How to be successful at bridal shows

Participating in a bridal show as a wedding consultant is a little different than participating as another type of vendor. Whereas they can display a tangible product, you're selling a concept. And you're selling yourself first and foremost. A bride who doesn't feel she can connect with you as a person will never hire you as her planner. So here are some suggestions on how to make the most of your bridal show experience.

First things first: Pick the right show

There are different types and sizes of bridal shows, so finding the right one for you is important. There are numerous factors to consider when picking a show to participate in, the first being attendance. Most shows will be able to give you an estimated attendance number from previous years. Knowing the show's previous attendance will help you decide how many people you will need to help staff your booth. It's a good idea to have at least two people at your booth at all times, but if you're expecting a large turnout you may need more. You'll also need to know the attendance in order to plan materials to bring. But remember, it's better to have too many brochures and business cards than to run out.

You'll also want to know the location of the show. Are you going to be in a good location demographically? Decide how far you're willing to travel for a show. Some shows are multi-day; how much time are you willing to invest? Will you need a parking permit? A hotel room?

Next, you'll want to know more about the services inside the show. Do they provide tables for you, or do you need to bring your own? If you'll need electricity, internet connection, water, or phone for your booth, find out if they're included or if you'll have to pay extra for them. Check out all additional costs, and try to think of everything you may need.

The location of your booth and the other vendors surrounding you is important as well, so check out the layout and what vendors are near you. You don't want to be placed directly across from a competitor. In addition, make sure that you and only you can distribute materials from or near your own booth; you don't want your competitors hanging out in front of your booth handing out their materials.

Also, try to avoid being right next to the concession stand so people don't leave cups or napkins at your booth. It's better for your prospects to have their hands free to be able to flip through your brochures and portfolios anyway.

Once you've got an awesome location at the right show, it's time to start thinking about your booth. What's your booth size? What will you display? What materials are you going to hand out at the show? Finally, just make sure that you give yourself enough time before the show to set up!

Success with brides:

Before the show, you're very first step should be to alert the clients you already have that you'll be participating in the show. Then you'll want to find out if you can get promotional materials placed in the grab bags that the show hands out to participating brides. At the show, make yourself "open" in every sense. Rather than having your table set up in front of your display like most other booths, have two tables on the sides of your display to create a welcoming area that brides can enter into. If you have the space, consider bringing in a comfy couch where brides can sit and look through your portfolio and brochures. If it's slow sit with brides and discuss. Subtleties are important. For instance sitting on a couch with someone rather than across from them in a chair makes the interaction feel like a conversation rather than a consultation. It's imperative that you position yourself as a bride's friend first.

Always make sure that you're smiling. Go sit outside or grab some coffee to give yourself a little break, but never be just sitting at your booth. These brides are excited, and they want the people helping them to be excited too. You can have the most interesting booth in the world and bad energy will still drive brides in the other direction.

Differentiate yourself:

From a bride's perspective, everyone at this show is trying to sell her something. You can make yourself stand out in several ways.

(1) Don't initiate conversation by telling a bride what you can do for her. Introduce yourself, and then begin conversation by finding out things about her and what she's envisioning for her wedding. Feel out each bride, and subtly mention things that she probably wouldn't think of if she weren't talking to you. Chances are, she'll think about your conversation later and wonder what else she's forgetting about that you would help her with.

(2) Don't over clutter your booth. Bridal shows are cluttered and overwhelming as it is. You are supposed to be the person alleviating stress and clutter from her life. Too many planners set up things like mock reception tables, which, in addition to being visually overwhelming, only allows you to have one main display of your work. Brides that don't like that particular table setting may dismiss your booth without even talking to you because they don't think you match their style. Instead, have several portfolios for brides to look through with many different styles and examples of your previous work. Another sleek display option is a digital photo frame. Get a large frame for the back wall of your booth, and put your most fabulous photos on repeat. Make sure to include a frame every 10 pictures or so of your business logo as well.

(3) Auditory clutter is just as bad as visual clutter. Do not overwhelm your brides with information; instead just engage them in conversation and when they leave make sure to give them a pamphlet with all of your business and package information in it. Rather than focusing on the obvious things you do, address brides' misconceptions about wedding planners. For instance, let them know that you can work with any budget and probably even save them money. In short, don't give brides a sales pitch; instead try to engage them on a personal level. They probably won't remember the details of your conversation, but they will definitely remember how you made them feel.

(4) Have a book with theme ideas or even collages that you've put together. Most brides have an idea of what they want, but the brides who need a little extra help will love that you have some ideas for them to look through. Plus, if you have one they love they'll contact you to revisit the idea. Remember to be prepared for every type of bride.

Be Consistent:

Put your business logo on everything; pens, candy, water bottles, everything! Also, decorate with your business' colors. The more subtle marketing moves you can make, the better a bride is going to remember you. When she looks back at your pen or brochure from the day, you want her to be able to connect that material to your booth. Also, have a sign professionally made for your business. Some shows will provide signs, but a professional sign looks much better. Get nametags with you business logo on them as well. It's easier to connect with someone when you're putting yourself on a first name basis.

Get the most out of the show:

When you have some down time, take a moment and network with other vendors. Hand out your card, and collect their cards as well. See who you connect with and who has services to add to your list of vendors.

Compile a mailing list. There are numerous ways to get brides contact information, but the most frequently used way is to hold a contest requiring contact information for the winning bride. If you choose to go this route, give away something related to your business. For example, give a free wedding day consultation, theme consultation, or initial consultations. Whatever you give away, just make sure it relates to your business.

When you're talking with brides, keep a list and rate them 1-5 based on how interested they seem in your services, and use that to make sure you contact the most interested brides first. Then you must follow up immediately. Contact everyone, and quick. Don't give them time to forget about you, and remind brides that they need you now. Some shows will provide lists of the attendees, so make sure to get that list if it's available.

Whatever you do, don't go home early. If things are starting to die down, chances are other booths are going to start packing up. Though it might be tempting to leave, stay. If eventually all of your competition is gone, you'll be there to help any last minute brides!

Finally, keep lists of what went well, and things you think could have been better for future shows.

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