Planning for a Bridal Expo ... A Comprehensive List of Things to Consider
As a wedding stationer, planning for a Bridal Expo can be overwhelming, as there is a lot to consider.
Lucky for you, we're here today to help with all of that! With the holidays here, while most of us are thinking about year-end plans, beginning to finalize our plans for 2018, and planning to take some much-needed rest away, there is also something just around the corner for those in the wedding business. The season of Bridal Expos will be upon us before we know it, and it normally tends to . This post today was written specifically for Wedding Stationers, but it can be applied to a variety of different businesses as well.
We didn't want to wait until January to write this post because if you are planning for a Bridal Expo that is the first weekend in January, sometimes due to holiday shipping schedules, you may need to give some things a bit more time to arrive beforehand. And, in the spirit of not making last minute decisions, we thought this may be the perfect time of year to share this today.
This post is packed with information to think about. We thought about breaking it into multiple ones, but also felt that it was more beneficial to have everything included for you to come back to all in one place. So, pin the image below so that you can always come back and refer to this post.
Let's get started, shall we? We've broken it down into sections to help you with a general beginning to end, along with a few additional items we thought might be helpful to have on the day-of. We hope this post will be helpful to you, in planning your next Bridal Expo well! We do want to say also - some of the links included are affiliate links. However, each and every item that we have linked to are ones we have personally used, purchased, and recommend.
Have a clear purpose of why you're doing the Bridal Expo in the first place. Do you want to simply meet local brides and get your name out there, or do you want to book them? How many brides do you need to book after for it to be a success in your eyes? And, what do you want to book them for? If you display invitations, you'll book brides for invitations. If you want to book brides for complete packages with save the dates all the way through wedding design and thank you cards, display a wide variety of items so that they can see more of what you offer.
Determine a budget that you want to spend, and try your best to stick to it. It is very easy to spend a lot of money on Expos, and you need to think about your Expenses when you design your booth. Order, design, and purchase things that can be re-used for multiple years to "save" on costs over time where you can.
It is necessary to keep up with a running total of what you spend in preparation, so that you can go in to the Bridal Show saying "I need to book X brides in the weeks that follow the Expo in order to make up for my Expenses alone, before I begin to make a profit." It is always a good idea to review where you are and if this particular Bridal Expo had brides that are your ideal client come. There may be a Bridal Expo that you participate in where you feel that they aren't your ideal client - and if that happens, it's okay! I always suggest to do a show at least two different times before deciding it's not right for you. Keep notes after each show that you can refer back to, think about the money that you spent on marketing materials, and if there's a better way you can approach it the next year. Instead of spending $1,000 on a Bridal Expo, can you take that money and invest it into client relationships, build vendor relationships, or advertise in a different way? Think about what's best for your business, as no two are the same.
The cost for a booth alone can range anywhere from $100 to $700+, which is an automatic expense that must be paid to the Expo host beforehand. From there, you need to build your booth from the ground up. It is smart here to think small, and build more into your booth as you go along. You may want to start small the first year, with a couple of small table displays, a sign, and a business card. As you do more, invest a little more each year. I do not suggest to go all out on your first Expo, because if you decide after the first one that you don't want to do it again, now you have all sorts of things that you won't use again, that also need to be stored and take up space to do so.
Before registering for a Bridal Show, you also want to find out how many people to expect. There is also a big difference in the cost you need to invest and the materials you need to have prepared ahead of time for a show expecting 25 brides versus 300. You want to make absolutely sure that you have enough business cards to hand out, and additional handout for each bride. On average, someone needs to see or hear your business name seven times before they will trust that you can take care of them. Giving them multiple ways to interact with you in the beginning is a great plan.
At a minimum, have a business card to hand out to them. You want them to be able to reach out to you after the show, especially to those you feel connected with. Some may even contact you that same day, and the easier you can make it for them, the better. There were many times where I had brides literally reach out to me via email while they were waiting for the Fashion Show to begin or on the way home from the Expo that same day.
One item that I had as a wedding stationer that a lot of brides found incredibly helpful was a timeline for wedding paper. In particular, how far in advance to book a stationer, followed by design + order save the dates, design and order wedding invitations, when to mail the Save the Dates, and when to mail their invitations, and how many weeks before their wedding to include their RSVP date. This not only gives you a chance to show them you are aware of their needs, a lot of times brides really don't know these answers - in particular, helping them to realize that it's not the best practice to look for a stationer a week before their wedding invitations needs to be mailed. Providing them with a timeline that includes your business name and contact information included on it is certain to be something they'll hold onto if they keep a binder to refer to throughout the planning process.
