It's common to look at trade shows and see what you want to see. Depending on how many orders are written, the typical exhibitor designates any given show a success, failure, horrible, outstanding or just so-so. But it is more complicated than that, as there are countless variables involved. One exhibitor's "waste of time and money" is another's record-breaking year. The same could be said for operator participants who judge shows by the quality and price of equipment and merchandise.
Taken as a whole, trade shows are efficient barometers of an industry's mood. As much as any poll or survey, they provide an accurate picture of both manufacturers' and buyers' visions of their futures. Manufacturers don't build equipment or merchandise for markets they don't believe will exist, and operator buyers don't stock up on inventory just for the fun of it. Both roll the dice, placing their trust in their best estimates, instincts and tolerance for risk. In this respect, it is very much like the stock market. You bet on the future with the best data available. And the 2012 IAAPA Attractions Expo in November in Orlando, FL, was no exception.
As reported, attendance at the show was up nearly 3%, with some 26,500 registered participants and 57,000 net square feet of show floor area in the Orange County Convention Center. It was literally the largest show in nearly a decade, IAAPA reported. Not a break-out-the-champagne record-breaker, but still very good news. I'd add that walking through 57,000 square feet of exhibits is no easy task.
Some of the larger and more aggressive companies in bulk vending took part in the show; A&A Global Industries, Allstar Vending and Beaver Machine Corp. were among them. And some of the world's elite bulk vending operators showed up, as they usually do.
What was most striking about the Orlando show wasn't the abundance of good news, but the range of optimism all that news engendered among suppliers and operators. More vending professionals see a positive profitable future, amid a decade that was dominated by gloom and caution.
But "mixed bag" conditions still exist. One industry member attributed the range of attitudes to the uneven (or regional) economic recovery, noting that some parts of the country have bounced back more quickly than others. Bulk vending, he pointed out, is no longer the "recession-proof" industry of years past. Another bulk vending veteran cited the recent election as tied to expectations for the coming years. A third speculated that many operators simply haven't built up an adequate financial cushion yet.
Any one of these three explanations is plausible, while a combination of all three seems the most likely rationalization. For my part, I'd like to add that both operators and manufacturers use their own sets of benchmark to judge the future. These range from hard data straight from the spreadsheet to "vibe," or economic instinct. Hopefully, as you read this, the industry hit a major benchmark at retail locations during the Christmas shopping season. If the predictions and reports of a strong shopping season held true, and cashboxes reflected this, then more operators might be viewing the future with a little more cheer.