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Publisher's Viewpoint - Robin Ashton

Publisher's Viewpoint - Robin AshtonFounding partner Robin Ashton, president and publisher, is a true industry veteran in spite of is boyish appearance, he's covered foodservice since 1978, and E&S exclusively since 1982, as an editor and publisher at several magazines.

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What NAFEM Told Us About The E&S Market

March 01, 2013

As we write this, we’re just back from the whirlwind week that was The NAFEM Show. NAFEM was even more intense than usual for us, as we hosted more than 400 of our closest friends for our Industry Awards event on Friday, Feb. 8. We had an absolutely wonderful time.

Congratulations again to all 17 recipients of our Management Excellence Awards, Industry Service Awards and Young Lion Awards. We also want to thank again our sponsors and all those who came out to support the event and their friends. E&S is a remarkable industry in which competitors are friends.

But between the hubbub and handshaking and running up and down the aisles, we kept our ears open for the tone of the market. And we can honestly say we were very encouraged. Attendance was strong. FEDA had a record crowd for its Friday lunch program. We saw folks from all the big chains, who often were searching out equipment and supplies for specific new initiatives. We had conversations with many and specifically asked, “Did the federal budget and tax uncertainties, or the impending healthcare changes, slow you down?” The universal answer was, “No, we can’t afford to sit still."

We saw most of the leading consultants as we wandered the show and those we spoke with said, depending on the segment, that clients are definitely starting to move. One told me a major client just pulled the trigger on a project that had been ready to go since 2009.  If there was one category where attendance seemed a bit light, it was international visitors, especially from Europe. But that market is truly suffering, so it’s not much of surprise.

The many manufacturers we spoke with seemed very encouraged by the customers they saw at the show and the current trends.  Many admitted that sales and orders slowed in late 2012 and that they were getting worried. But that pattern was not universal and nearly everyone said sales and quotation activity picked up again in January. Several told us they had record Januarys. 

And the last quarter may not have been as soft as we feared. While John Muldowney, our forecasting partner and v.p.-marketing at Alto-Shaam, told us preliminary public company sales for the fourth quarter 2012 look flat, with offshore sales again pulling down the numbers. But Mike Posternak of PBAC, who oversees the MAFSI Barometer, whispered that the preliminary tallies have sales rising 3.8% in the quarter.

Of course, NAFEM always makes everyone feel good, so we’ll have to wait and see if the optimism holds. But we were still a bit surprised by how upbeat nearly everyone was. We have a feeling 2013 may turn out better than we thought.

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