The Wedding Fair Conundrum

I have to admit that when I was planning my own wedding I didn’t go to a single wedding fair. Firstly, I didn’t need to – blogs, magazines and the wonderful creation that is The Internet provided more than enough inspiration for me. But it was a trip to the National Wedding Show with a friend a few years back that had really put me off. The huge, starkly-lit space that is Earls Court, hundreds of (bored) exhibitors handing out flyer after flyer, women getting naked in the middle of the aisle in order to try on a not-particularly-nice dress, and an hour-long queue to get a drink. I found it completely impersonal and totally devoid of inspiration, if I’m honest. Particularly when there are fantastic events such as The Cream going on across the other side of the pond.

However, with a new business to shout about and curiosity getting the better of me, I decided to take a little trip to Scotney Castle in Kent yesterday for the Vintage & Unique Wedding Fair hosted by Creative Brides. My interest was two-fold: firstly I wanted to meet and make connections with like-minded suppliers (my networking record to date is pretty abysmal if I’m honest), and secondly I wanted to see if this particular fair could be worth exhibiting at with Utterly Wow in the future.

There was certainly no doubting the beauty of Scotney Castle as a setting. A National Trust property consisting of a large manor house, sprawling gardens and a 14th-century moated castle, the venue offers small, intimate wedding ceremonies and afternoon receptions, but the fair itself took place under the large canvas of an LPM Bohemia marquee erected on-site.

DSCN1562

The LPM Bohemia marquee.

The Vintage Dotty caravan

The Vintage Dotty caravan

The best thing about this charming fair was that the suppliers exhibiting were (mostly) on the same page. Many were in their first years of business, and there were tea cups, bunting and hay bales galore. I thought the range of suppliers was varied as well- it wasn’t over run with photographers (a common hazard with wedding fairs), and there was an interesting variety of styling companies, dress boutiques, cake makers and other specialists. (Plus I found a haybale company! Those things are notoriously difficult to track down.)

From a research point of view it made me realise how important it is to have a visually appealing and ‘easy to read’ stall. There were some that I’d walk straight past, and others that made me stop and want to find out more. Stand-outs included Dotty Vintage, a fun and retro catering caravan, Rebecca Douglas Photography and her metres of photo bunting, and my pal Kate Ruth Romey, whose creative stationery and simple but beautifully curated stall had people stopping by all day.

Kate Ruth Romey posing beautifully. (Can you spot my Save The Date?)

Kate Ruth Romey posing like a pro. (Can you spot my Save The Date?)

It was also lovely to meet the Frou Frou Boutique girls (technically ‘rivals’ but their stall was full of gorgeous gowns and accessories), and Joanne from Joanne Truby Floral Design who has been a Twitter friend for a little while now and had created a sumptuous autumnal display.

It is an odd thing though, the wedding fair. And I’m talking about fairs in general here, not specifically this one. I find them daunting for both supplier and customer, and there’s a definite sense of unease in the air; no-one wants to be on the stall that people walk past, after all. I’ve decided that layout is really important; to be walking up and down ‘aisles’ can make the potential customer feel a bit like they’re on a conveyor belt, and it can be quite hard to stop… unless you catch a welcoming smile or are particularly interested in whatever product or service is being offered. “Would you like a flyer?” just doesn’t cut it… or not for me anyway.

When I got home I sifted through the many leaflets and postcards I’d been handed, assessing which companies’ cards caught my eye and which didn’t. Again, the importance of strong branding and design is unequivocal. Those that had splurged on good quality card and had an attractive/interesting/quirky design I made note of to look further into. Those that were on cheap, flimsy paper or were too wordy, or complicated, or just plain dated… well, they’re currently in the recycling bin beside me… staring at me accusingly.

There is no doubt that the humble wedding fair is a huge expense for the suppliers involved- particularly those just starting out.  First there is the cost to exhibit, then there are the numerous marketing materials (business cards, flyers, banners etc), plus the product you are actually selling and the props with which to display your wares. And surely the more impact you want to make, the more you’re likely to spend?

I still haven’t decided if a wedding fair is the right way to market my business or not, but what I did learn from yesterday is that there is no point in exhibiting if you can’t ‘sell’ your product. And by that I mean:

  1. Create a visually stimulating stand that spells out exactly what it is you’re offering
  2. Be friendly, approachable and interested in the customer you are trying to appeal to, not just your product
  3. Smile! There was a band performing who sounded brilliant, but the lead singer looked so utterly miserable it was off-putting.

I know that both brides-to-be and much of the wedding industry have a love/hate relationship with wedding fairs, so I’d love to know where you lot stand on the subject. Have you or did you visit many wedding fairs when you were engaged? If so which were your favourites? What made you stop and find out more, and how many of you found suppliers through the fairs?

And if you’re a supplier, what’s been your experience? Do you find there are better ways to market your business or do you enjoy being able to meet potential clients face to face?

I am GENUINELY interested. Come on, let’s talk.

