When I was planning my own wedding (a "few" years ago, cough cough), I went to one of those large wedding shows. You know, the ones in the giant convention hall, with hundreds of vendors and thousands of attendees. It was an overwhelming nightmare of crowds and disinterested vendors, and everywhere, visions of weddings that didn't match my own. I left without booking anything and felt disgusted afterwards with the emails about "how great it was to meet me" - when I'd never spoken to these people at all!
This memory stuck with me, and for years as a florist I avoided these shows like the plague. I didn't think they were a good fit for the boutique business I'd built serving couples with unique visions. I found smaller shows that suited my personal approach, and that allowed me more time to talk with couples. Later, as my business grew, it seemed time to revisit these larger events and I have participated in several. Each type has their own pros and cons, and with "engagement season" upon us, I'd like to share some tips on choosing shows and making the most of your investment.
1. Know Your Shows: Wedding shows come in many sizes. They range from very small open houses at venues or other vendors' facilities, to the convention hall mega-shows that garner full-page newspaper ads. Each attracts a different audience, so you'll want to understand who your target customer is before trying to match that with a show. Perfect Wedding Guide's Events listing is a good place to start when looking for upcoming shows.
2. Do Your Homework: If you've never attended a wedding show, start by going to a few. Choose shows of different sizes, to get a feel for the atmosphere. Look at where your competition is going. Call the sales person for the show and ask about attendee demographics. They should be able to tell you all about their typical couple - and if they can't, this is a red flag that maybe this show isn't a good investment. Ask how many vendors they accept in your category, and whether they offer any in-kind discounts. For example, I have gotten free or reduced booth costs in exchange for providing flowers to decorate the venue. Look at how a show is being advertised - where a show is promoted will give you valuable information about how many attendees they are expecting, and what kind of person they hope to draw.
3. Choose A Show (or Two): Choose a show or two to start with, based on your research. I started with a show at a smaller venue, so I could perfect my booth setup and learn the ropes. The booth fee was low which reduced my risk, and the show was only a few hours - day-long or multi-day shows are exhausting! Give yourself some lead time before the show if it's your first one, or if you're doing a larger show or recently changed your branding. You'll need time to prepare.
4. Polish Your Image: You'll need several hundred pieces each of your collateral - business cards, brochures, price lists, look books, etc. - as well as any inserts you plan to put into the bags given to couples and any giveaways you plan to do. These take time to have printed, and you'll want to give them a design refresh before ordering. Because many couples will pick up your collateral without even talking with you, these pieces of paper or whatever they are need to speak for you. They need to clearly say, "This is who we are. This is how we can help you. This is how you can take the next steps." You may have their eyes for a few seconds as they sort through all of the stuff they picked up, so you must make it count.
While you are getting things printed, make sure you have a banner or other signage for your booth that clearly states your company name, and maybe what you do ("Little Red Barn - Event Venue and Catering"). Especially at the big shows, couples get very overwhelmed so you want to make everything very clear and easy.
5. Practice Talking to Strangers: If you take away nothing else from this article, please take this one thing - YOU MUST TALK TO PEOPLE at the show. You cannot stand behind your table or hide at the back of your booth and wait for people to approach you. It does not work. I think vendors sometimes are afraid of coming on too strong. It's not necessary to be in someone's face with a sales pitch to start a conversation. A smile, a simple greeting, and an opening question are all you really need. I like to ask, "What are you doing for your (flowers/photography/catering/etc)?" because it's an open-ended question. It requires a longer answer, and it immediately provides me with information that I can use to tailor my next question or statement to them specifically. Another fear is of being rejected. You have to accept going in that not everyone is going to engage with you, and that it doesn't matter. It doesn't say anything about you as a person. Not everyone at the show is going to need your services, or will be the kind of person to talk with you. That's why your collateral is important. I've had people ignore me, but reach around me to grab my card.