You also want to gather their information so that you don't have to rely on a list generated by the people holding the Expo. This not only helps you to collect information you want or need, but it also is a way for you to jot notes down with those you really felt connected with or want to remember a particular detail about. If you print them on a business card, you can request their name, wedding date, phone number or email address, along with asking them something else that's brief. I also provided miniature clipboards and ballpoint pens for them to write with (especially with a click-open, no cap so that it's easier to do with one hand), so that they had everything they needed.
If you do this, have a tall vase or container that you or they can drop their cards into, and then you can go back after and organize them by wedding date. It's even better to have an online survey set up through something like Typeform so that you can gather their information right then and there on an ipad, and it's all ready for you to export it after. The only thing with that is to make sure that you have your eyes on your iPad at all times or that you don't set it down - as much as we all love to trust, things can go missing.
Also, a lot of people offer discounts or do a giveaway for brides - however, you want to make sure you are gathering information for people who want to work with you because you're you - not because they booked you for cheap. Instead of offering discounts, how can you add value to your work? Can you add in 50 thank you cards or create an heirloom collection that you place into a frame for them? That way you can add more to their experience without discounting how much you are paid.
Overall Design of your Booth
You need to determine the overall design of your booth. In particular, if you have three walls, you may need to have multiple sets of curtains if you want to have a backdrop or tables if you want to line your booth with displays. If you only have one wall or a smaller space you'll have to work with, you can save on costs for that reason alone.
Think too about the tables - do you want to have a table with a linen, or perhaps a vintage or modern dresser, or even an open bookshelf? What is the most economical (and moveable) option(s) that you can bring into your booth but still connects the best to your brand?
Regarding the design, look at your website, your social media, and think about the overall style of your brand's aesthetic if you were to turn it into a room. For example, if your branding is light and airy, you wouldn't want to have something that is filled with dark walls and black curtains. You want people to be able to recognize your brand from afar, and especially after the Expo, when they go to your website, see that everything is cohesive and similar in the overall aesthetic of your Brand.
After that, think about what you want it to feel like when people walk into it - do you want it to be set up in a way that it's designed like a wedding may look, with a sweetheart table so that you can display menus, placecards, and a coordinating suite with Save the Dates and Invitations? If so, choose the style that you feel your ideal bride would gravitate towards. If your ideal client tends to love letterpress with double thick paper and traditional typography, have styles like that on display so that she instantly wants to know more about you and feel a connection with you.
You also want to make sure you have your business name displayed large and higher up - if you put a banner draping the front of a table, if people are standing in front of it and it can't be seen, it isn't in the right place. You want people to have multiple times where they can see your business name and logo, and the more they see it, the better. You can have one printed or designed on a canvas, and hang it either from the back or stand it up on an easel.
Displaying Your Work
How are you going to display your work, and how much do you want to show? This is where you can really start to have fun. If you have picture frames or linen boards that display your work on a standing easel or that you hang from a wall, it's a really easy way to display your favorites, or the ones you want brides to see that you feel represents your ideal client design style. You can use glue dots to adhere the invitations to the back of the boards, so that you can remove them after the show.
If you have a portfolio of your work that you want to display but not have people's hands actually touch the invitations, you can display them inside a large portfolio like this one. For example, this is a 13.5x12.5 binder, which uses 12x12 page protectors inside. You can lay your invitations out inside like you would for a flatlay design, so that people can flip through and see how different collections you have designed look. Since the photo was taken above, I upgraded to using these scrapbooks in particular because they have a fabric cover and are available in a variety of colors to match your branding. You can also add additional pages as your portfolio grows.
In addition, on these in particular, you can change out the photo on the front to a card printed with your logo, which is one more visual touchpoint for your brand. They have a lay-flat design so that brides can easily flip through and see everything laid out, which is incredibly handy if you have a collection laid out across a two page spread. The nice thing if you have this too, is that you can bring these right to meetings with brides, and they can flip through and see your work again when you're having conversations about everything.
