Truckers often lament that they are no longer viewed as the "knights of the road." You've seen pictures of those knights, back in the '50s: clean-cut guys, wearing uniforms and caps, boasting badges or pins denoting years of service.
Unfortunately, too many motorists who stop by a travel plaza today are likely to see someone in sweats and a stained T-shirt who look like they haven't showered in a week.
Too often, we blame others for our image problems, whether it's the safety advocacy groups, railroads or the general media. Yet the trucking industry itself often is to blame, whether it's resisting enforcement efforts that seem reasonable to the outside world or the little one-on-one interactions with the public.
Gary Salisbury, president and CEO of Fikes Truck Lines, made image the focus of his year in office as chairman of the Truckload Carriers Association. "My goal was to have hold of the steering wheel of our industry and put us back in charge instead of outsiders holding the wheel for us," he said during the recent TCA annual convention.
"Public image drives public policy, so if we want a favorable ruling on a legislative or regulatory issue, it's obvious our image needs to be improved," Salisbury said.
Later during the TCA meeting, Aaron Tennant, president and CEO of Iowa-based Tennant Truck Lines, drew spontaneous applause for his earnest comments on image during a panel discussion of next-generation truckload leaders.
"I think we have created our own problem as far as image," Tennant said, noting that when he was young, his grandfather, who founded the business, used to take drivers to get haircuts. Fleets, he said, need to do a better job of fostering self-respect in drivers.
"Somehow in the last 30 years we've lost that image of the knight of the highway, and the drivers don't have any self-respect because of what we've let happen. We're going about it within our own company by giving drivers respect, by counseling or terminating team managers that don't give them respect, making sure they're cleaned up, courteous and professional and representing us the way they should."
When we were looking for an owner-operator to photograph for this month's cover, we wanted someone who conducted himself or herself as a professional. We found it in Tony Huttenstine II, an owner-operator for Long Haul Trucking in Minnesota. What you see on the cover, except for the Long Haul polo, is what Tony wears every day. He says it's rare he goes more than a day without shaving.
"When you show up at a customer, your presentation sells," he told me. "If you go in there looking like a 'truck driver,' you're never going to be asked back. I know drivers who say, 'I don't want to pay 10 bucks for a shower.' Come on, $10 is well worth it. And if you buy fuel, you get a shower." He hates to see fellow drivers dressed in beat-up tank tops and sweats. "You're not on vacation, you're out there to do a job."
Trucking image programs such as the Truckload Carriers Association's Highway Angel and Wreaths Across America; American Trucking Associations' America's Road Team, Share the Road and "Good Stuff" campaigns; Trucker Buddy and Goodyear's Highway Hero are all great tools to improve the public's perception of the industry, and we should continue to support them.
Yet much of that perception is formed in the everyday interactions people have with truckers.
Tony Huttenstine hit the nail on the head when he said, "I wish people would take a little more pride in themselves." If drivers don't take pride in themselves, in their appearance, in a job well done, why should we be surprised when that knightly armor looks tarnished?
From the April 2012 issue of HDT