National Expo's Message: Change Demands Focus

A sense of change could be felt in the air at McCormick Place last month. A sense of focused change.

Many exhibitors observed that the quantity of operators was less than in some previous national expos, but the quality was higher. Most viewed this as a positive.

What this says, in essence, is the industry is becoming one for leaders, and leaders only.

During the keynote speech, Michigan State University men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo was asked if there is any one skill he deems most important for new basketball recruits. His answer: “The mental toughness to withstand all outside influences.”

There couldn’t have been a more salient message for the audience at hand.

An industry in transition

The trade show once again showcased products and technologies that can enable vending and coffee service operators to meet the needs of today’s consumers.

The interpersonal exchanges taking place, both on the show floor and during the seminars, delivered as much value as the exhibits and seminars. The industry is in a transitional period, and all players need to understand their business purpose. The future has yet to fully define itself.

NAMA has done an outstanding job in recent years of strengthening its membership programs and services. Coffee certification, executive certification, supervisor training and knowledge source partners are just some of the improvements.

During the annual state officers meeting, NAMA updated members on its strategic plan to guide the association through a new period. NAMA, like its membership, is trying to find ways to be more relevant in a changing business environment.

A time for strategic planning

The investment in a strategic plan sets a good example for the membership. Associations and companies alike stand to benefit from a formal process to understand the forces driving change, and to create a plan to provide guidance.

It has been pointed out many times in recent years that technology is changing automatic merchandising. It remains unclear how the industry will utilize technology to meet the challenges that technology itself has helped to create.

NAMA isn’t the only trade organization to recognize the need to better understand its industry.

During one seminar, David Drain, executive director of the Self Service & Kiosk Association, gave an overview of his young association and the challenges it faces. Founded in 2001, this group consists of suppliers and deployers of self-service kiosks. It has invested in research continuously.

Technology’s challenges

Self-service kiosks are meeting a growing need for self service as a more technology savvy customer emerges and traditional retailers find labor in short supply.

Drain offered a message that applies as much to vending as to his own industry: technology is only part of the solution. Self service concepts, he said, must begin with understanding the customer.

During transitional periods such as the present, structured forums for communication are critical. Fortunately, our industry’s national association has turned its annual expo into such a forum. The end result will depend in part on how well the membership utilizes it.

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