You guys, I’m a planner. More specifically, I’m a “Ohmigosh I need to have an exact plan for everything no later than two days after the idea pops into my head so everything goes perfectly smooth” kind of planner. So it’s no surprise that just two weeks after our engagement (and a full 16 months before our wedding date) I was all set to go to my first bridal expo. I wasn’t sure if going to an expo is necessary or if I could just do all the research on my own, but I was curious about the event (our area’s largest) and recruited a very brave friend to come along with me.
I’d never been to a bridal expo before, nor had I heard from any of my friends about their experiences attending expos (if they even had). But I was completely overwhelmed when I printed out the vendor map and looked through all the unfamiliar names of companies. I sifted through the list to look for the vendors I thought I may need (DJ, caterer, day-of coordinator, etc.) and highlighted where there booths were to be located on the map. I already knew at that point I wasn’t going to have a traditional cake, so I didn’t spend much time at the bakery booths (though I definitely sampled a few of their delicious treats), and I already had a good idea of who my photographer would be, so that wasn’t an issue either. Flowers were something I knew would be considered much later in the planning process (and frankly aren’t my most important detail), so, although I enjoyed looking at all the pretty floral arrangements, I knew I could quickly bypass those booths, as well.
Once we entered the absolutely packed expo center at our state fairgrounds, my friend suggested we make a casual loop to check out the attending vendor… which basically meant “let’s eat all the samples and gaze at the pretty dresses before actually getting down to business.” Then, with bellies full of scrumptious cake and savory hors d’oeuvres, we tackled my Bridal Expo Game Plan. I spoke with an incredibly nice wedding planner/coordinator, a travel agent (hey, never too early to think about the honeymoon!) and a few different DJs. I really enjoyed the face-to-face interaction with the vendors – I definitely prefer face-to-face conversation rather than awkward phone calls. I got a great feel of the personalities of each of the vendors and a sense of how they run their business.
But the greatest part of the whole day was the opportunities for discounts and entering drawings. If nothing else, a bridal expo is completely worth attending just for the coupons you receive and drawings you enter. Just for speaking to a DJ that day I was given a $150 voucher for two free hours of dinner music, then I entered a drawing with the same company for an additional $300 off dancing music…. which two days later I was told I’d won! So just for attending the expo, I already cut my DJ expenses nearly in half – absolutely well worth the slight discomfort of slowly trudging through hoards of busy brides-to-be. And although dress shopping was not yet on my radar, I did take note that many of the bridal shops at the expo offered up to 30% off discounts to brides who purchased their dresses that weekend at one of their shops. Thirty percent goes a LONG way when it comes to buying a dress!
Though I only seriously spoke with about five to six different vendors, I thought the day was well worth my time. It was good to see the different offerings in person, great to receive discounts and it definitely ramped up the excitement for the big day (even though my wedding was still 16 months away at that point!). My only drawback was that it was difficult to elbow through the other brides-to-be to get attention. It was crowded, loud and at times very overwhelming. I kept thinking to myself: Are bridal expos outdated? Can’t I just look up all this info on the Internet? I’d already done plenty of research online prior to coming to the event to even see if certain vendors were even worth talking to. Through my experience as newly-engaged bride-to-be with a significant amount of time before my wedding, I thought it was a good experience to see everything available, to weed out those vendors you just don’t click with and to just check out what the heck a bridal expo is even about in the first place. If I were a bride in crunchtime looking to plan my day by booking vendors while at the expo that day, I’m certain I’d be a lot more stressed and overwhelmed.
But in the end, I enjoyed myself and got some great insight into the wedding-vendor world. For those of you who are considering attending your first bridal expo, here are my tips to get through the day:
- Wear comfy shoes – you do a LOT of walking, shuffling and in such cramped quarters your toes may even get a little trampled.
- Come prepared! Print off the vendor map and highlight all the booths you’d like to visit. Then, create a route based on the map and make sure you allot enough time to speak with everyone you’re interested in – it’s easy to get caught up in all the fun booths, and if you don’t visit all your top priorities first, you may run out of time!
- Enter the drawings! Seriously – every single one. As you’re discovering, wedding costs add up quickly, and every little percent here or dollar amount there that you can get lopped off is going to help immensely in the end.
- Bring a label (or stamp). Because you’ll be filling out SO many forms, it’s a smart idea to print sticker labels or make a stamp with your contact info: name, address, phone number, e-mail address and wedding date. I learned this the hard way and ended up filling out all my contact info by hand at least 15 different times throughout the day – it got incredibly tedious.
- Bring questions – Keep a list of questions for each vendor on a piece of paper that is quick and easy to access. It’s easy for your mind to blank on even the simplest questions when you’re in a large crowd talking to the vendor of your choice. If you don’t want to take notes while you’re talking, please designate a friend to be the note-taker; have her write what you like and what you don’t like about each vendor and write down accurate pricing info. Then, tuck or paper-clip those notes into the folder,brochure, flyer or business card the vendor provides you.
- Review! Right after you leave the expo, go to a restaurant, coffee shop or just sit at home and look through all the brochures and all of your notes for each vendor. Toss out any information of vendors you know you won’t use (you don’t want to confuse yourself in the future), and make note of expiration dates of any discounts or coupons from vendors you are interested in. Organize all this info in your wedding binder for when it comes time to do further research for booking vendors.