LAS VEGAS - Everybody went home a winner from Vegas this year. The 54th annual National Bulk Vendors Association convention and trade show was a sure bet for bulk vending operators, suppliers and manufacturers. With final figures in, the number of registrations jumped to 793 this year compared with 605 in 2003, while the number of exhibitors grew from a healthy 48 in 2003 to a hefty 54 this year as the number of booths edged up from 109 to 111.
"The show this year was terrific for a number of reasons, and probably the main reason was that we had near record breaking attendance that was up from last year," said Jim Hinton of Oak Manufacturing, who served as NBVA convention chairman. "In addition, we had new exhibitors show up and share their wares and we had fantastic exhibit space, and the seminars were held in contiguous space to the exhibits, which everyone seemed to like. We also had a lounge area nearby, where everyone could conduct business, mingle and network. Plus the fact that Caesars Palace is an international attraction also helped to draw new people. Everyone that I talked to seemed to have a really terrific time."
Although some in the industry feared that the impressive attendance and bustling show floor that marked the first day of the show signaled a "front-loaded" event that would see activity on the exhibit floor dwindle on the second and third day, such dire predictions proved unfounded. The second and third days of the show did not disappoint as operators continued to flock to the show in search of new merchandise and equipment, along with the many show specials.
As is often the case with Las Vegas shows, a large majority of operators stayed for the entire three days, spending extended time on the show floor and attending workshops, which included a video tour of some of the nation's largest bulk operators along with a special workshop on toy safety, presented by the testing lab Bureau Veritas.
"I thought we had a very, very good show; it was a real learning experience," said NBVA president, Frank La Vecchia, Jr. "The turnout demonstrated that our industry is strong. It was the second best-attended show ever. The only one beating it was the 50th anniversary show. Personally, the highlight for me was the success of our membership drive and for that I'd like to thank our membership chairman, Steve Schechner. I'd also like to thank Jim Hinton, our convention chairman, who dedicated a lot of time and effort to make sure the show was a success' people don't realize how much is involved in putting on a show."
The success of this year's show has prompted NBVA officials to review past results when shows were held in Las Vegas with an eye toward returning there more frequently. Currently, the association is slated to return to Caesars Palace in 2006.
The same slate of officers was re-elected for another year, including NBVA president, Frank A. La Vecchia, Jr. (Tropical Vending, Cataño, Puerto Rico); vice president Howard Smuschkowitz (Concord Confections); secretary Daniel L. Case (Tejas Distributors, Round Rock, Texas); and treasurer Peter Becker (What's Up LLC).
A report issued by new member chairman Steven Schechner indicated healthy growth in the association. The organization's drive to recruit new members appears to be quite a success. Over 100 new members joined the association this year, which not only doubles last year's figure, but breaks all records going back to 1991. La Vecchia made boosting membership one of his goals when he assumed the role of association president.
According to membership chairman Steve Schechner, the success of the membership drive was due in large part to the perception (and reality) among potential members that the association is reaching out to meet the needs of the small and mid-sized operator. "I'm not taking credit for this because I've had people behind me," said Schechner. "With a lot of the new members that came in, we called them, spoke to them, and asked for their opinions. We asked them what they wanted from the NBVA.
"Another reason [for the increase in new members] is because suppliers, at least 20 of them, put NBVA reminders on their invoices while others sent out a copy of the application with their invoices," Schechner continued. "You put it all together, and you get a lot of marketing. It was a strong marketing campaign, but also a sincere one. We weren't just trying to get members, but put a new face on the NBVA."
The association has also decided to renew its fight for sales tax exemption on the state level. While the group has been successful in its tax relief efforts in the past, the last few years have seen the NBVA take a less aggressive approach to the issue as state coffers were depleted. However, once again the association is gearing up to fight for tax relief with Legislative Committee chairman Phil Brilliant announcing that Pennsylvania, Kansas and Minnesota are the states currently targeted for NBVA's lobbying efforts. To enable and support the campaign, the board of directors has doubled the maximum amount in the annual budget available for the lobbying program.
Additionally, the association's board of directors adopted a Toy Safety Standard (see, P. 96). This move came in response to a small number of cases where product recalls were necessary on the part of suppliers.
Another highlight of the Vegas event took place during the annual association dinner when the NBVA chose to honor two industry legends. The prestigious Jane Mason/Rose Schiller Achievement Award was bestowed on past NBVA president Neel Clark, who was honered with an extended standing ovation. NBVA legal counsel Morrie Much lauded Clark and said he, "set the standard for [NBVA] presidency."
Also honored for his association with the bulk vending industry was VT publisher Victor Lavay. Accepting the award was his daughter and current VT president and publisher, Alicia Lavay-Kertes, and his widow, Fay.
The association has scheduled next year's convention and trade show for April 21-23 in sunny Florida. "Next year we're going to the beautiful city of Jacksonville, which we think will be very well attended," said Hinton. "As many of our members know, Jacksonville is the home of 2005's Superbowl, but Jacksonville is also probably one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. and has a number of attractions to offer, such as fantastic beaches, dog races and river boat gambling. The convention will be held at the Adam's Mark Hotel on the St. John's River."
Interested parties may contact the association at 191 N. Wacker Drive, Ste. 1800, Chicago, IL 60606; tel. (312) 521-2400.