Basics to Know Before You Go
1. Be a (wo)man with a plan
A lot of us have done it: just show up to a bridal show because it sounds "fun" (to you or to your bridal party), quickly become overwhelmed by all the colors and sounds and free samples, and leave feeling deflated. Don't let that happen to you!
Before you go, figure out what you're trying to get out of it.
It's also important to know what you don't want to book. If you know you absolutely don't want a certain type of vendor, then commit to that ahead of time so you don't get emotionally swayed in the moment.
If you know you want to talk to any specific vendor, make sure to visit their booth early for the best chance of your date being open.
2. Know your budget. And stick to it!
The most important piece of your wedding planning is your budget. Most of us don't have unlimited wedding budgets (and if you're on this site, this is especially true) and it's unrealistic to think you can just "come up with more" if you pick something out of your budget.
In my experience, most vendors at bridal shows tend to be aiming for the $25,000 budget bride - the average Kansas City wedding budget. But it doesn't matter if they're the best DJ/photographer/baker/veil maker in the whole wide world if you can't afford them. I met vendors whose cheapest package cost more than my whole budget wedding!
However - there are nearly always vendors catering to the budget bride at these events if you just know what to look for.
If you know your maximum budget for each category, it makes it easier to say, "Sorry, that's out of my budget" or "I love your work but I only have $X. What can you do for that?"
3. Come prepared with your vendor questions.
It happens every time - you need a DJ or a stylist or a caterer and you're not expecting to find one at the show. But then you meet someone who has the right price and seems like a personality fit... if you don't have your questions prepared, you might miss out on booking at bridal show prices because you weren't ready.
4. Don't be afraid to walk away.
Every vendor there is trying to book new clients. Some use rude and aggressive tactics with brides to try to bully them into booking now even if it's clearly a bad fit. As a bride, I went to several wedding expos and experienced aggressive vendors firsthand. It only happened a few times, but desperate vendors will sometimes say things like "Your wedding will be ruined if you don't hire me" or "Your wedding sounds so boring, you definitely need my services" or "Don't you even care about your special day?".
If someone is rude to you or strikes you the wrong way, just walk away! There are plenty of affordable professional vendors in Kansas City - and probably even at that show.
Remember, vendors are on their best behavior at the wedding show. If you don't like them now, you won't like them under the high stress of a live event.
5. Look for the smaller vendors.
Naturally, most of us are attracted to the highly-designed double-wide booths with five hyped reps in tuxedos, handing out free samples, blasting dance tunes, and generally having a great (and loud) time. But when you approach, you'll find all that bravado comes with a price, and it's often higher than a budget bride can afford.
The key to finding affordable vendors at the bridal show is to find the ones who look like they're not slick trade show hosts. They have things in their booth, but it clearly wasn't created by an elite booth experience designer. It's probably just one or two people, a table with work samples, and a stack of brochures.
These tend to be the solo, local, or mom-and-daughter vendors. They may be great at floral design or baking cakes or planning romantic honeymoons, but they aren't professional trade show reps, and it shows. (And honestly, you're not hiring them to be great at trade shows - you're hiring them for what they do best!)
Don't hold their trade show inexperience against them - go talk to them! They might be the right fit for your affordable wedding.
6. Ask all the questions you need an expert on.
Wedding expos are the largest gatherings of wedding professionals in the community. Take this opportunity to ask the experts questions about planning your wedding. (Obviously, don't steal attention away from paying clients if you have no intention to book... but if you're talking to a lonely vendor or if you really might hire them, ask away!)
Questions you might ask:
You can get priceless information this way. Wedding planners and rental companies especially seem to enjoy brainstorming with brides.
7. Explain your vision, even if it doesn't seem to fit the booth.
Most vendors made their booth appeal to the "average bride": a 20-something woman with a $25,000 wedding budget and an eye for trends.
This means that in 2016 you'll see a lot of trendy booth designs: lots of natural wood, tulle gowns, perfect hand-tied wildflower bouquets and lush garlands, sequined sweetheart tables... and so on.
What if "trendy" isn't exactly your vision? Maybe you're planning a themed wedding, an offbeat soiree, or just something a whole lot simpler? That's totally fine. Explain your vision to the vendors and see what they come back with. Most of them are happy to build any type of event you want. And the ones who aren't will make it clear that they're not the right fit.
BONUS: Take someone with you!
As soon as the vendor realizes you're the bride, they're going to start asking you questions about your big day and trying to figure out how to help you. You won't get a chance to take photos of their inspiration or pick up all their brochures.
Take a companion with you (your future spouse, your best friend, or your mom are all good choices), tasked with taking photos, gathering brochures, and helping you escape from aggressive vendors.