6. Make the Most of Your Booth: Ever seen the booth that just had the provided table and little name sign? What impression does that give? Your booth is like a storefront - it needs to tell the customer at a glance who you are, what you do, and why they should come in. When I'm designing my booth, I mark out the space in painters tape on my basement floor, then play around with placement of items. At the show isn't the time to decide on your layout. Put the table at the back or side of the booth, or get rid of it entirely. (You're not going to stand behind it, unless for example you're serving food, in which case you don't need this advice because everyone wants samples.) Display your work, or photos of your work or venue. Show the kind of work you want to do. If you're aiming towards a higher-dollar wedding, show high-end work. Place collateral in multiple places so everyone can get to it. Encourage traffic to come in - prominent candy bowls placed at the back corners are great. Never put candy out by the aisle, as it encourages grab and go. If you're planning to sign contracts at the show, have an attractive place to sit. A two-chair-and-table patio set works great for this, and now is a great time to find these on clearance.
7. Plan Your Attack: Decide what you want to get out of each show. Are you signing contracts? Setting consult appointments? Collecting hot leads? Building brand recognition? These last two are my main goals at a show, but it will be different for each business. I used to focus on setting appointments, which takes up a lot of time that I'd rather use talking to more potential clients. Understand the impact on your time that each option will take. If you're going to target signing contracts, you'll want to bring at least one other employee to talk with attendees. At large shows, I bring two employees, who help weed through attendees. Hot leads get passed off to me for more detailed conversations. Make sure any helpers understand the goals. For example, if you're looking to fill November dates, clients with them should get more attention or maybe a special discount offer. For follow-up, we always note any detail like colors, a specific flower they like, or if they're deciding between DIY and full-service, so that our emails and phone calls to them are tailored.
8. Pack and Pack Well: Make a packing list for all the things you need for the show. Getting to a show without a critical item like pens or lead forms is stress you don't need. If you've done a show before, review the lists or notes you used before to see if you need to update or change. If you'd like to see my large-show packing list, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org "Show packing list" in the subject line. I LOVE LISTS and I'd be glad to share mine!
9. Make Yourself Ready: Not to sound like your mom here, but - get a good night's sleep. Eat a healthy breakfast with a balance of protein, carbs, and fats. Wear comfortable shoes and professional clothing. (This doesn't have to be fancy. Our uniform includes a t-shirt that says FLORIST in big letters on the front. We still look professional.) Practice smiling. Chat up the barista while you get your coffee, to practice talking to strangers. Bring snacks and water, but remember you don't want to eat in front of people at the show. Take bathroom breaks. Arrive as early as you are allowed, so you have plenty of time to set up and get ready. Be in your booth 10 minutes before the show starts. Breathe.
10. Stay The Whole Time, and Follow Up: One of the biggest weddings I ever had came from a couple that arrived at a show just before it closed. Most of the vendors had already packed up, but we were still open and talking with attendees. I have left completely dead shows before their official ending time, but I always try to remember that experience. Take a few minutes after packing up to put heads together with your team. We make final notes on leads and go over what worked and what didn't, adding these notes to our packing list. Pack your completed contracts, scheduled appointments, and lead sheets separately from everything else, so you have immediate access to these. All follow-up should be done within 48 hours, with sooner being better. This is true both of those leads and of those who just signed contracts or put down retainers. These people especially will want to hear from you, to know that they didn't just make a big mistake. Tailor your lead emails as much as possible to the information you got when you spoke with them. When you get the generic lead list from the show, usually a week or two later, cross-reference to make sure you are not blasting these hot leads with a generic email. And please, don't put "it was great to meet you" in those generic lead emails. You probably didn't meet them, and they probably know that, so it feels insincere and slimy. Be truthful. "I'm sorry we didn't get a chance to talk" works a lot better, as long as you've done that cross-referencing and aren't sending this to people you actually did meet. Finally, remember that it can take multiple contacts with a lead to convert, so you'll want to keep working those hot leads until they tell you to stop. You never know when someone is going to be ready to book.
Share your tips for a great wedding show below, or post your questions! We love to hear from you and want to make our blog useful to wedding professionals.