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Pundit’s Mailbag — United Fresh And Others Weigh In On Booth Babes

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, November 26, 2012

When there is great interest in seemingly small matters, it is often a sign that something larger is at stake. So it may be with our discussion of “booth babes.”

We’ve run three pieces in this conversation so far:

1) Pundit’s Mailbag — Booth Babes And The Disconnect With PMA’s Position On Women’s Careers

2) Pundit’s Mailbag — Nothing Wrong With Booth Babes!

3) Pundit’s Mailbag — “Booth Babes”, Professionalism and Hypocrisy: What Should PMA’s Policy Be?

They continue to bring interesting responses. Some question the practicality of any “solution” and even whether the end result would be what those focused on the subject are looking for:

By all means, a dress code for all booth workers at agricultural trade shows. I would like to see how the wording of such regulations would read!

Such regulations surely would not offend the sensibilities of produce professionals, and women who might be offended by the presence of “booth babes” would be saved the trouble of actually speaking up in protest to the offending vendors.

I suppose this means that industry fixtures like the National Watermelon Queen will no longer be welcomed at PMA functions.

Doug Stoiber
Vice President, Produce Transportation Operations
L&M Transportation Services, Inc.
Raleigh, North Carolina

Though no less a luminary than the CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association points out that United already requires professional dress at the United event:

Just reading your recent discussion on booth personnel: Thought you’d be interested in United’s policy on this. We include the following clause in our exhibitor contract.

29. EXHIBITOR DISCUSSIONS; COSTUMES; PROMOTION: Exhibitor's representatives may conduct discussions, answer questions, explain their products or services, or engage in sales or order taking, but such activities shall not be conducted in any manner, which is inconsistent with, or derogates from, the Principal Purpose of the Exhibition. Exhibitor shall cease any activity determined to be inconsistent with the Principal Purpose of Exhibition immediately upon notification by Management to do so. Exhibitor shall not engage in any activities in the aisles or in booths other than its own. No signs shall be displayed nor shall public announcements be made concerning sales, prices or conditions of sale. Exhibitor's representatives wearing distinctive costumes, or carrying banners or signs separately or as part of their apparel must remain in their own booths. Booth representatives may not wear clothing that Management deems scanty or excessively revealing.

We welcome attractive men and women working in trade show booths; whether serving food, handing out materials, etc. The key is good taste in attire that is suited to the professional occasion. We’ll be reminding our exhibitors in San Diego this May of these standards.

— Tom Stenzel
President and CEO
United Fresh Produce Association
Washington, DC

Of course, the very question is what is “good taste in attire that is suited to the professional occasion”? The issue was raised in the context of Daisy Duke-type lookalikes for Texas Town — call it the Texas version of aboriginal dances. Does that constitute clothing that is “scanty or excessively revealing”? Who knows?

Others question whether this isn’t all a kind of ethnocentrism emphasizing America’s puritanical history. They point out that other cultures are not as concerned about these issues:

Let me get this straight. The grape shipper that has the “Pretty Lady” label can have all kinds of Pretty Lady promotional materials, and he’s OK. He just cannot have an actual pretty lady at his booth in Anaheim.

Meanwhile, over at Fruit Logistica, one of the online European publications takes pictures and then has its readers voting on the favorite booth attendants from last year. The winners make the 2013 calendar to be given out at the show in February. Lots of pretty ladies in Berlin.

— John Pandol
Vice President Special Projects
Pandol Bros.
Delano, California

Still others think the very question is a distraction from Job #1:

I recently received your newsletter and this one struck a chord with me.

The idea that you need a "Booth Babe" to promote yourself is probably the lowest you can go without being an outright bad shipper. Bad shipper covers a lot of areas. We all know who is and who isn't. We may not always agree, but the general perception is out there about who you go to and who you don't.

Can't a salesman do the selling anymore? Does the salesman know his own product? Does the salesman know more about the industry than his product? Does the salesman have to say bad things about other shippers to be noticed? 

It's hard work and it is the integrity of the salesmen who take responsibility for their actions that customers respond to, not a good looking girl. I feel that if you have to do that, take your favorite customers after the show and treat them at a strip club. There's really no place for this in this industry.

If some think that it will give them a leg up on their competitors, then they are not doing a good enough job at what they are supposed to do. Service a customer. Look up the word “service” in Webster's and you will understand. It's almost your duty. It's mine. Anyone can call me at any time and I will do the same. Service.

Michael deRensis
Fresh Veg Distributing
Spartanburg, South Carolina

And our vituperative correspondent is back for more:

I see my defense of personal freedom of expression has brought a few naysayers.