I do want to say too, think about what you have in your home already that you can display your work with or hold items in, rather than buying everything new. Do you have bowls or serving dishes that can hold business cards? Do you have vases or boxes that house things that go well with your brand? If you want to display items in frames, can you take a frame down from your wall for the day that you can put your work into? Same with curtains - do you have curtains in your home that you can take down and use for the day? Do you have an end table that can double as a miniature table to hold something? In this image below, we used the table from my daughter's nursery and the chairs were from the office. The curtains? From our bedroom. 😃
Table + Setup Ideas
How do you want to set up inside of your booth? Do you want to have a sitting area inside of your booth with a small coffee table and portfolio books they can flip through? Or do you want to have more space for people to walk around and come into your booth?
If you will have a table provided, how long is it? If you will have an 8 foot table, the standard size for a tablecloth that touches the ground on all sides is a linen that is 90x156 inches, like these here. I have never been able to find these in stores, but you can rent them from places or, if you want to use them over again for other events, purchase them. Polyester linens are good quality, but they will require steaming or ironing ahead of time. If you have a 6 foot table, the standard size is 90x132 for linens.
I love these smaller 20"x48" skinny tables as they can hold a variety of items and also aren't as wide as traditional tables, so they take up less space. If you have two of these, one on each side, in addition to an 8 foot table in the back, you can create a U shape inside of your booth which brides can walk in and see from all sides.
As an alternative, do you want to have a sweetheart table set up so that you can display menus, placecards, table numbers, and a coordinating suite with Save the Dates and Invitations and give brides a vision of what it may look like, complete with chargers, napkins and a centerpiece in the middle? Or do you want to keep it simpler?
Also, think about how you can you add height into your booth so that everything isn't on the same level, or flat. One idea is to add cake stands at various heights and sizes to draw people's eyes up instead of all being on the same level. My favorite place to find these in a variety of styles and designs is TJ Maxx or Homegoods. In addition, having placecard holders stand up your invitation designs is a way for you to display them where they're not flat, you can group like-pieces together, and display them as sets easily.
Who else will be there in a similar industry, that you can team up with?
On this one in particular, think about your fellow wedding vendors. Does someone have tables you can rent and display in your booth, or a florist that can create small centerpieces for you? Is there a local linen company you can work with, or a rental company that has amazing tables and chairs you can include in your booth? Who offers draping that you can have hang your backdrop that day? These are added expenses, but if you're a stationer, they may need handouts of their own - can you trade services in some way, and further nurture relationships with the vendor community?
If you don't need a full booth, can you share with a fellow vendor? Once previously I shared a booth with a photographer - she and I both had similar ideal clients and design aesthetics for our brand - in addition, we had half of the expenses cost for the booth and the design layout, since we were sharing it all. We also combined forces with dishes and frames we each had from our homes, so we didn't need to buy anything other than the photos we displayed on foam core, as shown in this photo here below.
The Lighting, the Backdrop, and the Floor
Something else to think about is the walls, the lighting, and the floor. Sometimes, booths are created with piping and metal posts, which are at times bright blue curtains - if you have the possibility to stand out and make your booth memorable, think about creating a wall that you can hang pictures on, or hang curtains over the piping. This is an example of a corner booth before I added anything to it. You can see that it required a lot of work to bring life into it!
Curtains alone can make a tremendous difference in the overall feel of your booth as well. If you simply change the color of the backdrop surrounding everything, it can highlight your booth too because it will stand out as different from the sea of everyone elses surrounding you. On average, if there will be piping supplied, it is 96 inches, or 8 feet in height. Due to this, you will want to purchase curtains that are 96" in length so that they don't come a foot short. Over the years, I have used so many different things - long tablecloths turned sideways, extended length shower curtains, ruffled curtains like shown below. When my branding changed and the ruffle curtains no longer matched my brand aesthetic, I purchased these curtains in particular in greyish-white, and they are my absolute favorite. They are thick, they are wrinkle-free (hello, no ironing or steaming needed), and they are not that expensive, considering they come in a set of two. Think about the width - for example, those curtains are 52" wide by 96" tall. That means if your booth is 8 feet wide, you only need one, perhaps two sets of curtains depending on how straight you want to pull them across.
