10 top tips for running a successful wedding venue open day or showcase
By Kelly Chandler Consulting
The hardest thing is getting potential customers to visit face to face these days – that’s pretty much an accepted fact. We’re all so used to being able to get everything online and virtually that it’s got to be something special to make us get up out of our seats and interact face to face. But most of us know that face to face is still more rewarding and especially when it comes to such unique and special purchases as choosing elements of your wedding. However, organisers of wedding marketing events need to really deliver when it comes to laying on live events. So if you want to pull in the crowds, have a much-talked about event reputation and benefit from the flurry of enquiries and resulting bookings, here is my quick guide to the key ingredients your hosted venue showcases need to factor in.
How do I know? I work with a select number of unique venues (Waddesdon Manor, Chiswick House & Gardens) in planning and producing their wedding showcases from the ground up. Wedding Inspiration at Waddesdon Manor attracts 600 visitors over it’s 5 hour opening and is a much coveted regional show, with an invite-only policy for wedding professionals to join the highly interactive and successful showcase for engaged couples.
Image: Kate Nielen | Venue: Waddesdon Manor
So what ingredients do you need to add to your next venue wedding open day or marketing event for brides and grooms?
1. Invest – Focus on showcasing your venue to bring in future business, do not look to make a profit from the hosting of the wedding event itself – this will mean you as the venue investing in the event yourself to create something special and looking at it as a longer term gain. You will need to invest in a solid marketing and promotion budget to spread the word as well as support things like signage, print, goody bags and other items that create a wow factor, not covered by your supplier partner team.
2. Do the work – it’s not a quick thing to pull together a cohesive event with 30-70 suppliers working together, so the larger the showcase look to bring on board experts where you need it to support your in-house team, whether it’s hiring an independent events planner to head up the event (this is what I do for some venue clients) or whether it’s hand-picking the right wedding partners to showcase their products & services, make sure you go with those who know!
3. Be inspiring – modern couples are long over the idea of turning up to a wedding show to be “sold to” by a group of suppliers flogging their wares from behind uninspiring white clothed trestle tables. It’s key to really showcase what is possible for a couple’s wedding and give them an experience, a chance to touch, see, feel, smell and taste elements of their potential wedding; they don’t want just a plasma screen and a brochure, they want to see samples and see it brought to life. Yes, this does cost time and effort but it delivers results!
Image: Kate Nielen | Photobooth: Mobile Moments | Venue: Waddesdon Manor
4. Create a sense of collaboration –you need your team of partners/suppliers to be happy to collaborate with each other and be OK with overlap in terms of what they provide to really create amazing show experiences rather than just sticking to their own small “areas” showing only an event filled with lots of disparate offerings. Styled dining tables which are the culmination of often 5 or 6 suppliers working to a creative brief show a team spirit and actual teamwork that goes into a wedding day, is a much more captivating offering for couples to see and experience. It’s also a chance to truly inspire and give couples ideas of what they can do, to let their imaginations run wild.
5. Make it interactive – you need to host lots of activities, workshops, demonstrations, giving guests an opportunity again to see your venue come alive and the way it can work for their own wedding – all the better if you can lay on specific things which happen in a wedding-day related format. Fashion catwalks are incredibly popular and real crowd-pleasers!
Image: Kate Nielen | Venue: Waddesdon Manor | Bridalwear: Ellie Sanderson
6. Invest heartily in promotion – there is no getting away from it, it is exceptionally hard to get “bums on seats” so to speak especially in a more urban setting– you need to spend on local advertising be it a combination of printed, blog and social media alongside any in-house promotion – telling your enquiries or confirmed brides is great and definitely part of the marketing plan but it’s rarely enough for a successful show. My advice if you’re going to put a lot of effort into producing something successful is not just to limit it to your own enquiries or bridal audience but to open it up more generally to others marrying at other venues. Whilst you may not directly gain as a venue from each person walking through the door, you have to view it in a more ‘give and take’ way in that your supplier partners can and do work for in other locations and my feeling is if you’re putting in the effort you are better to have a larger audience and promote good business generally, than restrict yourself.
7. Keep your audience –you’ve gone to the trouble of investing and getting visitors there, so make sure they stay to get the full experience. Laying on workshops and demonstrations helps as does offering light food and drink tastings and/or offering an on site café with seating. Lots of wedding decisions are made in this way once couples have a few minutes to discuss whilst still “in the zone” but away from the pressure of the wedding professional and/or venue staff. Make sure you signpost your show areas to make it easy for guests to find what they are looking for and have lots of signage and material around the venue to show them “what’s on” during the day.
8. Treat them well – this is your chance to shine so whilst budgets are always a consideration, do honour the effort that couples are going to in giving up their valuable time to attend your show. Reward them with complimentary drinks or nibbles and ideally a goody bag at the end, consider user-friendly and nicely designed show guides for them to take away and follow-up with wedding professionals who caught their eye.
Image: Kate Nielen
9. Keep in touch – ensure you capture couples email address and other key details in some way to ensure you can keep in touch and follow up afterwards. Whilst you won’t win every piece of business as a venue, put yourself in the shoes of your supplier partners and take the view of win-win where success for those companies from your show means more of a feel-good factor from them to you; I’m a strong believer in give and take.
10. Keep it fresh – you might run a successful wedding open day once but don’t make the mistake of replicating it exactly the next time. Of course it’s the less time consuming option but it’s a mistake in the bridal market. Trends/fashions and designs change fast and need to be reflected in your showcase which most professional and creative-minded events professionals will value and want to be on board with but also couples often plan far out and will attend venue events more than once especially if they are highly regarded locally – become known as an innovator not a follower!
Kelly Chandler Wedding Consulting
Kelly Chandler has a wealth of specialist wedding industry experience over more than 14 years leading her award-winning independent wedding planning company (The Bespoke Wedding Company) working very closely with and on behalf of discerning global couples to plan their unique UK-based weddings.
Kelly regularly speaks, trains and consults for a range of forward thinking wedding locations including the Unique Venues of London, National Trust properties, hotel groups, university colleges, media sources and more. Kelly is passionate about making the client/venue relationship work beautifully and making progressive venues shine more brightly and achieve greater commercial success in this fast-paced industry. Take a look at her ‘Refine & Shine’ 3 month programme for established wedding venues wanting to thrive.
Image credits: Kate Nielen and Waddesdon Manor