Yes, I have a wife and two daughters and a female secretary, but they do not get uptight about these things.

I see I am blacklisted from selling certain companies now. That also is their choice. I don't tell them what they should do; maybe you do.

Maybe there are some people out there who do believe in these freedoms other than me.

The two girls in question were showing no cleavage (can't say that about a lot of women there), and their butts were not hanging out of their shorts.

They did have on makeup. I guess that's OK. Why do most women wear makeup anyway? What is the purpose of it?

There are some feminist women who are appalled that women wear makeup.

Those girls were going to look good in anything they wear. So I am unsure what new rules or regulations you would like to see the PMA institute. 

As to the women who were/are so offend by this: The models were never intended or implied to demean anybody. That was not their purpose there.

I never look at the produce or any other business professional women as underclass or to not be taken seriously. You make the same decisions as we do everyday.

It is a shame you are "mortified" at seeing models at a produce trade show, a professional’s self-confidence should easily overcome seeing something like that.

I would not be mortified, insulted, or demeaned if I saw Chippendale men handing out products at your booth.

I was on a flight this weekend, and I couldn't help but notice the number of ads in the plane magazines that showed beautiful women showing a great deal of skin in what one could easily say was a provocative, sexy, and a flirtatious pose pitching whatever it was they were selling. Do you boycott all these products also or do the same retailers listed not carry them?? I always thought the term for it was "Marketing".

Back in the 60's & 70's, women in parts of the middle east could wear bikinis or whatever they wanted to the beach. Then there were some naysayers who were offended.....

I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving and didn’t  get uptight if the turkey was not "dressed" just the way you like it. We all need to be more Thankful that we live in this country.

—Ward Thomas
Owner
Majestic Produce
McAllen, Texas

Mr. Thomas seems to think this is a free-speech matter, but he is incorrect. PMA is a private organization, and it can impose any dress standards it would like — requiring a suit and tie or banning bikinis.

Now if someone started saying that there “ought to be a law,” then censorship issues would come into play.

This discussion brings up many issues:

First — Why do they do it?

It is easy to say that sex sells and that people do these things to attract buyers. We have our doubts. The problem is that the downside is so great — one offended buyer at a big chain — that it is hard to make a case for this as a sales-driven strategy.

We suspect that in many cases, this is self-referential marketing. We used to visit a printer in rural Wisconsin and get up before dawn to go do press checks. When we would turn on the TV before dawn, we often saw commercials promoting dairy consumption.

Was this effective marketing to consumers? We doubt it. But the dairy farmers were up at that hour in rural Wisconsin and they probably liked seeing the commercials — although their interests should have led them to be outraged their money was being spent on such advertising.

The particular picture Dan’l Mackey Almy used to illustrate her post on this issue was taken at Texas Town at PMA.

What buyers will enjoy and value is difficult to assess. But it might be quite easy to see what the shippers will enjoy.

Maybe the whole issue is really about effective marketing and a misguided focus not on the buyer, but on oneself.

Second —You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

The industry has major outreach going on to college students. One wonders what a 20-year-old upcoming professional female thinks of the industry when she walks the floor and sees these types of displays. Maybe she thinks the industry isn’t for her. That is a high price for the industry to pay.

Third — What is the response of professional executives to the “booth babes”?

Female executives in the industry know very well how to mentor a younger colleague, and if they saw her wearing excessively revealing clothes they would counsel her to be professional, to sell her mind, her tenacity, not her physical attributes.

It is not so clear to us that the same female executives would have much to say to the “Daisy Duke” women in the photo. These women are trying to make a living; they may not be interested in the long-haul of professional development and reputation-building.

*****

Somewhere in this contretemps is a societal struggle for how men and women get along and how different classes of women get along.

Although executive women clearly want a professional environment, it is not at all clear that they want men in their personal lives to be just as horrified at the unprofessional nature of sexually suggestive women on the floor. And, of course, most men on the floor are, or will be, in some woman’s personal life.

It is also clear that executive women want to mentor and further the careers of younger professional women, but how this professional class will get along with women who have different values and priorities is not very clear.

 

What is clear, as we reflected when we sat down to Thanksgiving dinner this past weekend, is that one of the most wonderful things about this country is that we are forever striving to create a more perfect union. There is no particular answer, but the process goes on.

Many thanks to Doug Stoiber, Tom Stenzel, John Pandol, Michael deRensis and Ward Thomas. We hope that everyone found something to be thankful for during Thanksgiving dinner.

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