How to Become an O/O

Dressed for success

Wearing a button-down shirt can help you stand out from the competition and land more business

By Max Kvidera

It’s been said clothes make the man. In the world of trucking, dressing up is rarely practiced, but that didn’t stop Henry Albert from donning work shirts with his name and the name of his company, Albert Transport.

In his uniform, Henry Albert says he’s been mistaken for an airline pilot and a bus driver, but rarely a trucker.

“It’s a door opener,” Albert says about wearing button-down shirts, neat slacks and a tie.

Dressing for business is part of Albert’s formula for marketing himself to carriers, shippers and the customers of shippers. He says dressing like a businessperson makes him stand out from most truckers and puts him in a position to get more business.

Since FedEx Custom Critical leased owner-operators Bob and Linda Caffee began dressing in business attire in September 2009, they’ve noticed a difference when they make deliveries. “I’ve had customers comment on the way I’m dressed,” Bob says. “They make comments on how they really appreciate the professionalism that I show, and they know their freight is taken care of.” It’s gone so far as a manager greeting Bob instead of the shipping clerk, he says.

Linda says, “When you go into a terminal or office, you go in there with pride. You carry yourself differently when you’re dressed [up].”

Bob recalls a delivery to a retail customer in Northern California. The owner of the store greeted him and asked if he could help. Bob told him who he was with and then the retailer saw the company name and Bob’s name embroidered on his shirt. “He said, ‘I want to shake your hand because I’ve been in this business for 42 years, and I’ve never seen a truck driver come in dressed for business.’”

After that the retailer praised Bob to the shipper’s sales representative and sent an email to his carrier thanking them for the professionalism that he had shown him, his employees and his freight.

Albert’s work clothes are from Dickie’s. Bob orders from Dickie’s online, while he has also picked work clothes at Men’s Wearhouse. Linda says they’ve both ordered shirts and pants from Land’s End, and she has bought work clothes at Kohl’s department store.

Bob says he plans to dress up even more. He carries sport coats in their truck and will wear them when temperatures warm up.

Marketing for business

Making yourself valuable to a potential shipper or customer takes time and effort.

First, get ready to meet prospects. Have business cards printed. Nothing fancy — black ink on white stock will do. Make sure your truck and trailer are clean and in good working order.

Take a look at your appearance. You may not want to spring for a uniform or wear a tie, but you can score points by wearing a clean button-down work shirt and pressed slacks.

Do your research. Seek out potential customers. Know manufacturers near where you live or close to lanes you are running to see what might be available.

Always be on the lookout for customers. Independent Henry Albert says he was stuck in a traffic jam and noticed a load on another truck. He wrote down the name of the product’s maker and contacted the company. “I’ve been hauling for them the past 13 years now,” he says.

Early on Albert says he did mailings, but they didn’t get responses. He did a lot of cold calling, which was a little more successful. Now that he’s established, he relies on word of mouth.

Once you land a name get to know the customer’s business. Discover the company’s products, where they’re made, where they’re going and what materials are transported to the company’s manufacturing facility. Research the company’s history, financials and credit rating.

Call but don’t write the company. When you’re on the phone with the shipping manager or decision maker, arrange a face-to-face meeting. Don’t leave it that the contact will call you.

If you arrange a meeting and the company seems interested, assess the importance of that firm to your business. If it looks like desirable, long-term business, negotiate a rate. Albert says he’s offered a lower rate for a trial period of a week or two to see if it’s a good fit, with the understanding that the rate will be adjusted later.

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