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What the hell is the deal with wedding fairs?

I’ve hated – and been fascinated by – wedding fairs for the last decade. They can be hell on earth, and they can be inspiring and fun. Wedding suppliers love and dread them in equal measure, while 62% of brides enjoy them and only 2% of grooms survive more than one fair*. But times are changing and there are some pretty amazing new wedding ‘fairs’ to discover if you know where to look!

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All images by Steve Holcroft Photography at Storrs Hall

So what’s the deal with wedding fairs?

The purpose is – publicly – to unite brides and grooms with suppliers: to provide a place where they can meet face to face, get several quotes and choose suppliers. It’s a great idea and in theory, helps everyone. Find the right wedding fair and you’re sorted. Even at the wrong wedding fair you can find a gem of a supplier. But how do you know if a fair will be inspiring or terrifying? Read on…

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Some modern wedding fairs are outstanding. Suppliers are carefully selected, there’s a coherent theme and brides know the event will be useful and enjoyable. I went to a wedding styling event at Storrs Hall in the Lake District in March, and it was wonderful. Staff were charming and welcoming, the venue was beautiful, and a lovely group of wedding suppliers had worked together to create an event which would help and inspire brides and grooms. It wasn’t about money, or hard sell, or deals and discounts. It was about ideas and advice, about meeting suppliers for a chat, a hair trial, or to try dresses. I loved it.

Old school wedding “fayres” – it’s all in the name!

The fantastic styling event at Storrs Hall was a far cry from wedding fairs I’ve been to in the past, where event organisers are in it for the money. Even local fairs can be crammed full of photographers, cheap DJs and dated styling – and they can be as uninspiring as an Interflora bridal bouquet.

My lovely friend Bernadette agrees: “Since launching the UKAWP in 2004 we have seen a vast change in how to market to brides and grooms, including wedding fairs. The format used to be very static, exhibitors would have a trestle table to showcase their product or services with perhaps a pop up banner or two. Couples would walk around and stop and chat to exhibitors they were interested in. But times change and thus it stood to reason fairs needed to update their formula in order to interact with today’s brides and grooms. Invariably some of the more innovative fairs today include advice and inspiration zones giving couples the chance to learn tricks of the trade from exhibiting suppliers. In fact this is the format we introduced with our Wedding Sanctuary bridal event back in 2011.”

It strikes me that the name of the event is a big clue. Wedding ‘events’ are likely to be forward-thinking, creative days. ‘Fairs’… could swing either way but are still worth investigating for the suppliers. ‘Fayres’ I’d avoid like the plague!

Wedding planner Caroline Gould says, “Over the past few years, having attended many wedding fairs locally both as an exhibitor and a visitor, I realised that they are all basically the same. The exhibitors pitch up with their trestle table, a roll-up banner and a selection of their best work to display. The brides and grooms walking around the fair get asked very similar questions from each exhibitor ‘have you booked your wedding photographer?’, ‘have you thought about chair covers?’ etc. Whilst they have a good range of different suppliers, you could get round one of these fairs in about 30 mins and they have a very corporate ‘non-weddingy’ feel to them…. so last year, along with Emily from Kenton Hall Estate we decided to do something a little different for Suffolk. We created The Truly Marvellous Wedding and Bottom Drawer Fair.”

… and any event with a name like that would draw me in straight away! Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?!

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So how can you spot a good wedding fair?

There are two types of fair I look out for these days:

1 Themed wedding fairs. Quirky, curious and vintage wedding fairs can be fantastic. A word of advice: find out who the organisers are. A vintage fair organised by a specialist – like Rebecca who organises the Secret Vintage Wedding Fair – will be fabulous. A vintage fair organised by the owners of your local Holiday Inn might not be…

2 Interactive wedding events. Usually organised by a more imaginative breed of wedding supplier, fairs offering advice sessions, styling and DIY tutorials are already more fun than the rest! You’ll finish the day full of ideas, and you’ll learn something new as well – and have fun doing it! It’s also a much better way to meet suppliers and chat in an informal environment.

