Randy Bartlett laughs when he remembers the first time his company ever rented a booth at a bridal fair. “It cost me $200 for a booth and I was charging $200 to play for a reception back then, so basically I figured if I could book one reception I’d break even. In fact, I didn’t have any bookings at the time and had never even DJ’d for a wedding, so I thought this would be pretty cool.
“What an amazing joke that was,” he continues. “People were asking me, ‘So, how long you been doing this?’ and I was saying, ‘Ha, you guys think I’ve done a wedding before? Isn’t this great!’ They’d think I was just so funny and they’d book me!”
Actually, Bartlett’s story is not so unusual. Many of us can recount bridal shows where we appeared practically side-by-side with guys blasting their favorite home stereo system and dressed in a t-shirt and jeans. But if you own a large multi-system mobile DJ company and have to keep a dozen or more units on the road every weekend, appearing at bridal fairs to maintain your schedule is likely a must.
In fact, bridal fairs are arguably the number-one source that some large companies utilize to gain reception bookings.
But what can a company do to maximize the money they spend on this method of attracting gigs? Let’s find out by taking a look at some ways in which we could spend lots of money on bridal fairs but still be guaranteed not to have brides sign contracts with our companies.
1. To save money, work your booth alone or with your wife/girlfriend.
Sure, why waste your hard-earned profits on having your employees spend their weekend day off trying to help you sell your business? Besides, you’re the best salesperson your company has!
“Back in the day, I would try to work these bridal fairs by myself,” says Randy Bartlett of Premier Entertainment in Sacramento, California. “After all, I’m by far the best salesman for my company, but that also became a big problem. Brides and their mothers would come to my booth in batches, and suddenly I’d have six brides who would start listening to different parts of my presentation at different times, and I couldn’t really devote my attention to any one of them anyway. And then I’d have these great DJs of mine who weren’t necessarily good salespeople, but when I’d bring them into the booth it would also create problems.”
Opinions on properly staffing a bridal fair booth range from taking the time to train your staff to sell properly to actually hiring professional salespeople to run your booth.
“We don’t spend a lot of money on a fancy booth,” says Robert Arthur of Invisible Touch in Anaheim, California, “but I spend a lot of money on the staffing of the booth. I’ll get enough guys to make sure we have coverage-five or six people in case we get swamped. Our philosophy is to go out there and have fun, and go out and be who we are.”
And if you would send out a handful of staff to provide adequate coverage at a large and important wedding reception, why would you try to cover an intense sales pitch session alone with dozens of prospective brides?
“Actually, I remember this one mobile DJ who used to run a fantastic booth,” says Bartlett. “He’d hire professional salespeople to come run his booth for him. He’d go out of there with 27 bookings, and I’d walk out with 2-and both of them people I’d already talked to in my office before the show!”
2. Don’t worry about where your booth is set up for the bridal show.
Why should it matter where your table is located in the exhibit hall, since the brides will be visiting all over anyway? Just grab the quickest table to the door so you can head out as soon as it’s over!
When my own personal DJ company used to do bridal shows, we would make sure the show was limited to only one other DJ vendor, and then we’d have the sponsors set our booth up at one end of the sales floor and keep company at the other end. That way we our music and interactions weren’t interfering with the other DJ service, plus the sponsors could use each of our sound systems to broadcast the times of the fashion shows and winners of door prizes.
According to Siracusa, where a company’s booth is located is essential to the success of their event. “Be very, very conscious of where your table is located,” he says. “You don’t want to be in a corner. As you walk in you want to be to the left of the door.”
3. Don’t give anything to the brides to help them remember your company with.
Since when brides-to-be come to a bridal show they’re quickly issued a large plastic bag they will soon fill with brochures, postcards, coupons, fliers, business cards and business samples, certainly anything you could give them would simply be ‘lost in the shuffle.’
“Ah yeah, leave something for brides to remember us by,” reminisces Russ Harris of Chicago’s Show on the Road Productions. “One year we passed out balloons with ‘Show On the Road’ on it tied to a CD brochure we had made up beforehand. We went into a studio and had this done, with ‘brides’ and ‘grooms’ asking us questions about our company; things like: ‘I want a small light show but my fiancee wants a big light show. What do you suggest?’ And then our announcer would answer, ‘Well, you could choose between this and that . . .’ These brides would take home these CDs, which also included sample songs, and they left an impression on those brides’ minds.”
4. Don’t worry about getting ‘the live spot’ MCing the fashion show.
Why bother with the extra time and effort of providing sound and lighting for a bridal show’s fashion show, especially since it often costs considerably more than having a booth? Besides, appearing before all those people at once would increase the likelihood of screwing up in front of everyone!
Gerry Siracusa of Gold Note Entertainment in New Jersey has been appearing at bridal fairs for over six years, but says he dislikes the prospect of being simply one of eight DJs sitting around in a room handing out literature.
