up their bundles outside The Press regional production facility and head off on their routes.
Most have day jobs. Some are retired. All need the money.
Gone is the picture of a kid on a bicycle, tossing papers as he pedals. They're adults now, making ends meet, lining up in their cars every morning to pick up papers before heading off to work during the day.
The survival mentality has proved successful. Coeur d'Alene carriers have dropped delivery complaints to record lows. In December, they recorded 0.71 complaints per 1,000 papers delivered, the best month of delivery on record. For February, they're at 0.61, well below the national benchmark of 1.5, as is the circulation department in Missoula, Mont.
"This is the best time to look at replacing carriers who haven't lived up to their contracts," said Bill Shannon, the circulation director for the daily paper there, the Missoulian . "We have a healthy number of names interested in taking over."
Carriers are independent contractors, not employees. Their contracts don't offer benefits but outline performance expectations such as delivery deadlines.
WANT A CARRIER JOB?
You can contact The Augusta Chronicle at (706) 823-3591 or go to www.augustachronicle.com/circulation .