Sama xxx

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8 thoughts on “The Wedding Fair Conundrum

  1. Heya! Firstly,with baby brain what it is (sadly it doesn’t disappear after they arrive!) I want to say (if I haven’t) that your wedding was quite simply outstandingly stunning!! Gorgeous,everything!
    Wedding fairs..I’m totally with you. I went to the designer wedding show. I did quite enjoy it,but left feeling overwhelmed and shocked at prices people thought were generally acceptable. As a makeup artist im never sure if it would work to go or not. It is a big outlay, but then if you go somewhere like the vintage one,maybe as it’s more niche the chance of meeting brides truly in the market is more likely? To pay to exhibit and only have brides using you as inspiration is a worry to me..?!!
    X

  2. I’m with you Sama. I too filled my recycling bin with leaflets and flyers that I collected from a wedding fair because I was just too polite to say no, knowing that I had no intention of using their services! My fiance and I only attended one wedding fair (in admittedly a slightly hung over state on a Sunday morning) and were less than impressed with the lack of variation in suppliers.
    Like you said if you know what you want – just Google it.
    Perhaps wedding fairs are better suited to couples who have no idea of what they are looking for.
    That being said, with just over 6 months left until my wedding at The Great Barn (eek!!) people kept telling me -you need a dress – NOW!!
    So this weekend I ventured off to a wedding fair on my own in the hope of finding ‘The Dress’.
    I had previously found a dress that I fell in love with but it was WELL over budget – and this store had a stand at the show – with 30% off their dresses if you bought it at the show.
    Well I now have my dream dress at an affordable price – so maybe wedding fairs do have their benefits??!!
    x

    • @Haxel- Thank you gorgeous! I think you have already said similar sentiments but you can keep telling me, I don’t mind! 😉

      And @Sam- congrats on getting the dream dress at a fraction of the price! When you know the supplier is there and you definitely want their product you’re right, fairs can be beneficial.

      Very interesting… Thanks for your comments ladies x

  3. I have been to two local and Scottish wedding fairs early in our engagement. The first was HUGE we literally walked up and down the grip past every stall thinking, we already had a venue, photographer and caterer and were planning on DIYing a lot so there was nothing much we really needed, so walked out. The second was a vintage fair which had a good reputation from Glasgow/Edinburgh but was the first time they were up in Aberdeen and it was squished in to the tiniest strangest shaped room ever: it was worse and we stayed about 15 minutes only speak to a man with a photobooth.

    My own opinion of fairs is that they are often filled with the ‘frills’ of the wedding world. Lots of amazing pretty things but unless you have the money for them all they are not necessary. What I have found useful however is the list of suppliers that you can often get from the fairs websites or their brochure. I have found googleing is not that great, but just having a website with a list of local suppliers would do me….maybe an online fair is a niche in the market…

    However I am going to another fair on Sunday as I have just spoken to my florist and she is exhibiting and said it would be a good idea to see some of her work and other florists work to get a better idea of what I want or can get, and since I won a £150 bouquet from my florist in a competition the fair was running, I guess attending is the least I could do 🙂

    In conclusion I think fairs are a little redundant and useless but necessary at the same time. 🙂

  4. Hi lovely — ooh first time i’ve commented here. I did visit a few as a bride-to-be that left me pretty cold, I didn’t find anything majorly useful there, although I did order shoes that I’d been umming about online as I got to try them on in person (they were incredible and BLUE) . The most important part of it though was that I had a brilliant day out with my Mum! It was a lovely opportunity to spend time together and just hang out mooching and being girly – no matter that I didn’t find anything amazing there. I tell you what though – I think if you could buy more products there, more decor, makeup etc then they’d make a bomb. I saw cute and quirky stands and just wanted to BUY stuff!

    Now I’m approaching it from the other side, as I’m going to the NWS this weekend to run customer service for a bridal boutique and also to promote my company. We’re doing goodie bags so I’ve had my own promo material madeup to add to it. And I’m scared!!! It will be confidence building I think for me and hopefully I’ll meet some lovely brides and suppliers fingers crossed!

  5. I’ve only been to one wedding fair… and yep, it was a colossal waste of time. Which was a shame because I went to find like-minded suppliers pretty early on in the planning process. In my opinion this was down to various factors:

    1) The whole thing felt very inauthentic. It was billed as an alternative to the usual wedding fair malarky in that it was for couples with an eye for modern design. I would say only a handful of the suppliers there actually fitted the bill, the majority were not at all in keeping with the brand of the event and I’m sure you’d find them at every other type of fair. So it was a bit of a waste of my time and money.
    2) Apparently my fiance didn’t exist. People barely acknowledged him when we stopped to talk to them and it really riled me. He felt like an awkward add-on and I kept trying to shoe horn him into conversations with little success. Clearly people think its all about the bride (and yeah as you’ve said previously, it often feels like there is no ‘we’ in weddings) but it was just rude!!
    3) Everyone there looked bored. Probably because the event organisers had been a bit too ambitious for their first event and held it for two days. People had clearly run out of steam on the day we went, and lots of stall were empty. It just felt a but limp and lifeless so it set a poor impression.
    4) Some suppliers were pushy. I don’t like pushy. Like a dress designer who didn’t take no for an answer and booked me in to an appointment at her studio, when I had no interest in doing so. Or the restauranteur who said we should cancel our venue and book with them (errr, wtf?). I wouldn’t recommend either of them if asked.

    Every supplier i’ve gone on to book I’ve discovered through considered online research. I love seeing the work of suppliers on blogs, and reading recommendations from real brides. And then when I have gone to meet them, its been a relaxed, one-to-one situation.

  6. Pingback: Jennie & Andy: The National Wedding Show- Yay or Nay? | The Utter Blog

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