Wedding professionals, why do Wedding Festivals?
“Why do you do the wedding festivals?” Every year it’s a question we’re bombarded with from fellow vendors in the industry, mostly photographers since that’s our niche, but nonetheless others as well. Many of the assumptions, comments, opinions, and questions are never outright critical of Wedding Festivals themselves, but they always do tend to have a bit of a negative skew or point of view towards bridal shows, sometimes based on personal experience, sometimes based on what they heard from a friend of a friend, or sometimes what they just assume. Our purpose in writing this blog wasn’t to be the white knight defending Wedding Festivals because frankly, they don’t need one. They have been around since 1990! Considering how many businesses fail statistically within the first few years, just let that sink in. Heck, according to Forbes, 8 out of 10 entrepreneurs’ businesses fail within the first 18 months. This is an organization that has been around for 28 years and has been through the ups and down of the economy, the changing trends, and I can only imagine how much marketing and business strategies would need to change to see that kind of longevity in success. Marc and Colleen, and now their daughter Kennedy are the folks behind the scenes making sure everything goes smooth. But more than that, I would say anyone whose actually met them or gotten to know them would find out, they are behind your business 100%! They are all genuine, supportive, and gracious with their time and experience and it’s something we’ve seen have a direct impact on our business and growth and I have to imagine it's the same for a lot of wedding pros because if it wasn't, I don't think we would be talking about them 28 years later. But again, this article isn’t to defend wedding festivals from folks who may have mislead opinions about bridal shows. It was more to talk about how Wedding Festivals can help your business as a wedding professional and a little on how they have helped us!
For us, one of the most important aspects that we’ve come to love about the wedding festivals is the networking with other local wedding pros. In the last 3 1/2 years we have made personal and professional connections that have led to referrals for business, being put on preferred vendor’s list with certain planners and venues, not to mention the opportunity to connect with those that are new in the field and help give them some guidance. We’ve made great friends, and we’ve made great business contacts whom we’ve also been able to send referrals to. This part of the festival has nothing to do with selling and has become by far our favorite every year! At the very least, the residual business impact from these networking connections makes the Wedding Festivals worth your time even if you didn't book a single thing directly from the show (at least for our business and experience doing the shows).
Keeping up with trends
Being a part of the wedding festivals means you get an opportunity to see what is trending for the year! That doesn’t just mean the day of, but it also means many of the resources that Marc and Colleen provide to those in the wedding community like free trainings or even answering questions based on their market experience they’ve gained in the last 28 years. When it comes to the day of, its great opportunity to absorb the inspiration and awesome work of others in the field as well. This may mean the latest trends in styles, fun options for wedding days, new innovations, you name it. Not to mention, many of the pros present at Wedding Festivals give a free 10 minute presentation on a subject of their choice and since they’re given free range, it’s usually something they are passionate about and can make for an interesting learning experience! hearing from other pros in the industry.
Number of weddings booked
Look, I totally get it, the first thing most people want to ask about is “How many weddings do you book from doing the show!?” “Is it worth your time?” People look at us like we are crazy when we tell them we usually only book 1- 2 couples per event. Many times the response is, “Wow so if I did that I would barely break even!” (lol) Trust me, it’s literally not that expensive! The initial investment can be a little much if you purchase everything, but I know the first show we did, we borrowed a lot of items, and went the DIY route for many things and for anyone that doesn’t know us that well, we are definitely not the DIY type, so if we can do it, I know you can do it. Not to mention we were hardly making much income at the time from our business, it was just a commitment we made to ourselves because we knew it was an investment for our business. Once you accrue everything you need for a solid booth, the majority of your investment is paid for. You can modify little things year to year, but again, most of your ‘stuff’ is set. Naturally you have the entry fee every year, but the cost is minimal in terms of the potential ROI. So let’s get back to numbers, and this is totally our experience and our opinion on the process. Keep in mind we are photographers, with a specific style, targeting a specific demographic, and we have a specific business model/plan. Your experience may differ if you’re a DJ, or Hair & Make up artist, etc, but, If your main goal and sole purpose is to book book book and sell sell sell at a bridal show, Wedding Festivals in my opinion may not be for you. Will you book some folks? Possibly. Will you have to talk yourself up a little? Sure. But trust me when I say that if your mentality is that of a car salesman with hundreds of brides walking by at any given point in the day, they are going to read you like a book! While it is an opportunity to market, be outgoing, and potentially book, so is just about every other platform out there (facebook, google ads, instagram, wedding wire, the knot, etc.). What makes Wedding Festivals different is it allows you to connect with people in a way that you can’t from email inquiries. It allows you get to know someone better than you ever could by having them fill out your 1 page “contact us questionnaire”. You get to shake someone’s hand, look them in the eye, meet their mom, and discuss their vision. This is where Wedding Festivals in our opinion is far superior to many other marketing methods. I’ll use our companies as an example. We did 77 weddings last year, one of those was directly booked from Wedding Festivals, but let’s dig deeper into those other 76 weddings. That means out of 365 days in the year, we were able to book around 65 of them (some days were double weddings that our team shot). 65 days of the 365 day year were booked from other ways. From our perspective, that means there’s a 17.8% chance any one of those days will work to potentially book a wedding. We’ve been blessed and fortunate to connect with and book at least one couple every single time we have participated in the bridal show through Wedding Festivals (including this year as of this writing). So just based on our experience (6 shows now), there’s a 100% chance (so far) that on that single day we will book someone. As a small business owner, I know everyone’s schedule is going to look slightly different, but one thing that remains consistent for those that find themselves still in business after 18 months and accomplishing your goals, you’re likely working hard. I know we work on ours 365 days a year when it comes to marketing. Whether it be social media, SEO, paid advertising, etc. we are always pushing towards growth in one way or another. Just looking at return on investment in terms of putting in the work 365 days a year, and knowing that there’s a 17% chance each day will be able to be booked, or I could dedicate myself to an event where there’s a 100% chance of connecting with an awesome couple and being a part of their wedding day, how could you not take advantage of that opportunity? We participated in the Charleston Wedding Festivals last year and booked one couple. We have since booked 2 more in Charleston and connected with a planner in the area. The opportunity for growth and connection is there, you just have to go for it. I would think that one or two (or more) days per year of wedding festivals would be even more valuable for businesses who limit themselves to 10-15 weddings per year as 1-2 bookings makes up a significant percentage of their year. Why not capitalize on that valuable day and opportunity?
I think if we could sum it all up, opportunity would be the best word. It’s an opportunity to book. It’s an opportunity to connect. It’s an opportunity to build your professional network. It’s an opportunity to continue learning. In conclusion, I know most business owners are worried about their bottom line. They have to maximize their time which they likely have little of (totally get it) and for them, the prospect of having to architect a ‘booth’ pay money to be apart of it, drive there, set up, break down, etc. just sounds like a lot of work when they could just simply throw money at any other form of marketing and put less perceived effort into it overall. I mean if you can book 20 weddings from your website every year but only 1-2 from wedding festivals I could see how it wouldn’t seem like a wise way to spend your time or money, but in terms of your likelihood to book on one dedicated day, and the actual time spent, I would argue to say that it’s a much more efficient use of your marketing time overall. If you are the exception to the rule and book 100% of your wedding clients from word of mouth, and you are able to meet all of your personal and professional goals, kudos! Keep rocking it! But, if you’re looking to continue growing in the industry, growing your professional network, if you’re looking to make meaningful connections with couples in person, and you’re looking to continue filling your schedule, I would highly encourage any wedding pro to be open minded and to try Wedding Festivals at least once because it may change your business. I know it has for us.