local media insider
Case Study

Grow your own six-figure Wedding Expo

Create a world class bridal expo learning from the experts in Chattanooga

Alisa Cromer
This is how we do it - Creating a 70% margin from a high end bridal fair.

Summary: When Chattanooga Times Free Press president Jason Taylor launched a new events division three years ago, bridal fairs were at the top of his list.  The Chattanooga market, however, already had a bridal fair owned by an out-of-state producer. This report shows how the team went about creating their own event, step-by-step with guidelines to follow. An events P&L is at the bottom of this report.

Note: For the case study on how Chattanooga created its overall events division see How to create a Multi-million Dollar Events  Franchise, which includes how to partner with third party promoters if competing is not your chosen strategy. 

Here's how to launch your event, based on the Chattanooga model: 

1. Assess the competition

The first task in creating a bridal fair is to assess the competition. The presence alone of competitors in the space does not mean a local media can't produce a show, but makes it more difficult. It is important to check out the competitor's web site, vendor mix, media partners, whether or not they have a wedding contest, and how happy the local merchants have been with the event. A simple phone call survey: "If we produce this event priced similarily would you participate?", will go a long way in helping understand whether or not the market is still up-for-grabs. Partnering to sell booths or just being the promotional partner may be more realistic in some cases. Another option is a smaller, evening event, as a "toe in the water." 

But Taylor thought Chattanooga, with its strong events marketing team and dominant newspaper could produce a big, better event and make money doing it. They were right: A key selling point for merchants was the local angle; they preferred doing business with a local company, given an equivalent option.

Keep in mind that 30% of expo cost is in promotions and marketing, so the media always has an advantage going in. Contesting and an online content-oriented wedding page can also support a local competitive initiative that trumps an out-of-state promoter unwilling to devote these kinds of resources to the show. 

2.  Create a prospect list of vendors.  Anglea Doggett, events manager, starts the vendor list by looking at the advertising base, then branching out from there. Since this category may tap non-traditional advertisers, the team used an additional database, Claritas, to put together an extensive leads list. Included are not just wedding planners and bridal boutiques, but also venues, caterers, florists, jewelers, invitations, photographers, cosmetics, tanning, teeth whitening, massage and spas, salons, travel, auto and new homes.  For a complete list of vendors sold click here. 

3. Choose the date and time. January or February are the best months to host a bridal show. The top chioce in terms of time of week is Sunday afternoon, 1 to 5 p.m.  Doggett's events (with the exception of an occasional move premiere) are established at the beginning of the year. Planning and prospecting begins six months out, with marketing beginning two months out. 

Doggett also added a smaller event to the calendar, The Enchanted Evening, which is held on a Thursday evening, with more of a boutique feel. "The brides get champagne and hors d'oeuvres and a pampering station. It has a girls night out atmosphere." This is a good option for local media testing the waters in the bridal category, especially in conjunction with a contest and/or wedding page. 

4.Book the space. Typically, Doggett plans for 125 booths and about 1000 people (bridal fairs are smaller in size of total attendees, but the merchants are really interested in the registered brides list), which a facility of 1800 square feet can typically accommodate. The event has grown however, and the 2012 event was triple this size.  

Also important services are, food for the pre-party (will the venue trade for a pre-party or allow you to accept another trade if they do not?) and a show decorator for pipe and draping, typically a party rental company. Chattanooga created a color scheme for their event of Tuxedo black draping with lots of hot pink details on the stage and goodie-bags. Sound and lighting are typically provided by someone at the venue. Keep in mind that the sound and staging needs to be sufficient to accommodate any planned activities. A fashion show is a typical grand finale that keeps more brides at the show - mingling with vendors -until the end. 

Here's a view of the grand entrance of the event: 

5. Create celebrity tie-ins and activities. The Chattanooga events team has two leaders: The marketing manager, responsible for overall budgeting also secures the entertainment celebrities, while the events manager works the logistics and booth vendor relationships. The marketing manager went to work securing reality TV stars to pull in the crowds. Be inspired but not intimidated by their selections; Doggett says too much entertainment detracted from brides engaging with vendors. The key is to have one or two sexy names.

The 2012 event had three big afternoon activities: 

At 2:45 there was "Cake Ace" contest, essentially a bake-off for a "groom's cake" judged by Jay Qualls from Season one of Cake Boss: Next Great Baker." Qualls presented the award on-stage after spending some time tasting the offerings created by several local bakeries: 

Here's a copy of the entree form for vendors, from the vendor packet:

Think you have what it takes to become Chattanooga’s Cake Ace?

The second annual Chattanooga Cake Ace contest will be held during Formal Affair, on Sunday, February 19, 2012.