If you want to hook the curtains onto the backdrop that is provided, these hooks hook directly over the metal piping, and are very easy to put up and take down. They are wider than traditional hooks which are needed to go over the metal rods. It is also a good idea to bring a folding stepstool if you'll be reaching high up and hanging things - you don't want to have to rely on supplies to be available for you when you're there. The more prepared you can be, the better.
If you want to have a backdrop but one isn't supplied, this photographer's backdrop stand is incredibly easy to set up and takes less than 5 minutes to put up and take down. You can adjust the height and the width so that it is the length that you need. It also comes with a carrying bag so that you can store everything after and carry it over your shoulder in and out, which means it's one less thing for your hands to have to hold onto.
Another option instead of curtains is creating a back wall. These can be built in a variety of ways, for example out of sturdy foamcore or wood. This way too you can add your logo and hang shelves and frames on the wall itself. These are beautiful alternatives, but also require a little bit of elbow grease and engineering, not only to build it beforehand, but also to transport it in your vehicle, set it up, and then build it again on-site. They definitely offer a very clean and modern look, and if done well, can be absolutely beautiful.
In addition to a backdrop, do you want to highlight certain areas of your work, especially if you have certain suites framed or displayed on linen boards above? If yes, think about adding clip-on lights to your booth. These in particular are battery operated and clip onto the bar above, so that you can both highlight your work and bring more dimension into it your booth. This particularly comes in handy also if there is a fashion show where the lights are turned off so that the spotlight is fully on the models showing the bridal gowns. Your booth is still lit up, which means that if people aren't watching the show, they can still see your work, even from across the room.
Changing the flooring or a rug can make another tremendous difference. It makes it an entire space with a cohesive feel, and people feel like they're stepping into a room separately instead of just walking the space. A rug can make a big difference, even if it is a solid color. If your booth is 8x10 in size, and you have two 5x7 rugs like these, they can cover all of the flooring except for a one foot space in the front of your booth. This makes it more inviting and shows that you thought of everything. Keep in mind too, that people will be dropping things and the rugs may get dirty - I don't suggest to purchase one that is really thick or one that is white, because you want to be able to clean it.
Lastly, how are you going to transport it all, and how are you going to move it? The majority of times you need to park far away, and making multiple trips can be a hassle. In addition, if everything is heavy and you don't want to lift it, having a folding flatbed cart like this one with a folding handle is a tremendous help. You can put everything in large rubbermaid containers, stack it on top, and roll everything in and out. You can also store the cart under your table during the show if you have linens that reach to the floor.
The "Just-In-Case" Toolkit
As much as you may have everything planned beforehand, it's imperative to have things with you just in case. Even if you don't think you need it, it's smart to have things in case you do. For example, bring a hot glue gun (with glue sticks), velcro, safety pins, extra pens, and tape. Any of those may come in handy at any time, and it's better to be prepared than ask people if they have it.
You want to reflect your brand and have it look like your branding came to life, but also want to look professional. Although we may work in tshirts and topknots at home, step it up a bit that day - if you were having a headshot session for your business, what would you want to wear? Also, wear comfortable shoes. You may be on your feet, standing for 5-8 hours that day. We all know that if you're wearing shoes that aren't comfortable, you won't be able to sell your services as well. I normally suggest to wear one thing for setting up, and then change clothes right before the show begins, just in case you happen to get dirty or want to wear something more comfortable for setting up.
Bring a Partner, and Take Care of Yourself.
Have someone with you if you can. They can help talk to brides who walk up to your booth if you're in conversation with someone as they do, and they can also share more about your business and how you can help them from a different perspective. Also, this way you can take a restroom break if needed and still have someone there to stand in your booth, who knows a bit about what you offer and can "hold" potential clients there with conversation until you return.
In addition, you will be doing a lot of talking in a very short time. Bring some water to drink and some items to snack on throughout the day that you can have easily. I once almost fainted in the middle of a conversation with a bride after standing and talking for hours without drinking anything in between. That was not a good feeling to have happen! Having peppermints handy is another good idea, especially if you're a coffee drinker. You'll be in close quarters - you don't want coffee breath to be what they remember about you. ;)
More than anything, be helpful.
