Let me share a quick story with you about my experience with annual bridal shows. A few years ago, I caught wind of a struggling show on an island that was a popular destination spot. Although vendors loved it, attendance was dwindling, and the local tourism organization didn’t want to continue to run it. However, one of the resorts on the island, dependent on bridal business, was determined to save the show and host it themselves.
They enlisted my planning expertise, and, even though I had never planned a trade show, I went all in. I invited plenty of vendors and brides, and actually grew the show from 11 attendees to 40. For a resort on an island, 40 is an impressive number!
That was in 2012, and the resort continues to successfully host the show today. Not surprisingly, weddings are a huge business and a staple for many hotels. BRIDES Magazine New American Wedding Survey reveals that 76% of brides plan on having large traditional weddings, which means they’ll be interested in attending wedding expos. And for your hotel, wedding expos are incredible exposure. They book up rooms, put you in front of brides who are in the midst of their venue search, and also help raise your profile among attendees and planners who are likely to keep you in mind for other future events and trips.
There is no magic recipe for hosting a phenomenal bridal show, but there are some general guidelines. Here is my top 10 list of simples steps on how to be successful, increase your bridal business, and snag additional SMERF business on the side. If I can do it, you can too. As a bonus, enjoy this list of popular wedding songs that you can play at your bridal show!
“A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” Cinderella
1. Design Your Dream Bridal Show
I suggest that you bring together a focus group that includes upper management, the bridal sales team, the conference services manager, and banquets department. It’s also especially valuable to hold a focus group at some point with a few vendors and brides. Hotel staff provides valuable input about what they can do and how they plan to impress. Vendors and brides provide information on what their expectations and dreams are for a successful bridal show. A SWOT analysis is imperative at this stage. What are your weaknesses and threats? One of our threats was the additional effort of leaving your car to attend the show and taking the ferry. We managed that by arranging a special deal with the ferry vendor. Our weakness was that we had never planned a bridal show, but we used our collective experience in other areas to overcome it. As far as opportunities went, our sales team found additional SMERF leads by going through the contacts of the attending parents and other family members.
“Nothing Left to Lose” Mat Kearney
2. Set the Budget
What will it cost to host your dream bridal show? What is budgeted in the marketing plan and how will a show fit into your marketing strategy? What net amount do you need to raise to make it the best show ever? Build a spreadsheet that includes items, estimated cost, final cost, and who is paying for what. Create a second spread sheet of the “in kind” sponsorships and cash sponsorships you need to be successful. An adequate budget is imperative. What you present at the bridal show to brides and their families and friends is the impression you give of your resort over all. Make your presentation opulent–this is a bridal show! The show should look and feel indulgent, even if you don’t spend a great deal!
“More Than a Love Song” Augustana
3. Due Diligence
My theory is that all events have the same basic planning requirements. Documenting details is necessary, so that any time you need to know where you stand on something or what comes next, you have it in a simple report. You may choose to design your own and include other worksheets like marketing and sponsorships. I used Microsoft Outlook and set deadline reminders. Use the calendar reminder system that is most effective and convenient for you.
“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” Aerosmith
4. Select Space
Where in your hotel are you hosting the show? Your largest banquet room that’s centrally located is optimal. Maybe you want to use more than one area of your hotel. Draw the plan and scale the booth sizes (typically 10 x 10) and fit them in your room. Perhaps your show promises each vendor an 8-foot table. Remember to include space on each side of the table between vendors. Build a diagram showing all doors, bathrooms, etc. You probably already have software that allows you to build space set up. I used Microsoft PowerPoint and it worked very well for me. Estimate a goal number of booths to sell to ensure you have enough room and select an area for oversell. We used the hallway outside of the main room to put the overflow. Number the booths. You may even decide to sell prime booths at a higher rate.
