All sorts of people populate the exhibit floor of the National Automobile Dealers Assn. annual conventions. You’ll spot dealers, of course, legions of vendors, OEM reps, gaggles of journalists and more.
But one group whose ranks have thinned over the years is attractive young women dressed as showgirls. They aren’t exactly extinct today, but they now are a rarity on NADA’s sprawling expo floor.
Their job description was to look pretty and lure conventioneers to the exhibit booths they staffed. They once were a fixture at the annual NADA extravaganza (and at auto shows).
But times have changed. What was considered standard practice a few years ago is now deemed a questionable way to partake in commerce, at least for the auto industry.
At a NADA convention about a decade ago, dealer Tammy Darvish publicly voiced disdain at some floor exhibitors employing women dressed like Folies Bergere can-can dancers to drum up business.
Since then, that practice has declined. Today, women staffing NADA booths typically dress in business-casual apparel, not two-piece bikinis and feathered headdresses.
I spotted a couple of the latter at an event held in conjunction with the NADA extravaganza in Las Vegas this year. They were standing next to a sign and serving as photo opportunities. That one sighting was just about it.
Nearly 20 years ago, a couple of strippers almost ended up working at the WardsAuto booth at a NADA convention in New Orleans. Their would-be presence was averted at the last moment by a colleague who had serious second thoughts about a questionable proposal.
Here’s what happened:
One of our freelance contributors of the time attended that convention. To put it candidly, he liked strip clubs. New Orleans has its share of those. He visited one and got to know some of the personnel, including a pair of performers. Like him, they did freelance work.
So, he came up with what to him seemed like a brilliant idea. He figured the WardsAuto booth could increase its visitor traffic if his two new lady friends staffed it while wearing skimpy schoolgirl outfits from their professional wardrobes.
Over afterhours drinks – maybe one too many – he indirectly pitched the idea to a WardsAuto person who oversaw the booth operations. The response was noncommittal, something like, “Well, that’d be interesting.”
The next morning, the WardsAuto guy was half-asleep in bed. He hazily recalled the previous night’s conversation. He woke up in a panic. He phoned our freelance friend, saying, “You weren’t serious about strippers working our booth, right?” The reply: “Yes, they’re coming today. It’s all set.”
It quickly was un-set.
Prudes in Puritan black didn’t run WardsAuto then, nor do they now. But strippers at our booth? Had that happened, my colleague feared he would have been stripped of his job. I’m not so sure about that, assuming he explained the circumstances. But he would have been on the carpet, and not the red kind rolled out for VIPs.