When the National Bulk Vendors Association announced plans to collocate its trade show and convention with the Amusement Expo last year, some saw it as a sign that the 60-year-old association, and the entire bulk industry, was in its final descent. As it turned out, the event was one of the most vibrant in bulk vending's recent history. By the last day of the show, bulk operators and exhibitors were unabashed in their enthusiasm for the show. You would have had a difficult time finding a negative opinion.
NBVA has decided to once again collocate with the 2012 Amusement Expo scheduled to take place March 14 through 16 (Wednesday through Friday) at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The association said it is looking to fine-tune its presence at the show, adding more value for operators and exhibitors. If all goes to plan, many of the skeptics who sat out last year's event might attend.
So, what went right last year? This isn't a question you hear much in business. When faced with failure, it's easy enough to ask, "What went wrong?" However, when it comes to success, few ask, "What went right?" It is assumed that what went right is gloriously and unabashedly obvious: Everyone involved in the effort is a genius! How could anything possibly go wrong with such effortless and flawless planning and execution?
There are a few things wrong with that theory. Assuming everyone involved in the planning is a genius, last year's show was far from an effortless undertaking. Success in most undertakings is one of those roll-up-the-sleeves, hard work kind of deals. Many of the people who didn't believe this hard work principle applies to bulk vending are no longer in business. The old myth that operators "let the machines do all the work" has been put the rest once and for all.
Last year's bulk show was the right show at precisely the right time. The bulk vending industry has changed dramatically over the past 15 or so years. The number of operators who locate bulk venders exclusively has declined. An increasing number of operators are now putting out skill cranes and prize merchandisers, amusements, jukeboxes and ATMs, among other equipment types. They are doing this to boost revenue, build density within existing locations, protect those locations from competition and expand their service coverage. Likewise, some amusement and music operators have located bulk equipment for many of the same reasons. For these operators, the collocated show proved an invaluable resource for ideas and guidance.
The willingness and necessity to experiment with new product categories and locations have made it harder to find operators who only provide bulk vending services. This change should not be a surprise. It was, after all, about a decade ago when we saw the evolution to higher-priced, high-perceived value merchandise in the industry. And for those operators nimble and brave enough to make that transformation, the rewards were significant.
Bulk vending is in the midst of more change, and the industry now has an annual showcase and meeting place that addresses this change. As word of last year's success spreads and more bulk operators face the inescapable realities of product and location diversification, I think there's a good chance that the NBVA and its collocated show will emerge stronger than ever.