It's no secret that our industry has an image problem. What kid goes off to college with career plans to work in a distribution center? When I tell people I'm a writer, they always perk up. When I tell them what industry I write about, the response is often a quizzical look.
Hollywood doesn't help. Ever notice that movies and TV shows about organized crime always have a scene with a warehouse? From The Godfather to "The Sopranos," the warehouse is where big black cars drop off guys in leather jackets to check on shipments of drugs or illegal arms in the middle of the night. And on the wildly successful TV show "24," the warehouse is always the focus of special agent Jack Bauer and crew's attempts to break up another terrorist cell.
Audiences just love this stuff. Some of these gangster movies and TV shows are among the most popular—and enduring—films and television dramas of all time. Trouble is, they convey the impression that distribution facilities are hotbeds of illegal activity, and that the trucking and distribution world is populated by smugglers, gun runners, money launderers, and various shady characters with connections to organized (and unorganized) crime. From a business standpoint, this reputation can't be very helpful.
I've never seen a public opinion poll on the warehousing or trucking industries. But there's a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests that people in other fields associate them with unsavory activity and bad behavior. Does it matter how others view the DC and trucking businesses? Absolutely! Image in business is as important as image in politics.
How a business is perceived by the public, the media, and the government can make a huge difference in the kinds of laws and regulations that are imposed on the industry. It can have an enormous influence on the numbers and types of young people who are attracted to the field. Plus, knowing that the business they work for is held in high (or low) regard can have a significant effect on employees' morale and, therefore, their productivity.
So how do we begin rehabilitating the warehousing and trucking industries' reputation? One approach would be to start with a survey. A poll conducted by a trade association or an independent research firm could offer a great deal of insight into how we're perceived by the outside world—the general public, the media, our customers and vendors, government figures, members of other professions, and, perhaps most importantly, high school and college students. The results would give us a far better understanding of how the world sees us. That, in turn, would likely suggest to us ways to improve our image and bring it more in line with reality.
As we all know so well, distribution centers and trucking companies make a tremendous contribution to the well being of the country and its economy. These companies bring the good life to tens of millions of our fellow citizens. Every month, this magazine chronicles success stories in distribution. Almost weekly, we come across stories about DC workers who rose to become the CEOs of their companies.
The rest of the country needs to know more about that. Working to repair our image is a huge step toward fostering a better understanding of the role that our industry plays in modern life. Let's do it!