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I guess you could call me a trade show veteran. Been there. Done that. Got the shin splints to prove it. I’ve been attending or working major trade shows since I was just a strapping lad of 15. NAMM show (music), COMDEX show (computers) SIGGRAPH (ditto), and NRA show (guns), they all have had a common leitmotif that runs through every last one of ’em. Women. Attractive women. Provocatively-dressed, attractive women, who usually know next-to-nothing about the products in their booths. They exist for the same reason that flowers exist – to attract bees so they’ll stumble in and grab some pollen (literature) and be on their merry way. But this year, there was a decided dearth of women commonly referred to within the industry as either “Booth Bunnies” or “Booth Bimbos,” depending on your perspective. Now why would that be?

THEORY #1 – “It’s the economy, stupid!”
You’ve heard the one about skirt length, right? Where fashionistas can either predict or reflect the economic health of the country with the length of skirts? Miniskirts = bull markets, below the knee = bears rule. (And Maxi-skirts will be either the 7th sign of the Apocalyps, or news that Jimmy Carter plans to make another run for the White House.) There may be something to this “No booth bimbos = bad economy” thing, though. Booth bimbos are expensive. They charge by the hour, and the better looking they are (and the more cleavage they expose) the higher their rates. It may just be a belt-tightening thing.

THEORY #2 – “It’s the talent (or lack thereof)”
I don’t buy this one, but I’m honor bound to report all possibilities. Pittsburgh used to be known as Steeltown. They are reported down to but one (small) steel mill. However, a number of other businesses have swooped in to pick up the slack, notably Bayer (as in Aspirin). The Steelers ditched their cheerleaders (The Steelerettes) back in the 70s, so there may not be a lot of experienced, local talent to go around. I don’t know what the car show situation is in Pittsburgh, but it may well be that the local girls with talent simply skidaddle for greener pastures when they get old enough to move away. I dunno. I can’t believe, what with so many Colleges and Universities in town they couldn’t find some local talent. But maybe there’s just not a lot of local professional models in Pittsburgh any more.

THEORY #3 – “The Industry is Growing Up.”
As long as we have EEA, Kahr, and Dillon Precision doing their “sex sells” advertising, I don’t think there’s any danger of the industry getting too button-down in their collective mindset. But there is a corollary to the maturity of the industry and their advertising. While it’s kind of strange to refer to the gun industry as “young” or “immature,” from a marketing perspective, it is. Guns didn’t really come into their own from a retail marketing perspective until the last few years. It’s really only been in the last dozen years or so that guns have been marketed in the same ways that other retail products have been. In that respect, guns are today where the computer industry was back in the mid 80s. Ads tend to fall into one of three categories – propellerhead (way too much information, lots and lots of text, and features trump benefits), sexy (sell the girl/sizzle, instead of the steak), and sophisticated (modern advertising techniques, great photography, emotional appeals, benefits over features, and a call-to-action closer). Flip through any gun magazine and see how many of each type of ad you find. See what I mean? There just wasn’t a lot of sex-driven marketing at the NRA show. And in a way, that’s a good thing, as it points to an industry that’s maturing.

THEORY #4 – “Off-Election Year”
Say what you will, the NRA lives, eats, breathes and sleeps politics. If it weren’t for challenges to gun rights, the NRA would be a shadow of itself. But there’s an ebb and flow to everything. Last year, the big news was Heller, McDonald, and the speculation that Obama was about to do any number of things to grab our guns. It never happened, for whatever reason. And while this year did serve as a platform for a couple of GOP challengers to stump for support, last year’s event took place just six months before the midterm elections. It may well be that this year is a kind of calm before the storm of next year’s Presidential race. And as that may be true, it might be that a lot of vendors who would have otherwise gone the Booth Bunny route, opted to keep their powder dry for next year, and save the bimbage for later.

THEORY #5 – “Random Chance”
In truth, it could be all of the above, in various and sundry combinations. No industry moves as a single, coordinated unit. The gun industry is no exception to that rule. So it may just be a combination of factors that conspired to make a perfect, bimbo-free environment at the NRA.

