JACKSONVILLE, FL - The 55th annual National Bulk Vendors Association convention and trade show may have been slightly downsized from past years, but it packed a punch. According to initial figures released by the association, operator participation , with a total 535 registered for the show , was down some 30% from last year. Despite the lower visitor turnout, sales reported by exhibitors were higher compared with prior years.
The disparity in the operator/supplier ratio seemed to have gone unnoticed by exhibitors. In an informal poll, the mood among suppliers was overwhelmingly upbeat thank to operators being in the "buying mood."
"It was awesome, awesome, awesome," said Vending Supply's Sherry Backman. "Some of the early buzz was that it was going to be a bad show, but it was anything but that."
According to the association, the lower attendance was anticipated because of the Jacksonville, FL, location. Although it attracted a larger percentage of operators from the Eastern seaboard, particularly the South, Jacksonville provided less than the draw of a typical Las Vegas venue. Even so, exhibitors seemed far from disappointed by the turnout. "This year's show exceeded all expectations in terms of customer interest, particularly in new products, like our "Jelly Belly" licensed gumballs," said Oak Leaf Confection's Howard Granner.
With other exhibitors echoing those sentiments, it would seem that those operators who did attend came ready, willing and anxious to purchase product and equipment. Add to that the fact that exhibitors came armed with a nearly unprecedented level of new vendible products and machines, the combination led to high-energy levels on the show floor.
"It was a great show, just fantastic," enthused convention chairman Jim Hinton of Oak Mfg. "I think attendance was comprised of those operators who come all the time, no matter where the show is, and guys who like an East Coast show, one that is within driving range. These were people we haven't seen since the last Florida show in Orlando. Next year we return to Vegas and we'll pick up those West Coast operators."
NEW NBVA LEADERSHIP
During the show a new slate of officers was elected (see separate story on Bulk Features page). Assuming the post of NBVA president is Dan Case of Tejas Distributors (Round Rock, TX); the vice-presidential honor goes to Peter Becker, What's Up LLC; treasurer duties will be fulfilled by Steve Siegel, The Great American Vending Machine Co. (Hauppauge, NY); and Randy Chilton, Sugarloaf Creations (Louisville, CO), steps into the secretary position.
OFF THE SHOW FLOOR
This year's lineup of convention seminars continued the tradition of providing operator participants with invaluable tools to help build their businesses. And, for the second year in a row, included a film presentation of bulk vending operators in action. Created by seminar chairman, Steve Siegel, this year's "big screen" premier drew a standing-room-only crowd to see the film debut of Atlas Vending (Boulder, CO); Vend-o-Matic (Frederick, MD), and Folz Vending (Oceanside, NY) (part of Sugarloaf).
"The feedback from attendees on seminars and seminar topics at this year's show has been very positive," said Siegel. "We wanted to create the kind of educational topics our attendees would find most valuable in the years to come, and based on their response, that was what they experienced."
After the show floor closed each evening, the convention featured a round of entertainment events, including hospitality suites and parties hosted by Brand Vending Products and Northwestern Corp. However, the highlight of Jacksonville's informal evening functions was this year's Exhibitor Party, which offered an on-site cigar roller. With the weather cooperating, showgoers gathered on the hotel's outdoor terrace to puff stogies and partake in a lavish buffet.
Coordinating the function was NBVA veteran Neel Clark and Playmation's Jackie Wally. "Jackie deserves most of the credit," said Clark. "She really did most of the heavy lifting when it came to the party. And Playmation deserves a lot of credit, too, for letting her take the time to put this together."
The annual banquet also drew crowds for the entertainment provided by the all-bulk band, The Night Rockers. Fronted by Oak Manufacturing's Hinton, the band included Adam Ippolito of New York Vending Supplies on keyboards; Steven Schechner, Capital Vending (Florence, AL), on lead guitar and vocals; Peter Becker of What's Up on bass guitar; Richard Bolen of Northwestern Corp. on conga drum; and Matt Miller of Beaver Machine on percussion and vocals.
Performing a set that included a fair share of solo performances as well as tight renditions of classic R&B tunes and Rock & Roll, the Night Rockers garnered unanimous praise from industry colleagues.
The banquet also saw the bestowment of the bulk vending industry's highest honor, the Jane Mason/Rose Schiller Award, to long-time operator and past-NBVA president, Tom Theisen of Theisen Vending Co. (Minneapolis, MN). Receiving the award was particularly touching for Theisen because he was close to both women for whom the award is named. "The award, to me, is a very, very great honor," noted Theisen. "I was a very good friend of both Jane and Rose, and grew up in the business with them." (See sidebar.)
The NBVA is already beginning to ramp up for next year's annual confab, which is currently scheduled for April 20 through 22 at the Caesars Palace Hotel in Las Vegas. For more detailed information on the NBVA or the annual convention, contact the association at tel. (312) 521-2400 or visit its website at nbva.org.