Vending at an indie wedding expo: What can I expect?
February 9, 2015 1:48 PM   Subscribe

I make and sell bow ties and other wedding-ish related mens' accessories, and I've been invited to vend at an upcoming wedding market event. I've never planned a wedding (Mrs. usonian and I eloped) nor attended a wedding expo in my life, and have no idea what to expect in terms of how people shop at these things.

This is not a huge soulless convention-center sized event; it's being held in an arts-friendly town in Western Massachusetts, and it features a mix of both vintage and new (independent/handmade) decor, clothing and accessories. Definitely a sort of indie/funky/ Etsy vibe.

What I am wondering about wedding shows large and small is: Are shoppers going to be looking to outfit their entire groom's party then and there? Or do people book orders for later delivery? I'm trying to get a handle on how much inventory I should start stockpiling; on the one hand I don't want to sell out of stuff halfway through the first day if people are buying half a dozen ties at a time. On the other I don't want to spend the next couple of months killing myself and end up sitting on 100 seersucker bow ties if people mostly come to these things mostly to window shop. I know what to expect (usually) when vending at arts festivals, but just have no frame of reference for wedding shows.

If you're a wedding planner, wedding vendor, or have recently attended a wedding show as part of your planning process, I'd appreciate your perspectives and insight. Thanks!
posted by usonian to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I had a wedding stationery business for a few years and did a bunch of these shows. In my experience, some people will be there to browse and gather ideas, and others will be ready to book vendors. You should have plenty of cards and price info to hand out to customers, and be ready to take orders.

You may get some people that want to purchase on the spot, but most brides will typically want to place a custom order and be more than 3 months out from the actual wedding date. I wouldn't go over board getting lots of inventory ready to sell, but you should have enough to show your range of custom options (fabric, style, etc).

Good luck!
posted by elvissa at 2:04 PM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I was an attendee of many Indie Wed events in the run-up to my own wedding. Most people are there to window-shop. Weddings are the sort of thing that people budget for carefully and might have multiple stakeholders to okay a purchase. Have lots of samples, and order forms.

The most off-putting vendors at those events were the ones who saw me looking at things and didn't say a word, or the ones who gave an awkward hard sell right away. The immediate "Please let me know if you have any questions" was also needlessly awkward; I see you there, I will let you know if I have questions, but thank you for informing me that you're not interested in talking to me unless I have some questions. Practice saying things like, "Hi! Have you decided on menswear for your wedding yet?" or, "Hi! We sell bowties and men's accessories. How can we win your business?" Really, just engage in a genuine way.
posted by juniperesque at 2:22 PM on February 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I've participated in one of these as a vendor, but as a photographer so I didn't have the inventory concerns. I would have some on hand to sell one at a time, because people might want to buy something. Having some kind of takeaway is good; it will attract people and give them a chance to interact with you. Maybe a nicely-designed card illustrating how to tie a bow-tie?

Honestly I had the most fun meeting other vendors/running into industry colleagues. It's a good way to network with wedding planners or other people with complimentary businesses that you trade referrals with when clients contact you.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 6:38 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: At a vendor shows I participated in (as a musician) some folks were booking vendors but most were there to get ideas. Since yours is a market event, I would think more people would be buying, but I'm guessing there still would be a lot of folks just gathering info, especially since this is the prime 'gather info/book vendors' time for summer wedding season. So I might focus more on my marketing materials than actual inventory:
- Beautiful photographs of the bow ties & accessories being worn, ideally by grooms and groomsmen, etc.
- Samples of all your available fabrics, if not as actual bow ties at least in a sample book.
- Very, very clear information to take home about ordering - prices, options, lead time, etc.
- A very clear way for them to optionally leave their contact info so you can follow up a few days later. I was always surprised by how many people left their email w/out even indicating they were that interested in hiring us.
- Maybe a cool takeaway, like a little vintage-y card that shows an old fashioned illustration of how to tie a bowtie, etc.
- Vintage wedding/vintage fashion books/postcards, etc they can flip through at your table.

What I learned working weddings is that people are overwhelmed with decisions so they appreciate guidance, i.e. a picture they can point to and say "that's what I want to look like". I would think too seeing you make them if that's feasible in the booth would be a selling point.

You definitely want to make friends with the other vendors, the wedding business is all about friendly referrals.

As far as greeting someone I would never ask them if they've made any decisions yet, that's just too forward for my personality. If someone was watching me play I would always just smile, wait for them to linger a bit, if so, wrap up my song and then ask them how their afternoon was going. If they didn't look like my talking to them made them uncomfortable then I'd ask them if they were looking for music for their event. (I'm personally someone who likes to be acknowledged but not immediately engaged.)
posted by snowymorninblues at 9:17 PM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everyone. I'm not necessarily looking to get into the wedding industry in a big way, but this fell into my lap and seemed worth trying at least once. Your comments have been a big help to get me focused on some organizational/marketing things that I've been putting off. I'm used to vending at other events, and like to think I've got my own 'Attentive and personable but not pushy' presence pretty well worked out - it's definitely a balancing act.
posted by usonian at 9:06 AM on February 11, 2015

Response by poster: Follow-up: I did enough business at the show to cover the booth fee plus a little bit, but business at the event itself wasn't great. Per previous suggestions that was not necessarily unexpected since people were in info gathering mode, at least for something of such core importance as what the groom and/or his party's accessories. Many cards and price sheets were taken, and some of the interest/promises of followup business seemed pretty genuine, so it still remains to be seen whether it was worth it in the long run.

Things I'm pretty sure would have helped that I didn't pull together in time:
  • Photos of people modeling my ties
  • Sets of matching ties on display (although there were just as many people browsing who only wanted one tie for the groom.)
On the other hand, this particular event seemed to be more about decorations and services (lighting, catering, photography) and less about clothing; I got a pretty consistent sense of people being surprised to find my stuff there, to the extent that they didn't even know what to make of it. (Sort of like "Bow ties? But we already have a clip-on one from the tux rental place, we're all set.")

Everyone was lovely and it was a very well run event, but unless I'm deluged with follow-up orders in the next few months I'll probably stick to arts type fairs from now on - I could probably get a lot of wedding business if I retooled my approach to go after it specifically, but it wouldn't be fun.
posted by usonian at 5:41 AM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

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