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My Bridal Expo Chicago Experience: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As I mentioned on Twitter, I attended a bridal expo on Sunday that was put on by Bridal Expo Chicago.  I saw a lot at the expo and spoke to many friendly vendors along the way, but my overall experience left something to be desired. I’ve decided to write about my positive experiences as well as my negative ones, so let me know if you agree or disagree with anything I have to say!

THE GOOD:

The promotional efforts.  Obviously, I work for a promotional products company, so it’s only natural that I would get excited about the various giveaway items at the expo.  I lost count of how many vendors gave away promotional pens, and of course I snatched one from every booth I passed.  Tote bags also made an appearance, though not as prominently, and I was sure to get those while I could as well.  I also saw future brides walking around with lanyards, pins, and bite-sized cookies (which were DELICIOUS, by the way).  My favorite promotional idea was done by Countryside Flower Shop – they gave each interested guest an orchid-adorned mini gift bag filled with their contact information!

The variety of vendors.  Bridal Expo Chicago included vendors from virtually every aspect of the wedding industry, from photographers and DJs to florists and gown retailers.  I also liked that the vendors’ booths were mixed well enough to avoid walking by two competing vendors in the same area.  If you’re early in your wedding planning stages, then you’ll probably spend more time at the booths than I did, but it was still nice to have a variety!  I wish they’d had more cake/dessert vendors, but I can’t complain too much because they did have a few.

THE BAD:

The tendency (of SOME, not all) vendors to completely ignore and/or shun any attendee who lacks a V.I.B. (Very Important Bride) sticker.  Okay, now for the bad.  When you approach the registration table at the expo, you are given a round V.I.B. sticker to place on your clothing – probably to make it easier for people to spot “the one in charge.”  I brought two of my bridesmaids with me to the expo, and while we walked from booth to booth I noticed that some vendors barely glanced at them (even though they were standing right by my side) and didn’t freely offer them any information or freebies.

On one occasion,  I was offered a bridal magazine by a woman who stood behind a table PILED with them; when one of my bridesmaids approached the table to get one, the woman didn’t express the same enthusiasm and even said: “Sure, you can take one, too.”  Really, woman-behind-the-table?  That’s just rude.  My bridesmaid may not have had a sticker on her chest, but that doesn’t mean that she wouldn’t be interested in planning her future wedding just as much! I didn’t pay for our tickets because I signed up for free ones, but I know I’d be royally pissed off if I paid $15 to get into an expo where I couldn’t even take any of the promotional materials.

THE UGLY:

The set-up of the expo itself.  Quite frankly, I was both confused and annoyed by the way the vendor rows were organized.  We had to wait in line to get into the venue, which was totally fine, but I felt like I was in line during the entire show because of the way everything was organized.  I can only liken the set-up to a narrow hallway; booths were pushed against the walls on either side and it was IMPOSSIBLE to get through as soon as anyone paused to speak to one of the vendors, which meant that everyone behind had to either patiently wait or push past them.

There was only one path to follow so I didn’t have any choice which booths to visit first, and that path led straight to the stage and seating area for the 2:00 fashion show.  The show was both fine and dandy, but I faced even more of a challenge once it ended.  In order to escape the crowded room, everyone had to wind back through the insanely narrow pathway past all of the vendors…again.  Why would anyone think that’s a good idea?  My bridesmaids and I felt so cramped and flustered by the time we got out of there that we hauled ass to the car without even bothering to speak to the vendors a second time.

I attended a different bridal expo (also through Bridal Expo Chicago) at a different venue a few months ago and had a nearly identical experience, so I can’t help but assume that they have purposely chosen this inconvenient set-up.  I understand that the venue itself is being “sold” to brides as a potential reception location and that they probably want people to walk through as much of it as possible, but can’t they figure out a better way to accomplish this?  I can’t speak for anyone else, but I was so focused on navigating through the packed crowd that I barely even noticed the venue at all! Any convention or expo that I’ve ever been to has booths organized into rows within one large room, not within a winding hallway.  Personally, I think that makes a lot more sense and would probably make it easier for brides to find exactly which services they need.  If showcasing the venue is a concern, then I would suggest providing guided tours to interested brides-to-be before they leave the event!

I feel that, with just a few of these improvements, Bridal Expo Chicago could increase attendee enthusiasm and interest.  I didn’t hate my experiences at the expos they’ve organized (quite the contrary – I had a great time despite my minor annoyances), and I’d probably attend again in the future if asked to go – but I’d have a much better time if the set-up changed.

What do you think about the Bridal Expo Chicago events you’ve attended?  Do you agree with me or disagree with me?  Let me know by leaving a comment below, and I’ll reply to you!  In the meantime, if you need any promotional products for your wedding reception, your company, or your upcoming expo, don’t hesitate to visit Quality Logo Products.  Thanks for reading!



Jill Tooley

Jill has been obsessed with words since her fingers could turn the pages of a book. She’s a hopeless bibliophile who recently purchased a Kindle after almost 6 years of radical opposition, and she loves stumbling upon new music on Pandora. Random interests include (but are not limited to) bookstores, movie memorabilia, and adorable rodents. Jill writes for the QLP blog and assists with the company’s social media accounts. You can connect with Jill on Google+.

Comments

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  10. Anne Roos

    Great post! It goes to show you that you need to do a LOT of research on a bridal fair before committing to purchasing booth space. It can be a fabulous experience or a nightmare, or just something that turns out not be worth your while.

    In my book, “The Musician’s Guide to Brides: How to Make Money Playing Weddings”, I interviewed professional wedding musicians on their thoughts about participating in bridal fairs. A full 50% said they would never bother doing them, and the other 50% said they have it down to a science and have received a good return on their investment for the money and time spent on the fair.

