A few decades ago going to a NAFA conference meant several days of Ed Bobit dragging me around to various hospitality suites to meet with fleet managers and fleet suppliers until 2 a.m. (or later if it was a good party). It meant a great opportunity to network with the leaders in the business, from both sides of the aisle, the buyers and the sellers. Although, if my memory serves me correctly, the sellers always outnumbered the buyers by quite a bit.

Regardless of the ratio, we could all count on that one event being the annual get together for the industry.

Somewhere along the line everything changed. Some market forces conspired against the association and the event. Then there were a couple of recessions, a battle of public sector vs. private sector, a questionable at best site selection process, and of course the fateful decision to charge non-exhibiting suppliers around $1,400 to attend. It’s pretty easy to look at that last factor as the largest driver of the declining attendance. Not that going to St. Louis, Detroit (my hometown so I can say this), and Atlantic City did much to help the cause.

We produce a few events ourselves, as many of you know, so I can understand the profit motive and the need to generate revenue to keep the association afloat. But the driving force for an association event should be to serve the industry, to serve as a gathering spot for all the players in the market.

Profit should be secondary. But somewhere along the line that message got lost and as we chase the almighty dollar, we find a huge segment of the industry won’t go to our largest association managed trade show because the costs are prohibitive. At the risk of sounding like the cranky old guy in the corner, it makes me long for the olden days.

We can’t fix the public versus private debate that is apparently still going strong. But maybe that isn’t such a big deal anymore with the proliferation of public sector fleet managers and the flight of commercial fleet managers to AFLA or frankly, just back to their offices. It seems a great deal of them just don’t see the value in going to the event anymore. And that’s a real shame. Even if you don’t see value in the educations sessions, there is always tremendous value in just rubbing elbows with your fellow fleet managers and the suppliers that can still afford to come to the event.

If you do decide to go to the NAFA 2018 I&E this year, I look forward to seeing you there, if Phil and the board will still let me in. If you don’t make it to the event, try to make an effort to get out to another fleet event or two this year.

There is just no better opportunity to network, to learn, and to mingle with the best and the brightest than an in-person fleet event. And if you find yourself with some down time while you are in Anaheim, Mike Antich and I would love to have you come over the Bobit HQ for a tour of the real happiest place on Earth, The Fleet Hall of Fame.

If you disagree, let me know

Originally posted on Automotive Fleet

About the author
Sherb Brown

Sherb Brown


Sherb Brown is the former president of Bobit Business Media. Sherb has covered the auto industry for more than 20 years in various positions with the world's largest fleet publisher.

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