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An insiders guide to getting the most out of this season's wedding fairs

If you're in the thick of wedding planning, a trip to a wedding fair can be a tempting prospect, and if you do a bit of research beforehand, visits like these can offer up really big rewards. For starters, a good fair will offer a healthy variety of wedding industry professionals, meaning that instead of giving up weekend after weekend trawling around venues, bridal shops, accessory suppliers and cake designers, you get to see them all under one roof and in the space of a few hours. Those exhibitors are also keen to do business on the day, so they'll be competing hard to win your time, attention, and money. However, wedding fairs, especially the big ones, can seem overwhelming, but if you take some advice from someone on the inside (like me, with my six years experience in the wedding world) you'll come home at the end of the day having made a serious dent in your 'to-do' list, bagged some good savings, and enjoyed a fun day out!

Here are my top tips for getting the most out of wedding fairs:

  1. Register beforehand. Many of the shows charge an entry fee, but if you book your tickets beforehand some offer discounted entry, whilst others waive the fee altogether.

  2. Try to find out who's exhibiting and take a look at their websites. You're a busy person! You don't have time to attend a show that doesn't have exhibitors doing the things you want! It also helps to know who you definitely want to make the time to go and see whilst your there.

  3. Take a shopping list with you. It sounds simple, but it'll help keep you on track in what is a relatively short space of time. Most shows run for 5-6 hrs, and by the time you've stopped for coffee & a peek at the catwalk show...

  4. Don't go alone. If nothing else you'll need someone to help you carry bags, hold up mirrors whilst you try stuff on, and take pictures of you on your mobile phone. An extra body is also useful to go and queue at the busier stands while you're cake tasting, and to have a giggle with as you go around.

  5. Try to get there early. Goody bags are chock full of nice giveaways, but shows usually only have a limited number! You'll also get the pick of the time slots for trying on dresses; having your hair done, hands hennaed, or enjoying a free advice session with an expert wedding planner.

  6. Make a note of the catwalk times if they're on offer, on the way in. Catwalk shows are a unique way of gaining inspiration for your wedding day look. You won't want to miss out on seeing how the pros put things together, and the suppliers of those catwalk outfits will be at your show if you see something you absolutely HAVE to have.

  7. Book time slots with exhibitors. It will help you to structure your day, and make sure you get to try on that special dress or have your hair styled for free!

  8. Ask for discounts - it’s your market. Exhibitors want to fill their order books before they pack up at the end of the day and are often happy to offer discounts to make that happen. Some will advertise 'book today' discounts, but if not it's always worth asking, especially if you're thinking of buying more than one product or service from that exhibitor.

  9. Ask questions. You've paid your entry, made time to be there, and your business is in demand, so don't go home wishing that you'd asked for references, found out how long something would take to make, whether your fave photographer has availability for your wedding date, or whether you could have something in a different colour/size/quantity.

  10. Try things on; ask for samples. It's important that you get a real feel for the products on offer. I'm amazed at the number of brides-to-be who visit my show stand with it's mirrors, and comfy place to sit, and still try to get an idea of how a hair accessory will look by just looking at it! The uniqueness of a show is that you can look, touch, taste, smell, and try on, so get stuck in!

  11. If you like something book it! Remember this is a busy time of year for the wedding industry and the most popular designers, venues and entertainers will book up fast.  It's heart breaking to set your heart on something and then find you can't have it because your chosen supplier just doesn't have availability. Even worse to find out you could have had it if you'd booked it 20 minutes earlier...You'll normally need to put a small deposit down to hold the service, but so worth it to know that your name is now in their diary.

  12. Ask if you can pay a deposit or spread payments. Many exhibitors are happy to offer you flexible payment arrangements, but you won't know unless you ask.

  13. Collect business cards. In some cases you need to go away and think about it. Take a business card or brochure so you've got the exhibitors details, but be sure to make a quick note about why you liked them on the back of the card - you'll pick up a few and it's easy to forget by the time you get them all home, which honeymoon company had the best flights, or which florist offered the best customer service.

  14. Don't feel you have to share your details. Lots of exhibitors will want your email address to send you promotions after the show. Some you'll be keen to receive - a sample sale that includes big savings on that dress you wanted? Yes please! Others you won't - insurance for your day when you've already got a policy sorted? No thanks! Don't be afraid to say no (politely). 

  15. Enjoy the freebies! There are often plenty on offer. Free wine tasting, free make-up consultations, free cupcakes, free hair styling, and if you have the time, enter a few of those competitions - you might be the lucky couple that wins a free spa break, and let's face it, you could do with a foot massage after a long day at the wedding shows!

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