Olat Stanton knows he isn't the typical NADA exhibitor.
While others are showing off tool kits and carwash equipment, his booth is crammed with life-size figurines, including some that talk and move. There is a cowboy and gorilla, a moose head mounted to the wall, alongside several realistic-looking parrots. There's Santa Claus sitting off to one side and a replica of the fortune teller Zoltar from the movie "Big" facing the aisle.
Dealers like to buy the figurines for their head-turning, novelty effect, said Stanton, who owns Characters Unlimited, Inc. in Boulder City, Nev. He began exhibiting at NADA about 9 years ago and has returned about five times.
In a good year, he'll sell seven or eight figurines, which can cost anywhere from $800 to $4,300 each depending on their complexity. The cowboy, in particular,is a bestseller among dealers, especially those selling large, pickup trucks. One Chrysler dealer in Illinois centered an entire advertising campaign on the moose head -- a character now referred to as "Caboose" by the store staff.
For other dealers, the characters are a hard sell. Most dealers walk by and chuckle. One dealer told Stanton: "I don't need one of these characters. I already have a bunch of dummies working for me."