My take? I dunno. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s more budgetary than anything, but what do I know. I’m not a psychologist, mind reader, or board member. And while I’m really not into bimbos, I am a guy. Eye candy is always at least fun to look at.

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  1. Eye candy is always at least fun to look at.

    True for most people, but reducing people to sex objects as a marketing ploy is doomed to fail in the long term. Two reasons I see for this: people realizing that companies using sex to sell a product usually means the product isn’t strong enough to be sold on it’s own merits, and people realize that this is a deplorable practice.

    There may be another reason you didn’t state as to the lack of “eye candy” (or what I would call a “mind sore” or a “sore mind”): the traditional market of male gun buyers is now super-saturated and most men have their hunting rifles, black rifles, revolvers big and little, semi-autos big and little, shotguns hunting and tactical, etc. The biggest potential growth market is women – and using “booth bimbos” will have low returns.

  2. At a Friends of the NRA dinner I once attended, there were some really attractive women in short, tight dresses circulating with cocktails, and selling tickets for the games of chance.
    Looking closer them and their interactions, it became clear that these were gals were married. To some of the men running the show. 🙁

      We had a little less luck finding a
      female volunteer with these
      qualifications within our ranks, and
      were forced to go into the private

      Collins clicks his remote. There’s a picture of RITA, a
      pretty woman in her 20s, obviously a prostitute.

      The officers react, confused.

      This is Rita. Like Joe, she has no
      immediate family. She agreed to
      participate in exchange for dropping
      some criminal charges, and a small

      Collins cues up a slide of a pimp in full pimp regalia.

      Arrangement with her pimp — a
      gentleman here in the D.C. area who
      goes by the name, “Upgrade,” which
      he spells U-P-G-R-A-Y-E-Dd-, with
      two ‘D’s, as he says,
      (air quotes)
      “For a double dose of this pimpin'”.

      Idiocracy p. 9

      As Collins talks, he clicks through several slides of Upgrayed
      in different outfits, showing off his jewelry, driving in a
      Mercedes, etc.

      The Officers begin to shift uncomfortably.

      Upgrayed agreed to “loan” us Rita
      for exactly a year, and keep quiet
      in exchange for some leeway from
      local police in running his “pimp
      game.” First, however, there was
      the difficult manner of gaining his

      A slide of Collins and Upgrayed sharing a giant bottle of

      Could we skip to the technicals,

      Sure. Let me just finish here…

      The other officers squirm as Collins clicks through slides
      of himself with Upgrayed, with ho’s, etc.

      You see, a pimp’s love is very
      different from that of a square-

      OFFICER #2

      There’s an awkward silence. After a beat:

      Fine. We’ll move on… It is a
      fascinating world, though.

      • awesome movie.
        A Pimp’s love is…very different from that of a square.

  3. Funny, I think there were more this year than at last year’s convention.

    Honestly, I really thought this was going to be a post about Kel-Tec not being there.

  4. Companies using booth babes reek if desperation. At most of the ad conferences I’ve been to it was the easiest way to know which companies were a joke.

    Foosball on the other hand, that will get me to your booth

  5. Kel Tec hasn’t been at the last two NRA conventions I’ve been to. Not sure why. Despite being a tiny little company, they sure have made some great innovative products.

    As for booth bunnies, yes, I appreciate the ones who are avid shooters. Those are few and far between.

  6. It may be that most of the people who go to the NRA convention are interested in the guns, rather than the potential scenery. When you are looking at a new firearm as a potential buy, you want to talk to someone who actually knows something about the firearm, not some airhead who looks pretty but doesn’t know what the term “caliber” means. That said, I would have no problem talking to an attractive lady who knows the firearms. But if the only one in the booth who knows about the difference between a .38 Spcl and a .38 S&W is an old fat bald guy, that’s who I will be talking to – not the 19-yr old booth bunny who thinks the guns are cute.

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