“Come Away With Me” Norah Jones
Create a vendor registration package that includes a sponsorship form. Your show needs to be all things bridal, but be open to what that may be for your particular area. Our show’s vendor list included the usual bakeries, photographers, and musicians but also included the ferry companies (the hotel is on an island). Include any special forms or information a vendor may need. In our case, the vendors needed to know about drayage services, from the local ferry company, and where to store equipment until time for show set-up. Because the island is small and a tight knit community, vendors we had relationships with were provided first opportunity to register. We sent the invitation out to the general population a week later. Our list of vendor invitations included our competition, as the show was for the entire island. Encourage your vendors to be creative and experiential at your bridal show. Christine Dyer, creator of the site BridalTweet™, offers great tips for participating in a bridal show in “Ten Tips for Attending Bridal Shows.” Dyer suggests to ‘go above and beyond’ with vendor event space. She advises that everything about your vendor’s space should communicate the vendor’s brand message and product.
“Make You Feel My Love” Adele
Create a bridal invitation worthy of a second look that entices the bridal party to say, “Let’s go!” Start with your contact list of interested brides and reach out to vendors for their lists. The success of the bridal show is dependent upon the numbers. The more invitations that go out, the more people will register and attend, and the happier the vendors will be.
“Because of You” Ne-Yo
Even though you are hosting, invite vendors to sponsor and be part of the action. Draw up a complete list of cash and “in kind” sponsor opportunities that include the costs and benefits. Both types of sponsors can expect advertising in the program, on signage, on social media and on your website. We invited every vendor to donate a prize to be used for drawings at the bridal show and to contribute something to the bride goodie bag received at the registration table. Provide ample opportunity for vendors to market their participation!
“Your Song” Ellie Goulding
Get the word out about the season’s most exciting bridal show! Use verbiage that appeals to brides, mothers of brides, mothers of grooms, the bridal party and even the fathers! Use vendor names to spice up advertising. Marketing a venue hosting a bridal show includes a Bridal Show Weekend package option that adds to your group room revenue. Use your website, social media, vendor websites, newspapers, bridal magazines, and eblasts to get the word out. Make it easy to register online and inform all guest services agents of the special event and event packages. Booking the packages is the opportunity for brides to experience your services. Tell everyone you are having a bridal show that is not to be missed. Inviting brides with a formal, snail mail invitation is exciting and will produce exciting results.
“Here Comes the Bride!” Richard Wagner
9. Show Time!
Beginning with the brides who booked the overnight packages, the experiences at your bridal show should demonstrate a fairy tale experience. The main purpose of the show is to expose brides to the fantastic options available to them. Allow vendors to announce their own prizes during the prize drawing that happens every 15 minutes (keeps the brides around longer too)! Give every bride a bag of information and goodies to take home and to use for collecting treasures as they walk the floor. The booths will be amazing because you sponsored a booth contest! Make it easy for vendors to show off so brides will experience wine tasting, cake tasting, floral arrangements, fun pictures from the photo booth, music from the DJ, live music from the musicians, and treats from your banquet department. You have your banquet rooms set up for bridal tours and your conference services manager and sales managers ready to talk business. Your vendors, including your competition, are experiencing a great time too! You treated them well, marketed their participation and brought them interested brides. Watch the magic as the details come together.
“Unforgettable” Natalie Cole
Ah, what a fantastic show. You hear it from everyone–brides, parents, vendors and your own staff. During registration, you collected a number of names and addresses. With those brides “who said yes!” follow your usual protocol. With those who “said maybe” reach out and personally to thank them for attending. Keeping all things bridal, send a formal thank you note followed by a telephone call. Thank the bride for coming, and do not be afraid to ask if they know of others who may be interested in your next bridal show! Many brides brought their families. Take advantage of the opportunity to reach out to them for future family reunion business!
I found the bridal show to be an event I was most proud of! I had many success metrics: attendance numbers, vendor comments, strengthened competitor relationships, increased revenue, and new SMERF business leads. With simple tools, a well-designed plan, perfect space, engaged vendors, interested brides, a marvelous marketing plan, an experiential show and a commitment to following up, you can build a fairy-tale inspired bridal show that books group rooms and becomes the dream bridal “go to” event for years to come.