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.

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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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