I don't know any wedding professional who doesn't have strong feelings one way or another toward wedding shows (also called bridal shows in antiquated, non-gender-neutral times). Some find them to be an invaluable marketing tool, while others have given up on them altogether, convinced they're a complete waste of time.
Those of us who have been around a while, though, seem to share the mindset that, while the majority of wedding shows aren't the right fit for our business, there are some that can help bring exactly the right clients to us, in a comfortable atmosphere that allows us to really connect. That's why, in my opinion, blowing off wedding shows altogether is kind of like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
When I hear a wedding pro express disdain for wedding shows altogether, their feelings seem to be rooted in any combination of issues. Often, the perceived "quality" of the couples (and vendors) in attendance just don't align with the pro's brand. Sometimes the problem is poor marketing and/or logistical planning on the part of the show's organizer - the booths are too expensive; the show isn't being advertised enough; there are too many vendors in each service category; and/or the show is managed poorly from a setup and timeline perspective. And, honestly, sometimes the pro's attitude has to do with where he/she has fallen short. As with every type of marketing and advertising out there, some people just feel that if they've paid money to part of something, it should be the magic solution to their selling woes. Their booth display may look terrible, they may be unable to banter with prospective clients (especially in a busy wedding show environment) to save their lives, but of course the problem is that "all wedding shows suck."
After 13 years of running my primary business - and a lot of trial-and-error when it comes to wedding shows - I've found that there are some shows for which I can't book my spot fast enough, and a lot more I'd never do again, even if the organizer paid me to attend.
Here are five things to look for as you're determining if a wedding show is a good fit for your business and your brand:
Connecting couples with vendors is the primary purpose of the show. Think about the difference between an event that's promoted as a place to meet the best vendors in the area, vs. a show that's promoted as a place to get free samples, see a fashion show, and win tons of prizes. Sure, most shows will have a little bit of both - but you want to find the ones where couples are attending with the intention of sourcing the vendors for a wedding they're actually planning, not just the "cattle calls" where hundreds or thousands of people are just showing up for the free cake.
The organizers prioritize the vendors' experience at least as much as the couples'. Most show organizers' income comes primarily from the booth rental, not from the ticket sales (if they even charge for tickets at all). Therefore, you as the wedding vendor become the client of that organizer. You have a right to expect that setup instructions will be communicated clearly, that the environment will be conducive to having conversations with the couples attending, and that everything you've been promised - from the booth size to any materials that are to be provided to the limit on number of vendors per category - are delivered.
You understand, and are confident in, the organizers' marketing plan for promoting the show. Again, a wedding show organizer has an obligation to his/her vendors to bring qualified couples in the doors. You should know what their marketing plan entails, and if it's likely to resonate with the kinds of qualified, ready-to-book couples who are likely to make the show a success for you. If a show organizer can't articulate how the show will be promoted, or is relying on marketing strategies you know to be outdated or a mismatch for your brand, that's a big red flag.
The other vendors in attendance share some overlap when it comes to your target client. Exhibiting at shows where the other vendors are professional, reputable and "in your league" is important for a couple of reasons. Not only will a show with good vendors (as opposed to booth after booth of home party consultants) be more likely to attract qualified clients, but they'll also be more useful to you in terms of networking. Honestly, the quality conversations that can be had during a show's downtime can bring benefits to your business you may not even have considered.
You can afford not only the booth rental, but also all the "extras" needed to showcase your business the right way. This is where a lot of wedding pros go wrong: they drop $500 or $1000 on a space, and then show up with a plain table and a few business cards, and expect to make bank. That's just not how it works. I'm definitely not saying you need to make your booth into some crazy luxe, totally interactive "experience." However, just as sometimes you need to buy a new dress for a fancy event, some wedding shows will call for an investment in "extras" (say, upscale furniture rentals or floral embellishments) so that your booth blends in with the luxury atmosphere of the show itself. You also need to consider whether you need to bring in extra staff to help you greet couples at your booth. My point is that the booth rental fee is rarely the only cost associated with working a wedding show, so be sure you're aware of the total expense when you're considering whether to join.
I'm personally looking forward to this weekend, when I'll be representing my company at one of our favorite (and most productive) wedding shows each year. I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you've made wedding shows work for you - or, on the flip side, what alternatives you've explored if you've decided to opt out of wedding shows altogether. Feel free to comment or join us over on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter!