The National Automatic Merchandising Association's Spring Expo was well worth attending. The new technologies that have been attracting so much industry and media attention were displayed and demonstrated, and a surprising number of new products made their formal debuts at the show. The association brought operators up to date on its very important industry image initiative, and on a new program designed to standardize the reporting of sales and marketing information. As we've often emphasized (most recently in February and November, 2000), this standardization is the essential next step in bringing the full benefits of the retailing revolution to the vending industry. And these were just the highlights of a diverse and timely educational program that addressed issues of current concern to vending and coffee service operators.
The turnout was strong, augmented once again by the "colocation" of the annual Amusement Showcase International. Many observers were impressed by the number of younger operators in the Las Vegas Convention Center, and by the distance traveled by many industry members to attend the shows.
Notwithstanding these objective measures of success, we spoke with several exhibitors who believe that one trade show a year is enough, and who would like the Spring Expo discontinued. A milder version of this opinion is that the show ought to be held every two years. A similar view was expressed by a few ASI exhibitors. We think we understand what underlies this belief, and we think it is misguided.
Over the past decade or so, there has been a substantial increase in trade shows staged by various industry organizations, primarily equipment and product distributors. These events offer their sponsors the advantage of showcasing only the lines that they carry or approve, and are easy to publicize to their existing customer base. They provide local operators with a pleasant afternoon and evening, and often spotlight appealing regional products that otherwise would remain below the industry's horizon.
It is understandable that a sales team which may participate in half a dozen of these local shows, and perhaps in national and state shows put on by restaurant or specialty products associations too, begins to experience a certain fatigue (not to mention expense), and thus wants the number of shows reduced. They have good representation, and they feel that they are going to get the business anyway.
This desire for fewer trade shows always increases when the economy falters, as it has been threatening to do for the past six months. Companies faced with the prospect of flattening revenues often react - incomprehensibly , by reducing their marketing and sales promotion budgets. The principle seems to be, "We're selling less, so we need to reduce our sales efforts."
Georges Clemenceau, who led France during the darkest days of World War I, famously said that "War is too important a matter to be left to generals." The same observation might be made about sales and salesmen.Their tactical views may be correct, but they too often overlook the strategic dimension.
The events conducted by a responsible trade association, like NAMA, the American Amusement Machine Association, the National Beverage & Products Association, and the Amusement and Music Operators Association, are more than selling opportunities for established companies. They are invaluable introductions to an industry for new and prospective operators, offering educational opportunities and a coherent overview that are as important as the trade show (arguably, even more important). They are gateways into an industry for suppliers and manufacturers who may be well-established in other areas, and who are interested in bringing new products into vending, coffee service, amusements and music. We tell these people that they can learn more in three days at an industry exposition than they could learn in three months of telephone calls.
Arguments for fewer trade shows are based on a static model: this is our line, that is our customer base. But the industry is dynamic, with a constant influx of new people and new ideas. The NAMA Spring Expo, and the annual ASI, are vital catalysts of progress. The discontinuation of either would be a grievous loss.