Next month begins a new year, a new century and a new millennium. The approach of this event caught the public's attention a couple of years ago, and so much has been written and said about it that one might be forgiven for regarding the day itself as an anticlimax. As we've remarked before, the world we wake up in on January 1, 2001 will be almost identical to the one we left behind us on December 31, 2000. The future always arrives one day at a time.
But we think there will be a difference, although one that's hard to quantify. Everyone has heard so much about the 21st century that actually living in it may encourage some rethinking of long-held opinions and attitudes. We hope that this process is especially pronounced among location decision-makers of the old traditional sort, who see vending as a revenue generator rather than as a vital contributor to productivity and employee morale. There has been some movement in this direction, and we think it will accelerate.
We also hope that this influence will work on operators of the old traditional sort. It has been too easy to say, "We tried that 10 years ago and it didn't work." Many things that didn't work in the last century (like heavier-than-air flight) suddenly began to work early in this one, and we hope everyone will remember that failure in the 20th century need not forebode failure in the 21st. Technology is improving, attitudes and lifestyles are changing, and the world is getting younger. There is a great deal of room for creativity and innovation in the first years of the next millennium; and these desirable things, when successful, always have been built solidly on a correct understanding of the past.
The rethinking that we anticipate may include attitudes about "e-commerce." The recent turmoil among startup Internet-based companies may remind us of physicist Freeman Dyson's observation that motorcycles have been perfected largely because they are quite easy to build. Therefore, pretty nearly all of the wrong ways to do it were discovered and discarded long ago. The Internet is here to stay, and increasing numbers of organizations and individuals are finding ways to make it work well for them. Operators who keep an open mind are benefiting from it now, and we think that great new opportunities will appear sooner than many people expect.
It also is fitting to remember that we are taking leave of a century that saw the birth, lusty childhood, and steady maturation of our industry. Vending, coffee service, and music and amusements all produced more than their share of unforgettable individuals who blazed the trails that others have followed. Trying to list all of them, living and dead, is an impossible task; but each of us knew some of them, and they changed our thinking forever. As we advance into the future, it will be well for those who are blazing new trails - and for the rest of us , to remember their contributions, the zest with which they made those contributions, and the enthusiasm they inspired in those around them. "Auld acquaintance" should not be forgotten; it should often be brought to mind. A great man said that, if we can see farther than our forebears, it is because "we stand on the shoulders of giants."
With confidence in our long-term prospects, and fruitful memories of our past, we must prepare for the immediate future. It will be remembered that economic bumps have tended to occur on the cusps of decades: the first postwar recession as the '50s gave way to the '60s, the onset of inflation as the '60s in turn yielded to the '70s, "stagflation" and deindustrialization as that decade was succeded by the '80s, then new prosperity followed by a fairly sharp correction a decade ago.
Given that history, it would be foolish to assume that the present prosperity will continue without interruption. Long-term demographic trends do suggest that no great economic upheavals are likely to occur for at least the next three decades; but some of the minor ones that happened during the last half-century were disastrous enough to those who were caught unaware by them. We think today's industry has learned the value of vigilant management and steady focus on productivity, loss reduction and cost control.
And we think the best approach to the future is the one recommended in the Psalms: "Prove [that is, test or try] all things; hold fast to that which is good."
Happy new year, and new century, and new millennium!