Chain of Thought

Shatner’s Law: Beat them to the Punchline

I may owe the more seasoned MH&L audience members—in other words, those my age—an apology. As much as I hate stereotypes, I let myself be led astray by one last week while doing a phone interview.

First, allow me this small defense: MH&L’s salary survey was still fresh on my mind. According to our findings, our typical respondent was a white male in his 50s, living in the Midwest, with more than 30 years of experience in the industry. That snapshot stayed in my mind because it reminded me of me--a Boomer still struggling to outsmart his Smartphone.

Now to that phone interview. It was with Sean Devine and John Labrie, co-owners of a new business called buytruckload.com. It’s a business model that allows shippers to broker truckloads themselves using an online tool. Shippers can book van, flatbed, and refrigerated loads as well as partial truckload options for van and refrigerated shipments.

These guys say that automated freight brokerage can help shippers save an average of $100 on a typical load that costs $1,300. From that they extrapolate that industry could see about $3 billion in aggregate savings.

Here’s where my prejudice kicked in. I told John and Sean about the demographics of MH&L’s salary survey and the generational differences some of those in the seasoned majority were feeling as younger colleagues joined their ranks. I quoted one respondent in particular, who said:

“In my field your age can have a lot to do with your job. … I have people who work under me and if they can't figure something out or I can't talk them through it I have to do it hands on and that's where my age may come into play because there is a lot of climbing involved in my field.”

He obviously didn’t see online training as an option here, therefore I did a bit of extrapolating myself:

“With so many Baby Boomers still at work in logistics, how comfortable would they be in dropping the human-touch of working with transportation brokers in exchange for booking freight themselves, online, through your service?”

There was dead silence on the other end of the line. I couldn’t tell if we got disconnected or if John and Sean were trying hard not to laugh in the phone. Turns out, I asked them a question they weren’t expecting. After that few seconds, they said they didn’t think there would be a huge generational challenge here, since the potential time and money savings of cutting out middle men in booking a service—similar to the Priceline.com model—was not untested. Besides, look who Priceline has as their spokesperson: the original Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner—who’s a lot older than MH&L’s average reader.

Part of the buytruckload.com site is devoted to cartoons done by a friend of John and Sean’s. A couple days after our interview, Kelly Barner, Buytruckload’s brand manager called me and let me in on something. Apparently there wasn’t complete silence on the other end of the phone when I asked about those generational differences among shippers. There was a quiet whir of mental wheels in motion inside John and Sean’s heads. After our call they got together with their cartoonist friend and dreamed up a new cartoon.

“Sean, John and I spent some time talking about your valid point that there may be a generational issue when it comes to adopting an online brokerage model,” Kelly told me. “Our cartoonist is a driver himself, and your point inspired a new cartoon. Thank you for the great idea!”

Here it is:

I may be a Boomer, but I sense a Twitter reference in that now iconic birdhouse represented here. I also sense a bit of pointed humor aimed my way. Is this old guy actually supposed to be me, doing my next tweet? If that’s me, I’m OUTRAGED! I never wear argyle socks.

 

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