A Check-In With Joe Camarota
AAMA President’s Upbeat About Where Industry Is Today
It’s been an unusual couple of years and Joe Camarota has been busy leading AAMA through them. Elected as the association’s president in September 2019, his tenure took a 180-degree turn in March 2020 when the world shut down for Covid-19.
Nearly two years later, AAMA has navigated through all sorts of ups and downs as they do their best to right the ship and help the industry.
“It’s very humbling that I was asked to stay on for a third year,” Camarota remarked of his unusually long term, which started off in the boom times of 2019 and came to a screeching halt months later.
“A lot of traveling was curtailed in 2020 and a lot of locations closed that year never to open again,” he said. “Then in 2021, after the American Rescue Plan and the stimulus money started coming in, people were talking about collections they’ve never seen before.”
Then, of course, came the Delta variant in the summer that threw a wrench into that upswing, though didn’t completely derail it.
“Now, it’s a labor issue,” Camarota explained. “We can’t find enough labor to support our needs.” Along with that, he said that many locations have redefined what’s important to them, including taking a look at their peak hours and off-peak times. “A lot of locations have cut hours and are making more money,” he said.
Examining operational efficiency may be one positive that’s come out of the pandemic, but another major negative is the supply chain issue.
“There was a time when you’d call a manufacturer and the product would be sent out that week,” Camarota noted, adding now it’s more like 3-6 months. “It has impacted every tier of our industry.
“It’s going to take a while to correct. It’s not just microchips. It’s plastics. It’s everything that makes the games.”
This past year or so has also brought about more price increases than ever before, with some having to raise prices 3-4 times. Freight surcharges in the tens of thousands are commonplace.
“I’m hoping by the summer it gets somewhat more respectable,” he said. “Our industry has never worked harder over the past couple years. Every business model had to change and we’re constantly having to reinvent ourselves.”
One such reinvention is being able to go with the flow of what’s happening with Covid-19 and how governments are reacting to it.
On that front, Camarota said: “You follow the trends. You see South Africa. You see England. Omicron is starting to taper down. My concern is will there be another variant. But the more and more people who get vaccinated and get infected with Covid, the less susceptible we’ll be to these surges.
“I’m optimistic. People are starting to realize this is going to be endemic and we’re going to have to deal with this. Ultimately, people want to enjoy themselves.”
Regarding the Amusement Expo coming up in March, Camarota said he’s confident it will go on as planned, despite Omicron –– and also mentioned that AAMA’s relationship with fellow Expo organizer AMOA “has never been better.”
“We’ve never had such close collaboration – and we need each other,” he said. “We had a battle on our hands to help preserve the industry and we were able to save our industry.”