"You'd never have had anything like this ten years ago," said a wedding planner friend to me on Saturday as we met on the stairs at Brides The Show. I was descending, past the huge light-up letters that must have been every bride's selfie spot of choice at the show to the vintage photo booth and Imagination Room and she was heading up to The Sommelier's Table, wedding cake exhibit and Wedding Planner's Lounge. And she was right - times they are a-changing.
After too many years of wedding fairs/fayres in nondescript hotel function suites where 6ft tables draped with white linen cloths, complete with the creases that come with laundry service ironing, are guarded by wedding suppliers who had their sales patter down pat, the wedding industry has most certainly evolved into something softer, chicer and a damn sight more pleasant.
Yes, there are still the 'bag-hunters' at events like Brides The Show - those who want to cruise the stands picking up as many impressive looking branded bags as possible whilst ditching everything that's inside as soon as they're out of sight. There are still also the slightly confused looking men, the trying-to-be-excited-even-though-it's-not-about-them bridesmaids and the Mums who might as well wear badges saying 'I have no idea what's going on here'. But, happily, their numbers are dwindling.
So, the challenge for wedding professionals who spend a lot of their time and money in prepping for an event like Brides The Show or good quality regional/local event is - how to stand out. And, from what I saw on Saturday as I wandered around the show, there are basically two ways to do this.
The first is one I really don't recommend and that is to style it out, Old School. You know what I mean by this. I mean the stands that are still manned by the vaguely predatory sales people. They have no finesse, no real connection with the person they're talking too - they've been given their targets of brides to sign up and damn it all, that's what they're going to do. The Old School stands are either too bland or too try-hard. They're often a bit too corporate and a little bit soulless. They're staffed by employees who trot out the company line, not owners or enthusiastic assistants. They're not great and they stand out a mile. I'm sure they get enquiries and I'm sure they pick up business but they don't connect with type of bride who becomes a virtual ambassador for the brands she chooses. It's transactional, nothing more.
On the other side of the walkway (literally in some cases) there are the exhibitors who've got it spot on. Their stands, whatever size they are, are welcoming and well styled. These companies, whatever their size, are staffed by good people doing good work. The chat is engaging and genuine, not a conversation that's clearly steering you round to the 'can I take your details' closer. Brides linger on these stands because they want to, not because whoever is talking to them WILL NOT LET THEM GO. Brides who love this approach rather than the wham-bam-thank-you-maam hit and run outlined above are the ones that will sing your praises online talk about you to their friends and become your own unpaid PR. Working relationships with these consumers are easier - you're more well suited, you understand each other and, like a good marriage, you're coming to the relationship as equals. Yes, some show visitors might pass you by if they don't get you. And that's fine - you don't want every client, you want your clients. And they're there - you just have to show them you are too.
So, in short, how do you stand out? By being real, authentic, genuine, welcoming, passionate and friendly. You get that your stand is more than just somewhere to store your brochures for a weekend, it's a little look into how you work with your clients and a real reflection of the brilliance they can expect from you.
It seems unlikely that a great quote for planning a successful wedding show stand, or indeed planning any event or project where you interact with potential clients, would come from a baseball movie but it does...
"If you build it, they will come."
Just build it right.