When an icon in an industry retires, it's big news. And no one was more visible in vending than Bob Bell. Through his 43 years at Glasco, then National Vendors, then Crane Merchandising Systems (CMS), Bell took everything in stride.
For many industry veterans, it is hard to imagine a trade show without Bell's friendly face.
Weathering The Storm
"I met him when I was 16 visiting with my father at then National Vendors," said Ralph Sanese, president, Sanese Services Inc., Columbus, Ohio. "He took care of me the whole day and treated me like a second dad. He was wonderful." And throughout the corporate shifts CMS underwent, he was the person operators could count on to help out.
"Sometimes you don't know who to contact when things change in a company," said Sanese. "But you could call Bell at all hours of the day." He explained the changes, met new challenges set for him, and was always positive about the company — the industry, too. "If you knew of a guy you could depend on and trust — that would be Bob Bell."
Trade Show Guru
In 1972, Bell joined other trade show exhibitors, operators, brokers and board members, taking his supportive role further. Stuart Aizenberg, director of trade shows and allied membership at the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA), served with Bell on the NAMA trade show advisory committee until Bell's retirement this year. He recalled Bell was never shy.
"He was very willing to share his opinions and be very vocal when he felt it necessary," Aizenberg said. "You were never left wondering what he was thinking." Because of this, he was a valuable contributor. And he didn't just represent the interests of CMS. Bell did an excellent job juggling those interests with what was in the best interest of the NAMA trade shows.
Advisory Committee Ambassador
While at the show, Bell was very reliable in his role as ambassador from the advisory committee. "You could count on him to make his booth visits and let us know about anything he thought we should know about," said Aizenberg. "We're going to miss him, his smiling face, his willingness to help, and his interest in the industry."
According to Tom Edwards, vice president, global food and beverage initiatives, CMS, anyone who needed help at trade shows got it. "Bell was the ‘go to' person," said Edwards. "People knew him because of his unusual disposition. There is a (lovable) quirkiness to Bob Bell."
Edwards recalled one of the most trying projects Bell was instrumental in pursuing for CMS. "Bob had the patience and diligence to work through mountains of red tape associated with a federal contract. The project began with the development of a prototype unit and culminated with the production of thousands of machines, most of which remain in service today.
Advanced for its time, the machine included digital price displays, multiple electronic security features and accepted $20 bills,"
After reviewing Bell's 40-plus year career history from sales manager with Glasco in 1963 through 14 job titles to assistant to the president in 1998, Edwards jokingly said, "In essence, he had to retire, as there were no other assignments left."
Final words from CMS
Bell's send-off was not quiet, as his more playful CMS colleagues put together a slide show roasting Bell about his age and agelessness, superimposing his head onto various bodies through the years of childhood until the present day, and noting countless legendary anecdotes.
Although retired, Bell remains the steady rock he was through CMS's changes, even now through the change of leaving CMS. "To this day, he still has the excitement and passion for the industry," said Sanese, "He always comes out smiling."