One of the great lures of journalism is the opportunity to learn new things, basically every day. One of the pitfalls is that we eager-to-learn journalists are expected to know what we’re talking about by the time the words hit the page (or the electrons light the screen). So building credibility with an audience can be daunting, if you think about it too much. The new guy, such as yours truly, simultaneously has to tell himself that he knows what he’s doing while also admitting that he doesn’t know much at all, at least compared to the experts he’s interviewing and, often, his audience.
For the record, Bruce Sauer was here at Trailer-Body Builders for 20 years before he became editor, and for another 20 or so after. I got to work and travel with Bruce for about two weeks before he retired—so here we are.
That’s my long-winded plea for patience, folks.
The good news for you, dear reader, is that I’ve been writing about trucking for more than 10 years—albeit from the fleet and driver perspective—but I do know the difference between a tractor and a trailer, and a tractor-trailer and a truck. I’ve also had a lot of experience, even before I fell in love with the trucking industry, writing about government and business, and that experience will continue to come in handy here at TBB, as I’ve already discovered.
In this issue we cover Wabash National’s very big deal to buy Supreme Industries, for starters. And while the companies talk about “synergies” and “diversification” and “accretive earnings”—the usual squares on my biz-lingo Bingo card—I’ve been around enough to know that the real significance of the story is the impact of e-commerce and the way Amazon is driving strategy shifts throughout the supply chain. That’s a trend that’s not going away—and one I can discuss confidently, and informatively, going forward.
Also this month, at press time, EPA let the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association know that its appeal has been heard: The Phase 2 greenhouse gas rule for commercial vehicles, as far as trailers go, will be reconsidered. Having covered Obama’s Phase 1 and the Phase 2 rulemakings, this is another important industry issue I can jump right in on and, I hope, offer some insight beyond the official statements and press releases. (Although I must confess I do not look forward to the tedious, drawn-out procedural requirements ahead. I get to dig through the Federal Register so you don’t have to.)
But the real fun for me will be getting out from behind the computer screen and into the marketplace. Already I’ve traveled as far north as Michigan and into South Texas, from Virginia to California, visiting facilities large and small, old and new: truck and trailer manufacturers, dealerships, and suppliers. And at every stop so far (including Extreme Trailers LLC in Dover, Ohio, featured in this issue) the theme has been the same: Embrace innovation or fall behind. And the trait shared by every person I’ve met: Passion for the work they’re doing.
What’s new for me here at TBB, compared to my responsibilities at other trade magazines, is that you, the reader, directly set much of my itinerary. Of course, at any publication the aim is to deliver information the readers want and need, but I’ve never been someplace where the readers are so important to my stories: Readers are my stories, and I’m expected to go see them every chance I get.
In trucking, the story was typically about the tools—hardware and software—and my job was to explain how they improve carrier operations. The particulars of the process, whether a manufacturing innovation or the computer code underlying the latest technology, were esoteric and secondary—a detail or two in a much larger picture of how to move freight more efficiently.
But for TBB, as I’ve learned from Bruce and long-time publisher Ray Anderson, it’s all about the process of making stuff, then channeling products through dealers and distributors to the customer. And, yes, innovative manufacturing and efficient distribution should provide a real customer benefit, but I’m not writing for the customer—the fleet, the driver—anymore.
And this strikes me as a little odd: Essentially, many of my stories will come from readers who are proud to show off their latest tips and tricks—even to their competitors. Indeed, Bruce emphasized that the trailer-body community is unique that way; this sort of sibling rivalry didn’t leave him short of things to write about for more than 40 years. And it’s the essence of what’s made Trailer-Body Builders magazine unique and successful for even longer than that.
Now it’s my turn to get in on the excitement, but I can’t do it without you. Bruce left a spreadsheet full of leads to get me started, but I’m a little stubborn when it comes to training wheels. So if you have something new you’re willing to brag about, drop me a line. But, when I do come visit, please remember to explain things like it’s all new to me—because there’s a good chance it will be. For a while, anyway.
A long while, if I’m lucky.