Wedding Expos – Are they worth it?

One of the most common questions I am asked whenever I host a webinar is whether I recommend freelance makeup artists and hairstylists do wedding expos.  I also see this question asked a lot in the forums, so I figured its probably time for me to write a blog post about the Pros and Cons of doing Wedding Expos, as a solo freelance makeup artist or hairstylist.

Before I get into that, I’ll tell you all about MY experience with wedding expos.  From memory, I have actually only ever done ONE expo myself. It was when I first started out, and to be honest, I cringe now when I think of it.  Having come from my most recent job in travel & tourism sales, I had a fair bit of experience with Expos, but I still went into this one grossly under-prepared.  To be honest, it wasn’t really my fault, I was just starting out, so I didn’t actually have many of the things I needed to make my display look attractive to prospective brides.  My display basically consisted of me sitting at a table (I was pregnant, I would never normally sit at an expo!) with a few things from my (tiny) kit, and a photo album with a couple of photos in it (like, maybe 10 photos!)  Sitting (sorry, standing) across from me was the “competition”, one of the busier makeup studios in town, with several staff, and several people working their stand.  They had their display all decorated, LOADS of photo albums full of images, and a large collection of makeup products on display, AND framed photos on the walls of their booth.  Remember, I started out in the dark ages, before iPads had been invented, so I don’t think they had any electronic display.  Flat screen TVs were only a relatively new (and very expensive) thing in 2003, so there probably weren’t many vendors with electronic displays at all! Slide projectors maybe… ??

Anyway, long story short, the day was a bit of a dud for me in terms of bookings (surprise, surprise, right?), the one booking I do remember getting from that day was for a wedding only 2 weeks before my due date, which I was reluctant to take anyway. However, I wouldn’t write the entire experience off as a loss, as there were some definite positives to the event (not the least me learning that wedding expos are probably not for me!)

THE PROS OF WEDDING EXPOS

Access to your ideal clients

Artists will often be attracted to exhibiting at a wedding expo because what better way to get in front of potentially hundreds of brides right?  That’s true; you definitely have easy access to a large number of prospective clients.  And even better, you get to meet them face to face, and what better way to build rapport, and that “Know, Like and Trust” factor that is so important when you are wanting people to book you.  You can answer a lot of her questions face to face, and also give her a consultation right there on the spot.

 

Networking with other vendors

Possibly the ONLY reason I would recommend solo makeup artists or hairstylists doing bridal expos is for the opportunity to network with other vendors, and start to develop a relationship with them which may lead to referrals.  Especially if there is an opportunity for the vendors to meet up before or after the expo actually opens.  During the expo is not the time to be walking around chatting to other vendors, they want to be chatting with BRIDES (and grooms) and so should you be!

 

The opportunity to get on the venue’s preferred supplier list

Now, this may only be valid if the expo is held at a venue that hosts weddings, and these smaller expos are becoming more and more popular.  I owe much of my early success (remember I grew from 0 – 150 weddings in just two years) to getting listed on some of the busiest venues’ preferred supplier lists, its that social validation working for you.  If a bride loves a venue, it just makes her life easier if she has a short list of makeup artists or hairstylists to research, rather than having to spend hours scrolling through websites and Instagram to find the perfect artist for her.

THE CONS OF WEDDING EXPOS

The expense, and questionable Return on Investment

Wedding expos can be EXPENSIVE, and as makeup artists, they are RELATIVELY more expensive for us than for other vendors. What do I mean by this?  Well, lets consider how much we earn from a wedding. As a makeup artist, your average earnings per wedding is probably somewhere around $500-$1000.  If you compare that to a photographer, his earnings may be $3000-$5000 per wedding.  A dress designer might also be well into the thousands, and a caterer or venue might earn upwards of $10,000 per wedding!  BUT, a booth at an expo costs the same for each of us.  So, the relative COST of the booth is higher for a makeup artist/hairstylist, as we need to book many more weddings to cover that cost.  If it’s a larger expo, the booth might cost $2,000 or more, so a makeup artist will need to book 3 or 4 weddings to cover that cost, but some other vendors will cover the cost with one wedding (and have change left over).  Early in my career, I was encouraged by someone who had worked in marketing to always aim for a 10X ROI, meaning for every dollar I spent on advertising (or, in this case, a wedding expo), I should expect to earn 10 x that amount back.

And, its not just the cost of hiring the booth, if you want to have an attractive display, there will be costs involved with your marketing materials (banners, flyers, large photo prints, framing etc) as well.  Your display needs to be attractive and eye-catching, as you want those brides to STOP as they are walking past and actually talk to you.

Now, everything I’ve said here relates to you as a SOLO freelancer.  If you have a large team of artists, so can book multiple weddings on one day, it may very well be worth your time and money to do these larger expos, particularly if you can have your staff helping out on the stand.

 

Brides often expect a “special offer”

Another indirect cost of participating in a bridal expo is that brides often EXPECT that there will be an Expo Special.  You only have to walk around an expo to see that most vendors are enticing brides with specials.  Whether that’s a discount for booking at the expo, a free trial or some other value-add, brides have been conditioned to expect this, and you will need to think of how you are going to incentivise them to book with you on the day.

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Not being able to speak to everyone.

If you’re super lucky, the expo will be packed, and you’ll have brides 3 deep at your stand wanting to know more about you and your business.  BUT, you can only ever really speak to, and develop a connection, with one bride at a time. Some artists like to do makeup/hair demos at expos, or offer mini touch-ups – which is a great idea, but of course, that also means that you are less able to talk to prospective clients. Having someone else help you man the stand is a great idea, but as makeup artists we are so “in the face” of our clients, its important to create that personal connection, which someone else really can’t do for you.

Many makeup artists and hairstylists will get involved in the Fashion Parade if there is one, often providing their makeup/hair services in lieu of paying for their booth (which can be a great idea to cut the cost of doing the expo), but again, this raises the issue of you being so busy doing the hair & makeup (I spoke to one makeup artist who needed to do 8 models in 4 hours), that you simply CAN’T chat to those real brides who are walking by.

Remember, people do business with those they KNOW, LIKE and TRUST, and one of the biggest benefits of doing an expo is to develop this KLT factor with your brides.

 

So, is it worth it, or not?

My usual answer when asked this question (after I’ve given all the pros and cons above) is to suggest that solo freelancers opt out of doing the larger expos, and instead focus on doing one or two smaller expos, which may just be hosted by a local venue.  Always find out how many other makeup artists or hairstylists are exhibiting (if its more than two, I probably wouldn’t bother).  If you can be the only one, then that’s great, you have a captive audience…  Sure the number of bridal couples will be smaller at a smaller expo, but you will be able to focus and hopefully chat to almost everyone, build that connection, and get bookings!

 

For more tips on how to grow your bridal business, check out this blog post:

 

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