There is a really strong chance that this is the first experience for a lot of brides. A large show can become very overwhelming very quickly for them, especially if they've just gotten engaged or they don't know anything yet. Make a script and run through it in your mind. Ask them if they will be in need of stationery services, and if they say yes, explain a bit about what you do. However, if you notice that they have that "oh my goodness, so. much. information" look in their eyes, offer them a kind word and let them know that you are here to help and guide them as much as you can to make this easy.
The main Bridal Show that this post was inspired by welcomed 400-500 people every year, and on average we met with about 200-300 brides in a 4 hour period. That show in particular had 150 vendors - it is huge. And when you think about it from a bride's perspective, that is a lot to process. The majority of vendors are asking them questions about their wedding, about the proposal, what they want, what they have planned, what their date is, etc. That is a lot of conversations for someone to have in a very short period of time. Because of this, I always suggested to brides that they didn't actually look in the bag with all of the handouts that night, and they just went home and relaxed and jotted down notes on their favorite vendors. The time they're engaged is supposed to be a happy one, but for so many it is extremely overwhelming, and it's our job as vendors to make it as comfortable and seamless as possible. The more comfortable they feel with you, the better you will make them feel in their overall experience with you.
As much as a Bridal Expo is about meeting new brides and having them see your work, you are there for them, to make connections with them, to build a relationship with them from the beginning and see who feels like a good fit, which goes both ways. Develop conversations with them, be genuinely interested in what they have to say. Invite them into your booth and chat with them like you would a friend - don't just hand them your card and say "here's my work if you need X or Y or Z". Take the first step in the client/vendor relationship to show them that you are there to help them through this new and exciting time in their lives. Make connections and leave a good impression, and it'll be much more effective than if you simply hand them your business card and smile.
Phew! We know that was a lot ... but hope it was helpful! Did you make it all the way to the bottom, and are wondering how to keep track of everything above? Here are some overall questions to ask yourself when planning ahead:
- What is your overall budget for the Expo?
- What are your fixed costs (the ones you have to pay) vs. the variable costs (the ones that may change year to year)
- What is the purpose of you attending the show?
- In order for the show to be a success for you, what do you need to achieve?
- What kind of work do you want to display that you feel will attract your ideal client?
- What handouts can you supply that will be helpful for your ideal client
- What overall feel do you want your booth to have, and does it reflect your branding on your website and social media?
- What vases, frames, linens, and display items will you have? Do they reflect your brand?
- What will you wear the day-of, that is reflective of your brand?
- What handouts will you have for the people you meet the day of the show?
- How are you going to collect bride's information so that you can follow up with them after?
- How will you market yourself beforehand? How will you let people know you'll be there?
YOUR PLAN - DESIGN
- How will you display your work?
- What do you want your overall design going to look like?
- Which collections will you display that speak to your ideal client?
- Will you primarily display invitations or collections?
- How will you create height and dimension within your booth?
- Do you want to add a rug, lights, or a backdrop?
- Do you need to provide tables and/or linens?
- Does your design reflect your branding and aesthetic? Or did you just do something to do it because you saw someone else did it?
- What do you need that you have in your booth that you need in a "just in case toolkit"?
- What are you going to bring to take care of yourself, as far as water or snacks go?
YOUR PLAN - TIMELINE
- When do you need to design your handouts by, so that you can have them ordered and received in plenty of time beforehand?
- How are you going to display your logo? When do you need to order the sign or banner by?
- Will you set up your display ahead of time? If so, when do you need to do this by in order to make sure everything flows well?
- Do you need to build or iron anything beforehand? How long will it take to do?
- The day-of, what time do you need to arrive in order to make sure everything is set up in plenty of time (allow more time than you think you will need!)
- Do you have a checklist with every single thing written down that you are bringing with you, that you can check things off the morning of to make sure you have them? If you use Trello, you can create a board that not only houses your plans for the Expo, but includes a comprehensive list of everything, and it's on your phone so that you can have it to refer to easily without wondering where a notebook went with your notes.
- After the show, how long will it be before you reach out to the brides you met with?
-After the show, when will you plan to review how it went and take notes you can refer to for the next year?
There you have it! We hope this post was incredibly helpful for you to think about a lot of different ideas. We know that it is a lot to think about, and hope this guides you in every single area you can consider. Remember to start small and build from there. And more than anything, have fun! It's going to be a great day filled with possibilities and potential new clients for you.
Did you love this post? Pin this image to the right so that you have it to refer back to in the future. See you again next week!