Contest Rules:
• Must submit groom’s cake with a sports/hobby theme
• Must be a 2012 Formal Affair vendor to participate
• Must possess & submit a copy of your Tennessee or Georgia business license
• Must operate from a health-inspected facility & submit a copy of your current health inspection certificate
• Contestants’ entries will be scored on use of theme, creativity and taste
• 80% of the cake must be edible
• Contestants’ must provide a 6-inch round of the same cake for judges to sample
• At least one of the cake samples served from your booth, must be the same as the one submitted for judging

Winner of the contest will be awarded a plaque, bragging rights as Chattanooga’s Cake Ace, and a 1⁄2 page, full-color ad in the Times Free Press announcing their achievement.

Each cake will be lit and displayed on a 48” round table, with a black tablecloth to the floor. Table and linens will be provided by the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Signage for each cake will also be provided by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

All contest participants must be signed up as a vendor in the 2012 Formal Affair. Deadline to enter the contest is January 25, 2012.

Contact Angela Doggett by phone at 423-757-6479, or by emailadoggett@timesfreepress.com for details.

We look forward to hearing from you soon!

At 3:30 p.m. David Tutera, host of the reality series "My Fair Wedding," appeared  on stage to "discuss some of the latest wedding trends and tell you how to have a fabulous wedding on a budget."

The last event, at  4:30 p.m., was a fashion show featuring gowns, bridesmaid outfits, tuxedos, and fashion for kids in the wedding party from five local boutiques:

In retrospect Doggett said, she is cutting down on some of the seats-in-chairs entertainment since vendors are primariy interested in interacting with the registered brides. The celebrities need to be exciting to attract brides and their friends and family, scheduled at intervals that keep brides at the show longer, and short enough to allow maximum face-time mingling with vendors. It's a balance. 

6.  Packaging and pricing

Booth rentals have the following prices: 

One 10 x10 booth....................................... $700
Two 10 x10 booths (10 x 20).......................... $1,250
Four 10 x 10 booths (20 x 20)......................... $2,225
Six 10 x 10 booths (20 x 30)........................... $3,000

Besides the booth, vendors also receive some other pre-packaged benefits outlined below:

• 1/8 page color ad. Sponsors received an ad in the program and others - including new home developers - were upsold to larger ads. A copy of the program is here.  

• A List of registered brides list. The biggest attraction for vendors who purchase booths may actually be the list of registered brides.  

"The vendors will buy a booth for the leads. Of 800 people, 500 may be registered brides,"  When the brides come to the event, Dodgett has a special line for brides to register, including the name and contact information for the bride and groom, anticipated date and number of attendees expected. Originally the form also included a list of what each bride had already secured and still needed, but this slowed down the process, so they went with a simplified form, that is still the top draw for vendors.

• Engagement submissions. For one year after the event, vendors also receive a list of engagement submissions given to the newspaper. 

• Entrance in the Best Booth contest, which has a prize of free adverstising. 

7. Sales of booths and sponsorships. At Chattanooga the key contact for booth sales is the event manager, while the marketing manager is responsible for the overall flow, celebrity entertainment and managing the P&L.

Calls coming in are fielded by the events manager, and are often pre-closed and turned over to sales reps.  Since the events manager receives a commission on profits of the event overall, not sales, the position does not compete. In late 2012, this structure changed; the group added a third position, reporting to the events manager, to sell events, take call-in business and sell advertisers who have not signed up within two months after the launch. 

Bridal sponsorships sales are typically aimed at companies that supply hard-cost services, with the goal of securing cash/trade deals that eliminate as much of the hard cost as possible. Go for the best deal of the media - trade for the service plus cash - when possible. Everything is negotiable. Here's how the Chattanooga events team worked its marketplace:

The title sponsor is the venue; the first year Sheraton Chatanooga both supplied the venue plus $5000 and contributed $2500 for food for the preview party. 

The next year, however, the event switched to a new venue, Rennaissance Center, which could or would not provide the food. So the team found a $2500 sponsor who received booth space and advertising in return. Other sponsors include $5000 cash from a  jewelry store, an auto dealer who paid $2500 to get a car placement, and a photographer and floral sponsor on trade for "huge entrance" arrangements and bouquets for models to carry during the fashion show. Fantastic flowers and party bags and draping with a great color scheme, can make even a cement floored auditorium look festive and high end. 

8. Staffing and over staffing for best results: The bare minimum to manage an event of this size is two people, who can focus primarily on the event for about two months. Since Chattanooga has 9 major events a year, each with a six month planning schedule, they are working on many events at once, but the majority of time is spent starting two months out. 