“Once you put a performance in, that puts you above and beyond the rest,” he says. “Of course, that’s a double-edge sword too, because if you take a live spot and you suck-if you haven’t put a lot of thought and organization into it-it will be your damnation.”
When Show on the Road does sound and lighting support for bridal shows, Harris says people recognize them as the company that does the show. “People tend to remember you afterwards,” he says. “And to make sure that impression lasts long, we use a Martin Image Scanner that uses transparencies you run through a regular copier. At bridal shows when they do our plug in the middle of the fashion show, we’ll turn our Image Scanner on and this heart will suddenly appear up on the ceiling in a gobo, rotating around with a bride and groom’s name on it. They get a lasting impression.”
According to Harris, a live show involves lots of high energy, several dance routines, and a question and answer session in which people get to throw out different ideas. “We encourage responses, and we like to get people up and on the stage with us to see how we do things. It’s usually only 20-25 minutes, using a spinner, at least three MCs, and then dancers. We set up a whole system and sometimes a light show.”
“Try to get the live spot,” Siracusa advises. “Put the time in. It’s extra money, usually double or triple, but if you put the extra dedication and time into doing a live show, you’ll do very well.
5. Have your staff simply stand behind your booth and hand out materials.
Keep in mind that your staff is likely to be exhausted from the busy party you performed at the night before the bridal show. Allow them to stay seated behind your booth. Besides, there are way too many potential clients for them to be able to spend the necessary time with each one, so why should you even try?
“Actually, just standing there would make you just another DJ, the same as everyone else,” says Arthur. “Say you’re a single-unit operator and you hire your wife to come to the bridal show because you have a gig that day. You’ve got the wife there and maybe another assistant who just hand out materials to people as they come up. They’ve done absolutely to cause the bride and groom to think your company is unique.
“Basically Invisible Touch goes into a bridal show and say, ‘Okay, we’re the most expensive. Find out why!'”
6. Tick off the other vendors at the show by being loud and obnoxious with your interactions.
Getting up and performing in the middle of a bridal show rocks! You get to monopolize the attention of the brides who are there to get information on all aspects of their reception, and who cares about the other vendors? They aren’t the ones who hire you!
“I used to do this too, back when I started doing weddings back in college,” says Harris. “At the first couple bridal shows I would get up and we would do YMCA or Shout or whatever in front of all the traffic in malls. But businesses would get interrupted, and people couldn’t pass by because everyone was doing the YMCA with us. It worked, but we were ticking everyone off, including the vendors next to us.”
In fact, there was one company in Harris’ market a few years ago that was kicked out of doing bridal shows because they kept on holding up traffic and irritating the other vendors. “You don’t want to tick off the other vendors who could potentially refer you,” Harris says of a lesson learned, “because bad news travels faster than good news.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can’t do interactive skits that involve the brides and get their attention. Mobiles simply have to use their heads and do these things in moderation. And when done correctly, many mobile companies find this is a great way to make your company stand out.
“We might put on sunglasses and hats and the YMCA headgear, and we’ll give out trivia prizes,” explains Arthur. “We’ve had situations where there’s been a line going into the fashion show, and our booth has been right in front of this line. Rather than DJing or MCing the fashion show, we’ll hand out glow necklaces to all the brides in the line and teach them an interactive dance, and then we’ll tell them that if they want to have fun at their wedding reception they should come back to our booth after the fashion show.”
7. Talk down your competition at the show.
You subscribe to this magazine. You attend all the major DJ conventions. You’re the member of a national association of mobile DJs. And you network with other quality companies around the country. Since your own company is so much better than any of the other mobile DJ services in your area, let the brides who come to the show know all the sordid details about your competition. You’ll be saving them the grief of finding out later for themselves.
“No matter how fast it travels around before it gets back to you, that stuff gets around,” warns Harris. “That’s one things I’ve taught my guys not to do. We want to educate brides, and to give them something they can remember. We’ll give them an idea we do at our weddings-a lot of twists in the regular traditions.” They’ll usually end up laughing, and then they’ll put a star on the envelope we give them to remind themselves to check into our company more. Basically a lot of the other guys just badmouth their competition so they can talk about themselves. I’ve seen it happen, and those people don’t last long in the shows.
“I always thought I sucked at bridal fairs,” admits Bartlett. “It was an attitude more than anything else. The reason I thought I sucked was because of my arrogance. I would look at these other DJs who were there and I would think to myself, ‘I know about these guys. I know I’m better than them. And it was really tough for me to be out there and to be a commodity. The reason I worked so hard to improve my referral base was because I hated it when people would simply come up to me and say, ‘Hi, how much are you? Okay, thanks, hi, how much are you?’ And in their minds, a DJ is a DJ; we’re all commodities.”
