Two weeks ago tomorrow, on a cold Thanksgiving afternoon, we cut our Christmas tree down from the top of Humbug Summit, somewhere between the union of the Cascade and Sierra Mountain Ranges.
We got out of the warm truck and stepped into a bracing 19 degrees, and ya, it was cold! That's not accounting for the wind chill factor either.
My kids know better than to complain. Well, they used to, but after about ten years of this routine, it’s all business to them. The faster we find, cut and tag a tree, the faster we head down the hill and back into warmth.
This was the first year, unbeknownst to them, that I actually considered altering our tradition a bit. It wasn’t only that I wanted to avoid the cold, or the long drive with all six of us squeezed in the truck, or the lack of running water, or all the other factors that make this endeavor so challenging.
Honestly, it was everything, all together, that made me think more than twice about why this annual holiday hoobie whatie (ok, I’ve watched The Grinch too much maybe) was such a big deal to me.
It is a hard trip.
But it’s worth it, for several reasons.
As we were traversing the mountaintop, truly ‘Laughing as we go,’ out came the retelling of past years excursions. My four kids range in age from 13 to 21, and so many of the details of these trips, mostly fun and enjoyable, are part of their holiday memories. I can’t say I’m looking forward to how these stories will be retold by my grandchildren, if that day ever comes, but I do think that we have given our kids some happy meaningful childhood memories. That is important to me.
And we eat great food, we play, stand by the fire and sing, watch favorite movies, and of course, bring home beautiful trees.
So yes, it’s worth it. The gain is worth the pain. The short term challenges that we encounter pale in comparison to the rewarding experiences our family shares.
In a similar way, truck brokers have to make decisions like this as well. Sometimes, we have to choose to take the road less traveled, ignoring the easier option, to bring ultimate good to those who depend on us.
Brokers, as I wrote about last time, have obligations to their customers, in both the produce and transportation industries, to carry out certain responsibilities. I referred to this as ‘wearing a hat’ because often this is the way we refer to jobs and roles that people fulfill in their lives.
The second hat we (brokers) should wear is Advocate. It is often the other side of Advisor. Personally, the more time I invest in helping people solve their problems by making suggestions or guiding them through a difficult produce transportation problem, then, the natural result is that I want to speak up and support them publicly if and when they need me to do so.
In the world of moving produce, things happen, both good and bad. Often, it’s the result of someone making a decision to do or not to do something. Add to this, the other unique characteristic of moving fresh product is that things happen very fast, and so just like that, the opportunity to turn the tide of events and reach a necessary or desirable outcome is gone.
If I have had a role in an undesirable result because of some advice I gave, then there really are no options. It is part of my job to own the problem and help solve it.
But sometimes, after the dust has settled and it turns out that I was not part of the issue, it still may be my job to speak up and explain or advocate for someone in a predicament.
Here is a quick example.
Anyone who has been in the brokerage business for any length of time has had trucks run late. Not fun for sure, but it’s part of the business. Of course, it always has to happen when the product is on ad, or something time critical like this. The supplier AND the receiver is on pins and needles hoping that the load arrives on time.
“What?! The truck is going to be late?? How did this happen? Why did (or didn’t) they do this or that?”
And then the unfair accusations begin. When the hours available at the start of the load should have given the driver enough legal time to arrive, it can be difficult to explain the delay.
If I know the trucking company well, which is true for us here at Pam Young & Company, Inc. most of the time, or if I have worked with the driver enough to know how they work and it warrants my defending them, then that is what I should do. My experience with the carrier and its drivers place on me the obligation to go to bat for them when they need me most.
Things happen on the other side too.
One situation that I do understand can be frustrating happens when someone will order and start a truck, and at some inconvenient point, the dispatch and pick ups change. Maybe it’s extra miles, or longer wait times, or moving product around in a trailer to get the weight and space correct. Any of these quickly can drain a driver’s energy and patience, especially because this is the person everyone is depending upon for an on time delivery.
“What?! The buyer (this is always the culprit, right?) knew this was going to happen but didn’t want to say anything. If he/she was driving this truck it would be a different story. Well now I can’t be there on time.”
Sometimes this is exactly what has happened. But not always. Often, because produce is fresh and perishable, things don’t go as planned. So when the questions and untrue/unfair accusations start flying around, just as I would defend the carrier or driver, so too will I advocate for my produce customer.
Again, the more I invest in a person's success in moving their produce or loading their truck, the more skin I have in the game. When our customers (carrier and produce) choose to ask, listen to and/or follow our advice, it is my responsibility to complete that process if and when they get in a situation where they need someone to stand up for them.
As one would expect, after seventeen years in this business, loading produce is fraught with challenges. Deliveries go awry. Late trucks, early trucks, hot temps, cold temps, pallet leaning, pallet falling...
And this is only part of the drama. Wrong or unavailable product, too much weight, extra picks or drops… All along the way, time, product, location and often 'people' issues arise.
Welcome to transportation.
My point is simple. As we work through these issues, we (everybody) are making decisions that may or may not be the best in the end. It's in those moments, when everyone is looking at the facts and trying to delicately move through conflict and disruptions, that people may need their brokers to stand up for them.
It is hard and often uncomfortable. We don't want to lose our main produce accounts, or anger our strongest trucks. I get it. But it's part of being in the middle. Speak up and defend the reputations, the experience, the character and the decisions that you helped (or should have helped) make.
Heading into 2016, significant challenges lie ahead for all of us working in produce and transportation. There is a lot of confusion and uncertainty surrounding what the new regulations will require and how they will be implemented. Having an advocate willing to speak up and/or stand up for you will help you understand and move through the transitions.
If you are a produce or carrier customer, your broker is in a unique position to represent you when you need it. Expect this as part of the service.
If you are a broker, take the high road and go to the mat for your clients. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it is the most rewarding thing to do.