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Even the major wedding shows have suffered. I’ve heard disappointing reviews of the wedding show at Tatton Park (not the suppliers; there are still some pretty awesome exhibitors! but the show format itself) for example. The Designer Wedding Show had a short lifespan, but other major shows are breaking new ground. Brides The Show got some great reviews this year…

“Top marks for ‘Brides The Show‘! They really nailed it. Hands-on inspiration at every turn, the event space was buzzing and alive. Brides weren’t leaving with fistfuls of leaflets that get relegated to the bin, but with minds bursting with practical and gorgeous ideas that they know exactly how to implement (and who to collaborate with and hire) for their own wedding day. The whole show was delivered for the couple who undoubtedly has some kind of budget limit but who has good taste and many luxurious components to their wedding in mind.”
Kelly Chandler, Director, The Bespoke Wedding Company www.thebespokeweddingco.com

The star attraction of Brides The Show was the Inspiration Room – and while the title sort of makes me cringe the idea is brilliant! Andri Benson was there:

On both days it was groups of ladies – brides with their bridesmaids or their mums and they looked like they enjoyed being able to sit down and do something creative all together. Having spoken to some of the other imagination room suppliers like florist, cake makers etc they felt it was a good thing as even if the brides did feel they wouldn’t do the activity again it made them realise the benefits of hiring in a professional. It was great being able to interact with the brides on a more personal level and not just direct selling as it were as I’m a big believer in sharing the knowledge.”

Andri Benson, Always Andri www.alwaysandri.co.uk + Regional Ambassador for the UKAWP

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Is there a brighter future for wedding fairs?

I really believe wedding fairs and events are recovering and will come back in the autumn as more inspiring and creative experiences. This is really all down to the wedding suppliers who organise them and not to the events companies who used to run the biggies as a passionless business enterprise! With the help of creative and dedicated small businesses, the wedding fair revival is on the way! Here’s what Melanie Kiani of Bellissimo Weddings had to say:

“I feel there is still a place in the market for wedding fayres and shows if they are approached and organised correctly but they have become more sophisticated and niche in the last few years. We tend to get more involved with venue showcases which we then tie in with inviting key exhibitors to give added interest for the bride on the day. We work hard to ensure there is a real mix of suppliers attending and only quality suppliers whose stands look good and offer a good service. We don’t operate that “jumble sale look” about a wedding showcase / fayre but something a little higher up. We are finding that brides also want added interest on the day and we often do workshop style presentations and demos and Q & A sessions with various suppliers to get brides involved and if you give them that you hold their attention and keep them interested for many hours during the day.”

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Any Lake District brides and grooms out there should check out the suppliers from the Storrs Hall wedding styling event – they’re a lovely group of creative people who work well together and love what they do. The full list is below and I’m really excited to be working with some of these fab people very soon to bring you something just a little bit special… shhh it’s a secret 😉

* I made those stats up, obviously. But I think you still know what I’m getting at!

Claire Gould

Claire spends her days writing - either in beautiful calligraphy or online. She lives on the edge of the English Lake District only minutes away from the beach, where she loves to escape and unwind. Claire's calligraphy can be found at www.byMoonandTide.com. Claire launched the English Wedding Blog in November 2009 - it's been a top 10 UK wedding blog ever since, with a regional focus we hope you LOVE.

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1 COMMENT
  • Belinda McCarthy
    5 years ago

    This is a really interesting post, particularly from my perspective as a supplier who has exhibited at wedding fairs and hated them! I always found them full of window shoppers, which, to be honest, if I were a bride, is how I would approach them – I’d not want to be pressured into buying something on the day, particularly from a photographer. But a fair which was niche, to my taste and offering real value to me as a potential purchaser, without any hard sell, would be great, so it’s wonderful to hear that *some* wedding fairs are evolving in this way 🙂

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