If you have attended enough trade shows over the years, then you understand that there is always a certain vibe on the show floor – a general feeling that permeates everything else that is going on. The NAMA Show is no different. The atmosphere can be fogged in with economic stagnation, unproven new technology, rising unemployment, uncertain industry direction and changing consumer tastes.
What was the vibe on the floor of the 2019 NAMA Show? In a word, optimism.
Why all the optimism?
Numerous operators and suppliers that I interviewed pointed to several reasons that the office refreshment industry is experiencing a nice upswing, generating a positive vibe on the NAMA convention floor.
Jim Brinton, CEO at Avanti Markets, said the economy is a big reason for optimism. Mark Veyveris, industry veteran and Account Executive with Burdette Beckmann agreed, adding that operators have every opportunity to grow their businesses today as hiring continues to be strong. “Businesses are expanding, sales are increasing,” he said.
Operator Todd Elliott, Vice President of Tomdra Inc., also said the main reason for optimism is the strong economy. “The increased job market has created opportunities in providing convenience services to growing companies who realize the importance of keeping a strong workforce through strategic employee benefits. Today, clients have a bigger budget to try new things.”
Tom Steuber, operator and President/Owner of Associated Services, said the mood among operators was “unusually optimistic.” He liked what he saw on the convention floor. “There were a lot of new ideas that seemed promising, whether it was beverage dispensing, or selling fruit to offices, or automated equipment using computer vision. It just feels like we're on the cusp of many new possibilities.”
Patricia Cowan, Owner, RainMaker Sales Support, felt the optimistic vibe and attributed it to the industry’s response to customer demand – a positive sign. “The industry is really listening to the consumers. These younger generations want healthy food, but fast! And the industry has stepped up to that challenge. Every year there are more healthy food items and faster delivery methods than the previous year.”
Jeff Stebbings, Co-Founder of TEAJA Office, said that industry thinking is contributing to the optimism. “Operators and suppliers are embracing the idea of change. On the product side, the introduction of items like CBD infused beverages and snacks were present. These types of innovations show that our industry is listening to what consumers are asking for.”
Brendan Cawley of Righteous Felon Craft Jerky, a first time NAMA exhibitor, said his team was welcomed with a lot of positive energy, particularly from operators who were looking for exciting new pantry and micro market products as they convert a good part of their business to new office refreshment channels. “Young, emerging food brands like ours were excited to be there and be part of the vending renaissance...an era we believe historians will someday refer to as, "The Vendaissance."
Not only did Cawley coin a new phrase, his exhibit brought energy, excitement and fun to a far corner of the convention floor. From the steady crowd around his booth, it was obvious that his innovative products were well received.
Micro markets and pantry service
Ryan Reifort of Frameworks Display said the convention floor had an upbeat mood, driven by growth in the micro market and pantry business. Steve Closser of Translucent went further. He said the changeover to micro markets has invigorated many operators.
Steve Orlando, Co-Founder of Fixturelite, said the 2019 NAMA show was a huge success for his company. “The vibe was definitely driven by optimism in the micro market and pantry business," said Orlando. "Operators are recognizing that it is critical to deliver an outstanding employee experience in the break room.”
Orlando said Fixturelite’s “Operators Wanted” campaign illustrates the level of opportunity. “We are actively looking for operators to service upcoming locations. It is a great time to be in the micro market business,” he added.
Operators should be optimistic because the industry has supplier reps, people like Kirk Wilder, who are dedicated to helping them improve their business. Wilder, industry veteran and Key Account Manager at de Jong DUKE, said operators should focus on more than just the outside of de Jong DUKE’s beautifully designed bean to cup brewers, like an eye-catching coffee machine with a door made of 100% recycled materials, including used coffee.
I heard Wilder advising more than one operator to use better ingredients to bring out the best in bean to cup brewers, specifically, the non-coffee products, such as creamer and flavorings. “Using better products for the specialty drinks makes a big difference in the quality of a beverage for just pennies per cup,” said Wilder.
A red-hot industry
Dick Christman, a long-time acquisition consultant, said the convenience services industry is red hot and in demand.
“Every good operator knows that there is a very favorable exit strategy available today,” said Christman. “Operators can be confident that growing and investing in their business is going to ultimately pay off when they decide to sell their business. Right now, there are more buyers than sellers, which certainly fuels optimism.”