In speaking with NBVA convention-goers last month, I got a sense there's renewed optimism in the air. This shouldn't be surprising -- entrepreneurs are naturally optimistic. Those who instinctively see a bleak future don't generally start businesses. After all, why risk money, time and effort in a venture you don't believe will pay off?
Some of the renewed industry optimism derives from a slow but steady improvement in the economy. It is difficult to look at newspapers or watch television news without seeing steady streams of good news about Wall Street, retail sales and employment. While many Americans remain impatient for the full-fledged, full-steam ahead recovery, many in Europe continue to marvel at how quickly America might be turning the corner. And if we're not thrilled at the rate of recovery, impatience is in our national makeup.
There is another element in this renewed industry optimism that requires discussion. For the first time in many years, the bulk vending industry seems more youthful. One need only to look at the new officers of the National Bulk Vendors Association to see a distinct change in the demographic. Granted, bulk vending is not Google -- where the average employee age is in the early- to mid-20s -- but it does appear to be getting younger. And there did seem to be a lot more texting and tweeting on the show floor than in years past.
Just to be sure that my perceptions weren't based on me getting older, I did a quick check of the show floor at Las Vegas Convention Center. Sure enough, the industry is attracting new and younger people to its ranks. This is true on both the operator and supplier sides. Granted, many of these new people are in lower positions, but it is only a matter of time before they make themselves known. I also had the opportunity to speak with several industry newcomers in the process of starting up their own routes.
Not only do the young gravitate to businesses where they believe there are futures, but no industry can progress and adapt without the influx of new blood. The new generation raised on the Internet and social media has a grasp of trends that often eludes the old hands and gray heads (myself included). Not only are they closer in age and sensibilities to bulk vending's end-user demographic, but they are also closer in age to the new generation of store and corporate management.
This could mean that bulk vending might remain viable far into the future. The influx of a new generation represents more than just managers and workers needed to maintain enterprises; it is the unspoken promise of innovation in equipment, products and ways of doing business. Small hints of these changes can already be seen in the adoption of things like vinyl wraps to customize equipment or for signage applications, as well as the ready adoption of trendy technologically themed product offerings.
Why wouldn't young people enter the industry? Yet, the world is filled with businesses that exist as virtual antiques. Surpassed by competing technologies and avoided by the young, they hobble along on the road to extinction. Happily, this doesn't look to be the fate of bulk vending. As always, I remain optimistic about the future of the industry.