Associations sponsoring trade shows scheduled to take place after the September 11 attacks were understandably concerned about attendance. Public worry over airline safety and the security of public places in general had led to a decline in travel. The economy had been trending downward before the assault and, according to most predictions, could be expected to get even worse in their aftermath. Coin equipment sales largely have been flat for nearly a year.
While the Mobile Industrial Caterers Association chose to cancel its annual Cater Expo in Las Vegas, in response to requests from exhibitors and operator members, the Amusement & Music Operators Association and International Association for the Leisure and Entertainment Industry elected to press on with their colocated conventions and trade shows, also in Las Vegas, in the first week in October. The National Automatic Merchandising Association also determined to go forward with its 2001 National Expo in Chicago two weeks later.
The decision to proceed, in all three cases, was proven correct by the outcome. The amusement industry shows experienced lighter than usual attendance, but exhibitors were pleased by the quality of the turnout and the serious interest of the registrants in doing business. While there has been a tendency to lament the final passing of the traditional on-street market of the 1950s and '60s, there are entirely new opportunities opening up, fueled by social change and technological advance, and showgoers seemed eager to get started on the task of pursuing them.
At this writing, NAMA has not yet tabulated attendance at the National Expo, but the sense among exhibitors was that turnout was light for a Chicago show - but that this was not an impediment to a successful event. Those who did attend appeared to be the people who could make a purchase decision if they liked what they saw and heard. And many of them did, according to the cross-section of exhibitors with whom we've spoken.
The vending and coffee service registrants also seemed focused on the future. Confronting a falloff in workplace populations and new concern with cost on the part of clients, and emerging from a spring and summer of skyrocketing energy costs and economic uncertainty, operators came looking for new tools to make their businesses more efficient and productive, and new types of equipment and product that could open doors to new market segments. They were not disappointed in that search.
We think it not unlikely that the horrible events of September 11 were, in a sense, a wake-up call. Several show-goers speculated that all the news accounts of Americans canceling travel plans because of fear may have angered our industries, which always have been made up in large part of independent-minded entrepreneurs who are not disposed to let other people tell them what they can or cannot do , least of all, foreign terrorists bent on crippling our free and productive society. It is probable that some who attended the conventions were undecided about going, until they concluded that the enemies of our country were trying to stop them.
When an economic boom tapers off, as the recent one has done, there also is a tendency to coast along, trying to hang on and hoping that things will come around. The violence last month may have shaken many out of this wishful inertia, and convinced them that it's time to change course and move forward. We are not persuaded that the economic doomsters are right; but, whether they are right or wrong, our industries have a great deal of experience in meeting adversity with innovation and creativity.
So does the United States, of which the vending, coffee service, foodservice, and recreational service industries are in many respects an accurate reflection. For that reason, we think the success of our fall trade shows is a very encouraging sign.
At a moment during World War II when Britain had withstood the worst its enemies could do, but was not yet able to strike back, Winston Churchill summarized his view of the country's situation. It was too soon to speak of the beginning of the end, he said; "But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." We applaud all those whose belief in the future inspired them to turn out, and we hope for happier times.