Channel 19

Todd Dills

Would the professional drivers please raise hands?

| June 13, 2012

Would this professional driver please raise his hand?At a fueling station in Dayton, Ohio, Kevin Burch, President of the Jet Express truck line, saw a decal (pictured) on the side of a flatbed as he was fueling. The message, “This truck helps build homes for our troops,” was on a flatbed in the operation of a Volvo Rents delivery fleet. Burch took a picture of it, thinking he might use it as an example in an upcoming discussion he was participating in on trucking’s public image.

“So then I thought, ‘How about if I get the driver involved and get him to stand by the signage?'” Burch wrote in an email sent out to various media in May. The driver, Ray by his Volvo Rents uniform shirt, of course wondered why Burch would want a picture of the sticker with him in it. “Well, I explained that I am involved in trucking,” Burch, a past Truckload Carriers Association chairman, told him, adding that he was clearly a professional, and that “we need drivers like you.” It’s “all about the image,” he adds.

My reason for bringing this up is twofold — first, anybody know the driver, Ray? Raise your hand with a note in the comments and please tell him you saw him here.

Second, it’s no secret the image of the truck driver in the popular imagination has taken a beating over the past decades. It’s a subject we’ve revisited time and again here on the blog, and one I know many of you are passionate about. A conversation I had recently with Thomas Blake, the owner/part-operator of small intermodal fleet that bears his name and whom I’ve written about as recently as yesterday, veered toward professionalism among truckers.

Unafraid to play the devil’s advocate, Blake had tough prescriptions for himself and others around the industry. “Drivers and owner-operators,” he said, “we all need to realize that the grass really isn’t greener on the other side. It’s better to stay put somewhere longer and build your relationships, whether with dispatchers or brokers or shippers, and it will give you so much more bonding power with them over time.

“Drivers have to get more professional…. We need to clean up our own image – a $15 truck stop shirt with skulls on it is not appealing to anyone. Buy a polo for about the same money and it will project a much different image – it will present you as a professional. We get paid to do this, and we ought to be professional about it and take care of ourselves. Then, maybe the perception of us will change.”

What extends from that perception? Among other things, rates and pay, says Blake, referencing various examples from his negotiations with shippers and echoing Gary Salisbury of Fikes Truck Line, who in his last address as chairman of the Truckload Carriers Association earlier this year added that public policy, too, comes your way with good public perception. “My whole thought in this image process is that public image drives public policy” in a certain sense, he said (find more from his address via the Arkansas Trucking Report here). “So if we want to get a favorable ruling on legislative or regulatory issues, it’s obvious our image needs to be improved — drastically.”

And so, a question: What have you done lately to improve the industry’s image?

  • Don Lanier

    I have always strived to have a clean truck, with clean and well maintained equipment, Ive eve spent my own money buying Chrome accessories etc to make the trucks appearance look better, Ive always believed in a company shirt, and think most companys can afford a relationship with a shirt maker to get hats, Polos or even Pocket T shirts made, have Pens made, its the small things that project an image, and yes I do consider myself a Professional.

    Its time for the Kings of the Road to make a repeat performance.

  • Todd Dills

    Yes, Don, repeat performance indeed. Show the world how it’s done, ye kings of the road!

  • Luisa Nims

    As an ‘outsider’ looking in, being professional, managing your time, logistics, and self well make the difference between unappreciated and admired. The industry is slowly making this shift.

  • Todd Dills

    Here here, Luisa! What sort of ‘outsider’ are you, eh? Do you work in trucking/logistics?

  • Gordon A

    I used to work for a comp;any that had uniforms. They called them colors. I was treated better at customers because they knew at a glance who I represented.
    More than once I had pulled into a customer. signed in and was told to back in to door such and such. Other drivers complained loudly but was told I know who he drives for I don’t know who you driver for. One lesson that went right over their heads.
    I don’t wear a uniform but do try to stay neat and clean. I want the customer to remember me as the smiling professional not like the one that needed a bath 4 days ago. Got a bead.? trim it. Got long hair,? Keep it clean. Your not impressing any one it you have the knees out on your jeans or your toes sticking out of the walker walking slippers.
    Keep your truck clean in side and out. That little window on the passenger side is not a trash gauge.

  • Todd Dills

    What was the company that wore uniforms, Gordon. There are very few that require them anymore, of course, though have you perhaps talked to owner-operator Henry Albert about the fact? He’s always got high things to say about carriers and drivers who still wear uniforms day in day out, from an image standpoint. If I’m remembering correctly he pointed to Southeastern Freight Lines as a current example last time we talked about it. He himself has fashioned his own uniform, of course — wears a short-sleeved oxford and a tie, typically. . .

  • Don Lanier

    Maybe this KINGS OF THE ROAD concept can be something all companys, drivers etc adhere to, a code of conduct so to speak, theres gonna be guys in Sweats, and flip flops etc, but the Kings of the Road pride themselves on a professional attire, a professional attitude, and service, and reflecting with the interaction with the general Public. If were going to have a battle of perception with the Public we darn sure better improve the way they see us, think about us, and talk about us.
    Todd maybe this is something that could be a PRIDE type of thing for all drivers, To be well dressed and groomed, to have a clean truck, well maintained and a professional appearance, The King of the Road was our fathers, Grandfathers who had it far rougher then us, and made it a great job for us, and the Public thought of them as Men of Quality, Pro Drivers….Id be Proud to be called that.

  • Luisa A. Nims

    Hi Todd, Just saw this question. I am the editor and publisher of The Long Haul Magazine.
    I would like to talk to you sometime. strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.