8. Try to book as many receptions as possible at the show.
Get a credit card setup, offer 15% off the price of a basic reception package, and see if you can’t book enough deposits to pay off your biggest credit card! Sure, you’ll be working for a lot less than usual and the quality of clients might not be so great, but you’ll have cash!
“I don’t think you can book gigs at shows very well,” says Bartlett. “From my perspective, I even hate discounts at a bridal fair. When you say, ‘Hey, if you book us today you’ll get $100 off!’ that’s creating a commodity. You’ve now made yourself like everyone else there. I also hate the pressuring manner of asking someone to book at the fair. I don’t think the decision to book a DJ is something someone should make as a spur-of-the-moment decision.”
“We never try to book at the show, never,” says Arthur. “We don’t try to get deposits at the show and we don’t give major discounts. I used to, but I don’t believe in that anymore. The only discount we give, in fact, is if a bride and groom come into our offices for an appointment-and that’s only a small discount. We don’t pull out the credit card machines and book masses of people. If we were to give $300 off our packages when they book at the show, we could probably book a lot of people-but then we’re washing away our profit.”
9. Try to convince the brides in attendance that you’re something you’re not.
Even if you’re an entertainer who specializes in throwing hugely interactive parties, it’s best to succumb to tradition and appear at bridal shows to be a formal and laid-back businessperson. Who cares what kind of company the bride thinks she’s hiring, as long as we get paid!
“Let’s say a DJ company is wild and crazy at a gig,” suggests Arthur. “They’re into using props and teaching dances, and that’s their style. But when they’re at a bridal show they’re dressed in a fancy tuxedo and are just standing there, barely smiling, and handing out brochures. They’ve just ruined any chance of showing who they are as a company.
“You might get the argument that you don’t want to be too wild or have the music too loud at a bridal show, because you don’t want to get the other vendors upset. Well, our philosophy is to have fun, not play the music too loud, and do exactly what we would do at a job.
“If we have 1000 brides at a show, and if we can get 50 of those 1000 brides who believe sort of the same way we believe, then I’m a happy camper. If it’s a bride who walks by and sees us doing an interactive dance of some sort and thinks it’s stupid, I don’t want her business anyway.
In fact, Arthur had just performed at a reception the Saturday before being interviewed for this article for a bride who had been introduced to his company at a bridal show the previous year. “That couple loved us because we did exactly what they saw us do at the bridal show,” says Arthur proudly. “We fulfilled what we promised. We matched what they’re looking for, and if they don’t like what we do then they’re not for us anyway.
10. If you don’t need to do bridal fairs for more business, turn them down even if requested by your preferred and referring halls.
If your Saturdays are already booked for the summer of 2001 and you’re in fact already starting to fill up for June 2002, why face the flea-market mentality of a bridal show-even if invited to do so by a hotel that regularly refers your business?
“We built our business with bridal fairs, no question,” admits Bartlett. “The first three years we were in business I think I did every bridal fair that came into town. I did them in shopping centers, I did the free ones, I did the expensive ones. Once we got into our fourth year, though, we started cutting back gradually. It was the same thing with Yellow Pages ads-when we first started in business we had a large ad, and then the ad shrunk and became an in-line ad, and then a single-line ad. Now it’s all single-line ads and the only bridal fairs I do would be at facilities who do their own in-house events.
Yes, you heard it right-even Mr. Anti-Bridal Fair Bartlett will occasionally do a bridal fair!
“It’s more like these places will want me to set up a system for an event they’re putting on with their preferred vendors,” he explains quickly. “I don’t do it for the business I’m going to generate, but you don’t refuse to come out and do sound for a preferred vendor who uses your company a lot.”
Randy Bartlett on Bridal Fairs:
“I got lucky. It turned out that I was pretty good in this industry, but most guys in my experience has been that people who are at bridal fairs are either new in the business, bad in the business-or they’re the big companies who are just trying to book tons of events. The guys I know who are really top-notch DJs, none of them do bridal fairs anymore. They all did at one time, but none of them do it anymore. Why would you spend $1000 to appear at a bridal fair if your business is all referral? We get calls from prospective brides asking if we’re going to be at a bridal fair, and we simply say no. And then we tell them why.”
“The problem I found with being the MC is that all the people say, ‘Wow, he’s really good!’ but the other guys with the other companies simply say, ‘Yeah, we do all of that too, but I’m $200 less.’ I try to get these other DJs on the microphone as much as I can, because every time they’d get on the microphone my stock would go up because I’m much better than they are on the microphone.”
“That’s why back when I did them I really liked the bridal fairs that charged an admission price,” says Bartlett. “People who were really serious would come by.”
“One of the things I pushed for was to have a workshop on “Choosing Your DJ, Seven Secret Steps,” and then I’d have them put me on a panel with four other DJs. Let us just sit and talk, and when they see us side by side they’ll realize there’s a big difference.”
Filed Under: Weddings
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