I've been in the wedding business a long time - 18 years as of this writing - and have seen the wedding show concept change a lot over the years. (I prefer the gender-neutral "wedding show" over the more-common "bridal show," but that's what I'm referring to here.) It used to be that huge, convention center and arena shows, with dozens and dozens of exhibitors and hundreds, if not thousands, of engaged couples in attendance, were the norm. Later, more specialized, boutique-style shows with higher ticket prices and a greater emphasis on providing a unique, upscale experience became a thing. More and more venues have since embraced the marketing tool of hosting open houses, with catering samples and participation from a select group of their favorite wedding vendors. All three of these wedding show styles continue to exist, and most wedding vendors that I know participate in at least one of these functions each year as part of their marketing plan.
Now, I know a lot has been discussed in the wedding industry debating the effectiveness of these shows. This post isn't about that. It's about some questionable behavior about the vendors who do participate in the shows. More specifically, it's about the vendors who participate in them without paying. I've personally observed two categories of vendor shadiness at wedding shows.
In one scenario, a vendor chooses to piggyback on someone else's paid wedding show booth under the guise of "helping." Ostensibly, they're there to represent the paying vendor's business - or more accurately, to keep their significant other/friend company during the long hours of the show. That in itself isn't an issue; we can utilize anyone we want to work our booths, right? However, sitting in someone's booth and giving out your own materials, or even just delivering a verbal sales pitch, is a problem. It's also explicitly forbidden in the contract terms of most of the major wedding shows being produced today - which isn't stopping some people, unfortunately.
The other problematic scenario I've encountered is when vendors purchase tickets to wedding shows so that they can circulate among the attendees and distribute their business cards and brochures. In some cases, they're striking up conversations with prospective clients, and in others, they're leaving their print collaterals in prominent places in the event space, such as bars/food displays or bathroom counters. (This would seem, logically, like a pretty stupid - not to mention wasteful - move, but since when has shady equaled smart?)
Piggybacking on someone else's wedding show booth, or infiltrating the event as a vendor for selling purposes, is wrong for several reasons:
- It's unfair to the vendors who have paid to be there. Wedding shows are expensive - prohibitively so for many vendors - and the business owners who have invested their money in a booth deserve the exposure for which they've paid. If you're camping out in your girlfriend's booth promoting your own hustle, or pressing your business cards into clients' hands as you pretend to be shaking them on behalf of your friend's company, you're being shady.
- If you think selling directly to couples is the only thing that exhibitors are paying for, you're wrong. Yes, one of the biggest perks of paying for a booth is the opportunity to interact with the attending couples. However, a side benefit that can't be underestimated is the opportunity to interact with the other vendors in attendance. With my DJ company, there are certain shows we pay to participate in specifically because of the other vendors who will be there. For someone to slide in without that same expense and receive some of the same benefits seems very unfair.
- Wedding shows are businesses too. I don't know of anyone in the industry who's producing a wedding show as a non-profit venture. The big wedding shows are huge corporate entities in and of themselves, and even the smaller open houses are created as marketing tools for the venues that host them, with associated overhead costs and other expenses. As businesses, they have every right to set the terms for their purchasers, and to expect those to be upheld. Ultimately, your professional reputation is everything (or at least it should be), and if we expect our own businesses to be respected, so should we respect the businesses of others.
I've heard lots of excuses for wedding show piggybacking. The shady vendor's just there to check out their friends' booths (then why are you sidling up to the legitimate attendees, business cards in hand?). The good shows are just too competitive, or too expensive, to get into (since when does that justify taking things we haven't paid for?). The shady vendor is genuinely there to represent their colleague's business, but can't be expected to lie when couples ask what they do (um, you're not lying if you say you are there as an ambassador of your friend's company).
Face it: if you're guilty of these things, you know exactly what you're doing, and you probably think you've found a way to get one over on the wedding show "system" or to gain an edge in a competitive marketplace. Just don't convince yourself that it's anything less than underhanded, and don't be surprised if other wedding business owners, such as myself, think far less of you for it. Integrity matters, and representing the wedding industry with a sense of professional ethics should be something we all value.