Operating a route or game room these days reminds me of riding that old mechanical bull. Its ups and downs, twists and turns, often throw the rider off on his butt while the more experienced can hold on until it stops. That “bull” should really be a “bear” considering the economic harm coin-op has suffered since Covid hit two years ago, followed now by price inflation for both homeowners and small business owners. As the saying goes, these are the times that try men’s souls.
National inflation was 7.5% higher this past January compared to last, marking the biggest increase in forty years. Industry long-timers can well remember those days gone by and wish they stayed “gone by.” Within our industry today, the price increases have been far bigger than that 7.5%, running as high as 33% when the freight surcharge is added to the price of a machine that’s already been bumped up by the factory. And let’s not ignore those retroactive price adjustments.
It’s human nature to look for a culprit when trouble comes. But while the causes back in 1982 were myriad (e.g. gas shortage), today it’s simpler: the continuing clog in the import transit situation compounded by parts scarcity and labor shortages all add up to one word: COVID! In a market economy, when the demand for a product grows higher than its availability, prices go up. It’s as simple as that.
Economists, in general, believe the level of inflation will flatten as it historically does and did 40 years back. The federal government is taking steps to keep the ports of entry open longer each day, while pursuing programs to train more truckers to get those goods to the merchants who sell them and, in turn, to the final user (in this case, people who read RePlay).
And despite the continuing death rate from Covid (running around 2,500 a day according to The New York Times), most citizens want mandates softened or eliminated (like masks) and just accept that this virus and its variants will be with us just like the flu and its annual flu shot. Several states are already discarding indoor mask mandates with more expected.
What’s needed is a “balance” between disease mitigation and the general quality of life in a market economy. No easy trick. It’s a “job in progress” and my hope for our readers and customers is to hold onto that bull as best they can and keep in as close touch with others in the trade to see what they’re doing to ride it out. A great spot to do that is the Vegas Expo which is well worth the price to attend.