    I devote an entire chapter to bridal fairs in my “The Musician’s Guide to Brides”. Look for it on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and anywhere that Hal Leonard Books are sold (including my website at celticharpmusic.com).

    • QLP Jill

      Thanks for your response, Anne! Your book sounds interesting; I’ve heard a few expo vendors mention that if you’re not willing to be pushy then you won’t get many sales, and perhaps that’s why some people don’t think it’s worth it. I didn’t see any musicians at this particular expo (just DJs) but I think they would have done well because a lot of brides are opting for live music these days, whether as ceremony music or as dinner music.

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  12. Norman

    I am always inspired by your opinion and way of thinking. Thank you for this nice post.

    - Norman

  13. Jason

    Hi Jill!

    Although we do not set up a booth at “Bridal Expo Chicago” events, as a DJ that does attend and assist with similar events in the Rockford and Chicago areas, I figured I would at least shed some light on your frustration with the layout of the room. It is not actually done for the venue, but actually for the vendors (and at the expense of the brides’ satisfaction).

    While I feel it should be up to the vendors to bring in possible clients with an attractive booth and positive attitude and allow the brides to come and go as they please, many vendors disagree and will play blame on having “poor placement” or some other reason why brides don’t stop at their booth. To avoid such vendor complaints, the people running the show instead opt to force all of the brides to walk by all of the vendors.

    This is incredibly frustrating for brides that may only need a photographer and nothing else, for example, because they have to constantly tell every DJ, cake maker, venue booth, etc that they don’t need them. Similarly, if a photographer is really busy that the bride wants to talk to when she gets there, she can’t simply move on and come back later.

    Also, if you don’t mind me asking, what were your favorite “giveaways?” As a DJ we find it tough (beyond pens and chocolates) to think of something “no strings attached” to give away. We strongly dislike “giving away” discounts simply because the odds of the person that wins it actually needing it are fairly low.

    I hope this helps shed some light on your frustrations. Thanks Jill!

    • Jill Tooley

      Hi, Jason! Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment. :)

      Ah, I see what you mean regarding the booth placement. Of course the vendors would want brides to walk by their booths no matter what! It is unfortunate that this has to come at the brides’ expense though, as you mentioned. At the first Bridal Expo Chicago event I attended, the vendors were scattered throughout the venue so that no one photographer or florist sat next to one another — I remember thinking that was weird at the time. Now, of course, it makes perfect sense…who would want to sit directly next to a competitor at an expo like this? I wish there was a happy medium that would please the couples and the vendors, but I’m not sure what that would be! Maybe some sort of map or seating chart that would help brides find the specific booth they need?

      I don’t mind you asking about my favorite giveaways at all! Most of the vendors had pens or candy for the taking, you’re right, but the ones who had something different were the ones I still remember today. I carried a little bottle opener keychain around on my keyring for two years after I received it (it was personalized by a videographer – I’m so bummed that I lost it) and I still have the plastic Frisbee I got from a bachelorette party planner! I’ll always snag free pens, but I’m partial to giveaways that have a bit more thought put into them. I’d be much more likely to remember a vendor who handed me a silly putty egg or a pair of sunglasses with a logo than I would a vendor who simply dumped a pile of pens on the table and called it a day…but maybe that’s just me! ;)

      In the vein of shameless self-promotion — if you EVER need help finding some fresh ideas, then don’t hesitate to let me know. Our sales team rocks at coming up with creative giveaways! I’m sure they’d be more than happy to help Luxe stand out at the next expo. :)

      Thanks again for commenting, Jason. You have some excellent insights! Come back anytime!

  14. Rebecca Kennedy

    Hi Jill,
    This article really caught my eye. I was excited to see what people thought. I produce bridal shows, but on a much smaller scale than the Chicago one. I too have been to a show where they placed all the cakes together, then all the photographers, etc. Not a good idea! No one wants to compete with their neighbor.

    I was also surprised that the show did not have a map of the vendor tables. Even small shows, should do that. Brides are being exposed to a lot of new information, being asked to make decisions about things they never have before, and it can get overwhelming. They need help to manuever this new landscape.

    From a show producers prospective, I get requests from my vendors asking for stickers for the brides. They want to identify them. They don’t want to hunt through the crowds to figure out who is a bride and who is accompaning her. On the flipside, I have been to many shows, where I show up, sometimes pre-registered, sometimes not, and the registration table says, who’s the bride? Neither of us. Then they don’t want to let us have a bag. I paid admission, I should get a bag. Just saying!

    Personally, my biggest concern is getting brides to stay and look around after the fashion show. Any show I have been to, it seems like after the fashion show,people clear out like the fire alarm just went off!

    Glad to read your article, and all the comments. Thanks for the insight!

  15. Steph

    I was a vendor for this company and they are terrible. First of all, it is extremely overpriced for what you receive. We were told that we would receive a list of 700 registered brides and their wedding day and contact info. Little did we know that most of the emails were fake and that most of the girls who attended were not even getting married at all; they merely signed up because one of their friends was actually getting married and for the free give-a-ways. By looking at all the numbers, there were only about 300 or so brides actually in attendance and looking to obtain info from vendors. Also, were placed right across from a bridal boutique and Macy’s who both gave out dinky free bags to all the potential brides. In the process, our booth was entirely skipped over because the mob of people from the other vendors approached and scared off most of the people. Macy’s and the other bridal dress boutique had at least 7 people working for each booth and were clearly invading our space and making people skip over our business’ booth. As a vendor, for $1300 this was an absolute rip off. Needless to say, we will NOT be attending any more nor supporting their scam of a company.

  16. BadgerStateBridalExpo

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