The rest of the company is also tapped when the event occurs. Doggett recruits staff workers by sending around a "volunteers list" to confirm who will work the event. Those who do are given compensatory time off, but some, including the sales department and circulation are actually "voluntolds."

With about 30 people at an event this size, the company can meet all of its needs and "out-perform" for vendors and attendees compared to outside promoters. Most of the staff is needed to man the registration tables and help the vendors who can need anything from help setting up a last minute display to an extra piece of tape or bottle of water. 

Pre-expo meeting A week before the event Doggett gathers the team together, or minimally creates an all-team email communication, to walk through exactly  "what will happen" during the two days.

Set-up day is a day before the event.  Make sure the facility will agree to this - for any event with sizable booths vendors will need this time to set up, even if the event starts in the afternoon. Doggett recommends splitting up the crew of voluntolds, so that the team that helps on Saturday is different from the teams that works on Sunday. The set-up day is critical for organizing vendor check-ins. A key element is the vendor check-in table. At least two people staff the vendor check-in table, checking vendors off the list and giving them a badge or write band to get in the next day. 

Staff also asked each vendor how many other people will be working the booth, and if the vendor will hold passes for the other workers, or let them pick up the passes on the day of event. The rest of the staff on site is helping vendors set up their booths. 

Day of the event set-up. On the day of the event, keep a separate check-in table and area for vendors, preferably at a separate entrance with its own door.

The main registration tables have the following set-up: 

• Ticket sales table – This has two to three people staffing sales
• Brides table - At the entrance, registered brides are guided to this table to sign in, and receive a goodie bag and wrist band or lanyard.

Visually striking (in this case shocking pink) wrist bands, lanyard and goodie bags allow vendors to easily see who the brides are on the floor, keeping in mind each bride will spend a national average of $27,000 on their wedding.

All other volunteers are responsible for "waiting on vendors hand and foot." As suggested earlier, vendors who set up or finish setting-up the morning of the show will have any number of needs that the team helps with, such as finding more tape, pens, etc. 

9. The event web site

The promotional site for the event should be rich with information for both vendors and attendees, promising to help brides  "plan your wedding in just one day." 

A key area on the Bridal Fair site is the Vendor Information tab, which includes downloadable information such as Contract, floor planVendor packet with a copy of the Ace Cake promo and key benefits of the package , plus booth information and pricing, and testimonials.

A video from last years event helps sell new vendors: Brides are filmed talking one-on-one about flowers and gowns, and vendors are interviewed for testimonials while they are caught up in the moment on the show floor. In this case, images sell the quality of the event much better than a description ever could: 

 Click here and scroll down to see a copy of the video


The Chattanooga fair sells about 150 booths. While Chattanooga does not release revenues from its events, Local Media Insider estimates this size event nets around six figures; with 150 booths at the lowest price of $700 is $105,000 in revenues, with many vendors buying larger spaces, a few cash sponsors, total revenues is probably closer to $125,000 or $150,000. On the other hand, much of the incremental expense has been eliminated via trades for the venue, flowers and food for the cocktail party. Staff and promotions are already inhouse add more of an "opportunity cost" then a hard cost. Media events average a return of about 70% at Chattanooga.

With this kind of profit margin, media producers can afford to go top notch on quality - one element we noticed from the photos is the quality of the event - from the staging of the fashion show to the caliber of the celebrity guests, to the floral arrangements. This quality may be key to securing this event from more lackluster out-of-state competitors, so evaluate this opportunity. 


Many thanks to

 Angela Doggett, Events Manager, at the Chattanooga Times Free Press for sharing her expertise and resources with us,

JasonTaylor t240 Jason Taylor, president of Chattanooga Times Free Press, a pioneer and evangelist for media to compete in revenue-producing events space. 

To create an event this size means that local media will need a staff that can also handle more events; see this report on Chattanooga's overall events strategy: How to create a Multi-million Dollar Events  Franchise. A scaled back version may be a compromise and is mentioned above: Hosting more of a "boutique" wedding evening, with champagne and a girl's night out atmosphere. But one thing is clear: Media who own the event will also, ultimately, own the franchise. Radio and television sites can produce online announcements and secure large dollars from contests, but an event seals the deal and takes the most money out of the market. 

For more options also:  How to create a great wedding contest and Wedding page creates  $30,000 in ten day sale at WCTV.TV, May 2014 Top Ad Winning Wedding Contest and the full Green Paper on growing a weddings franchise from the best sites around the country.

Alisa Cromer

The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and  MediaExecsTech,  developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine,  to showcases perspectives from around the  world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.

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