STATESVILLE, N.C. — Owner-operator Henry Albert, who has his own authority, has what he calls “the duck theory” about being paid and treated like a professional driver.
“If it walks like a duck and acts like a duck and quacks like a duck is probably is a duck,” he says, adding that professionalism of truckers operates in much the same way.
Nearly seven years ago Albert added a tie to the Dickies dress uniform he had been wearing with the logo of his company, Albert Transport, he had had embroidered on the front. The result, he said, was that in the first year of wearing this “uniform,” he made substantially more money because customers began coming his way by word of mouth.
Not that he’s paid more to dress more professionally, but when customers see him, for example, unloading or strapping down his flatbed load with the tie and uniform on, the owner or “someone in charge” will almost always walk across the parking lot to talk, Albert says. And that, in turn leads to a conversation and ultimately to the person setting him up with other customers and so on.
Five weeks into his new look, Albert signed on with a shipper in the Carolinas who paid him to haul a certain product around on his flatbed and to do everything he could to damage the product. They filmed him trying to damage the product to prove its endurance but what they thought was that he was extra dressed up because he was being filmed.
“You didn’t have to do all this,” said a corporate honcho. “No,” said Albert, “this is what I do every day. I’m an extension of your company and what people think of your company.”
In turn, he says, he got more business. “That would never have happened if I had showed up looking regular,” he notes.
At a steel yard he was mistaken for a sales representative and asked to come have a cup of coffee in a part of the office where most truck drivers weren’t allowed.
“At the end of the day,” he says, “what it is [his professional attire] is a door opener.”
Linda and Bob Caffee, drivers for FedEx Custom Critical, last July upgraded their FedEx uniform by switching from FedEx pullovers to FedEx button-down shirts and nice slacks for Linda and a suit and tie for Bob.
The change was made, says Linda Caffee, “with me kicking and screaming and dragging my feet.” Although their previous uniforms were nice they “decided to take up another notch,” she says. At first, “we were nervous and felt out of place,” but then they had a customer call and thank them, saying it was the first time in 20 years he had seen a driver with a tie on, she recalls.
That customer called a salesman who called someone further up the ladder until the story about their attire had made it to the top.
“Customers chase us down [to talk] about how they feel” about the couple’s professional look, she says. “It shows them a lot of respect. It tells them we run a successful business and care about what we’re doing,” Linda explains.
“How many people say ‘thank you’” for the professionalism, “that’s what amazes me,” she adds.
She says while many truckers keep their vehicles nice on the outside, it’s sometimes “scary” to see inside one, both because of the way the driver is dressed and the way the inside of the cab looks.
“If the dash is a foot deep” in trash “it also doesn’t look good for the industry,” says Linda. “The truck needs to look well groomed and so does the driver.”
Albert would like to see not only a truck beauty contest at industry events like the Mid-America Trucking Show, he would like to see a contest for the most professional looking owner-operator, the most professional looking company driver and the most professional looking driver overall.
He thinks it would go a long way in sprucing up trucking’s image.
“It would be good to promote drivers who are promoting a better image of themselves. Trucking has a lot of nice people but you would never know that to look at some of them, he says.
He’s been mistaken for an airline pilot and a bus driver. Once when delivering fuel someone thought the driver had been fired and Albert was there to take the truck back.
He says his professional dress makes him drive better. “The reason is that people are watching for you to screw up and it keeps you on you’re A-game,” he says.
Not all the reactions have been good. Some truckers tell Albert they wouldn’t be paid to dress like that.
He only wishes his grandfather, the late Bob Jennings, a machinist, could have seen him. Mr. Jennings always cleaned up after work and donned a suit and tie when he went out on the street. “I had that example all my life but it took a lot of years before it hit me in the head,” Albert says.
He got the idea after visiting a trucking museum and seeing the spiffy uniforms the drivers wore back in the 1940s, many of which sported an Eisenhower jacket and tie and a cap with a hard bill.
Truckers, then, made a lot more money, he told a friend who replied that truckers don’t dress like that anymore, either, and it got Albert to thinking about adding the tie.
“You want respect when you go in with cut-off sweat pants a shirt with the arms ripped out and flip-flops”? he asked.
“Does it pass the duck test? If you want to get paid and treated like a professional you have to look, sound and in some cases smell like a professional,” he reasons.
When he negotiates rates he kicks it up another notch and wears one of several power suits.
“My wife had a friend in hotel sales who said you can never be overdressed; when in doubt, go over, not under.”
Dorothy Cox of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at email@example.com.