This post might be a little controversial....
I'll start by saying that in no way is this post meant to offend or criticise anyone and is based on my general opinion of wedding fairs from my experience of attending them as a bride planning her wedding and also as an exhibitor (photographer)
I'm just not sure about wedding fairs in general. On paper they sound great, lots of suppliers all under one roof, potential special offers and deals, the chance to touch and sample and often a free glass or two of bubbly (which is usually enough to get me to go to anything)
But... I've been to a LOT of wedding fairs that have been thoroughly disappointing, I've seen some of the most sullen amateur models *flaunt* some pretty nasty looking taffeta and crystal creations accompanied by men in suits 3 sizes too big, brandishing canes and swirly waistcoats, surrounded by chair covers, organza bows, cringe inducing photography and cakes that look like they've been puked on by the sugar craft fairies. Not to mention the extensive range of unnecessary confusing extras and the presence of weight loss companies preying on the insecure betrothed.
Firstly I'd like to talk about this from the experience of a customer, a bride or groom to be...
The good bits
1. At a wedding fair you can see lots of suppliers all in one place: great! However for many local fairs there is no selection process or criteria, stall holders are usually whoever books and pays first. Most fairs limit the numbers of types of suppliers so it's fair (competition wise) and you don't get one event totally saturated with photographers or florists, but more often than not it's first come first served. Some wedding fairs invite suppliers, these are usually good ones because the venue hosing the fair wholeheartedly recommend those suppliers and their services.
2. You get to meet suppliers in person which is brilliant especially for those suppliers that will actually be at your wedding like musicians or photographers, you really really need to click with your photographer!
3. You get to touch and taste which is fab when you are looking at stationers and cakes
4. Free entry; these events are usually free entry and you can take a gang of bridesmaids, mums, dads, best men etc along for realistic and honest opinions
5. Special offers a plenty; many suppliers will have some special little deals for wedding fairs, sometimes there will be competitions and give aways so you might even get something for free. Best of all you can have a good old haggle if you dare!
The bad bits
1. At some of the bigger fairs, the national for example there are so many suppliers it takes literally 3 days to get round them all, this can be massively overwhelming and lead to a general sense of wedding apathy
2. Fear based marketing is rife at wedding fairs, limited offers of 'only available today' can be found at almost any event like this. But ask yourself are you really truly getting a good deal? There are so so so many suppliers out there, are these ones really what you want or have you just got yourself whipped up into a panic buying frenzy. I have literally turned down cash deposits at wedding fairs, telling people to go away and sleep on it and email me in the morning. Sometimes the big wedding fairs can induce that crazed January sale mentality in people and some suppliers will take advantage of that and actively encourage it. Take a breath.... walk away....
3. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the fairs where people just go for inspiration and have no intention of booking anything they see, as a supplier this isn't much fun
There are some good fairs out there but I would encourage you to do your research otherwise the first one you go to could likely put you off for ever. If you like vintage seek out a nice Vintage wedding fair, if you like designer get to one of the luxury ones. If you like a bargain keep your eyes peeled for details of Pretty Thrifty's first ever Affordable Wedding Fair in 2015
If the venue you're thinking of booking has a wedding fair go to it, it's a good insight into how well they run an event
From the point of view of a supplier wedding fairs can be tricky...
It is very hard as a new supplier (especially a photographer) to get into any wedding fairs, priority is almost always given to the people who exhibited last year/ last time and I can completely understand why, these events are run by businesses to make money, and to guarantee some income for the next event what better time than right after the last one to re-sign up the same suppliers (knowing full well how hard it is to get into other wedding fairs if you've never exhibited there before). This can go on for years and years and at some wedding fairs you will get very little variation in the suppliers who participate. Is this really best for the customers? Showing this limited pool again and again? It's certainly not great for new businesses...
When I was first faced with this problem as a new photographer I panicked and went for literally any fair I could get into. One year on and I doubt I will do that many more and I don't think I'll need to (not meant in a big headed way) and I've realised that good photographers get the bulk of their work through recommendation, which thankfully, is now the case with my work. (Fact is the best photographers don't really do wedding fairs because they don't need to!)
But when you're just starting out it's a great place to meet potential customers on mass but do ask yourself this question before you shell out for a stall; are the type of customers you want to attract going to be coming to this event? Look at the marketing, look at the associated website, look at the venue, if the answer is no it's likely it will be a waste of time and money for you. Keep trying, the right event will be out there!