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Bring in the brides

You have everything you need to host a bridal fair right in your own store. Discover how with tips from four grocery companies.


by Cynthia L. McGowan

     If you’re looking for a way to get more wedding business, consider offering a bridal fair right in your store. These types of events can be an economical and practical way for you to show the community how your store can take care of all their wedding needs, from flowers to the cake. We talked to four grocery companies to find out how they have grown their wedding business with storewide expos.

attention for a new store

     For a brand new Hy-Vee in Topeka, Kan., offering multiple mini bridal fairs was a perfect way to let the community know about the store’s wedding services. In fact, it doubled its wedding business the first year after offering the bridal fairs.
     The store, the only Hy-Vee in Topeka, opened in May 2008. Newer and remodeled Hy-Vees feature club rooms, and the Topeka club room proved ideal for a mini bridal fair featuring floral, catering, bakery and other food-related departments.
     The store offered seven monthly bridal fairs its first year, recalls Floral Manager Kay Shipp, who coordinates the events. As the floral department’s wedding business grew, Ms. Shipp reduced the number of bridal fairs, offering them every other month the second year and three times a year presently.
     Ms. Shipp begins planning the fairs at least a month ahead, emailing department managers to remind them about the event and ask for product samples and demonstrations. They also discuss the fairs at weekly manager meetings.
     The fairs also feature outside vendors including a photographer, a bridal shop, a jeweler, a makeup consultant, a disc jockey, a travel agency and a photo booth. They receive exhibit space for free; their presence helps make the bridal fair a one-stop venue for couples. Ms. Shipp contacts the vendors a month before the fair and right before the event to confirm they are going to be there. “I don’t like to have empty tables,” she confides.
     The store publicizes the fair through radio and newspaper advertising as well as in-store intercom announcements and signage. Each fair draws about 25 people, which Ms. Shipp is happy with because it allows one-on-one time with brides.
     One floral designer usually staffs the events, which take place on weeknights. In addition to opportunities to sample catering offerings and check out beautiful wedding cakes, the brides see several styles of bouquets, centerpieces, corsages and boutonnieres, and they also can peruse wedding books. The designers will conduct consultations on the spot if the fair isn’t busy, and they also book them for future dates.
     Ms. Shipp credits the fairs with boosting her wedding business. “I’m positive that they did,” she remarks, noting that the floral department served about 25 weddings its first year in business, doubled that number the second year, and has had about 50 weddings a year since.
     Those kinds of results demonstrate why Hy-Vee’s corporate floral team encourages stores to offer bridal fairs, reports Cindy Sulzman, Hy-Vee’s assistant vice president for floral operations. “It’s a way to get our name out there,” she confirms.
     Ms. Sulzman cautions, however, that stores must weigh the cost of the events versus their benefits. “Return on investment has to be there for the stores,” she reminds.
     Ms. Sulzman estimates that Hy-Vee stores offer between 50 to 60 bridal fairs a year among its more than 230 locations, and they use a variety of strategies to keep costs down. For example, the stores in the Omaha, Neb., market come together as a group, rent a venue and put on a large show for the community, sharing costs and resources.
     In West Des Moines, Iowa, Hy-Vee’s corporate headquarters, the company has a conference center where several stores team up to participate in bridal shows. In both the Omaha and Des Moines events, outside vendors rent booth space, helping offset the costs.
     To ensure floral departments have the time and labor to create the designs needed for the fairs, perform setup and staff the events, some schedule them during slower times of the year. Good communication and teamwork among all departments also are important for success. “They need the support and the help from the entire store when they’re trying to put something like this together,” Ms. Sulzman emphasizes.

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Hy-Vee Photos: Logan Photography & Video

LOCATION Topeka, Kan.
EVENT Mini bridal fairs throughout the year


advice for first-timers

Plan, plan, plan. Have a plan, and work your plan. You can’t wing something like this.
You want to show customers the absolute best thing you can do. You need to show them the wow factor, and it needs to draw them in.

Cindy Sulzman
Hy-Vee assistant vice president, floral operations
West Des Moines, Iowa
  Make sure you get the word out so people know it’s happening. Use fliers, television, radio and in-store billboards.

Kay Shipp, floral manager
Topeka, Kan.


community event

     Buehler’s Fresh Foods in Wadsworth, Ohio, has a community room that individuals or groups can use for their events for free. About three years ago, Community Relations Manager Mary Christ realized that having a bridal fair in the room would be an ideal way to showcase the store’s wedding services while also letting the public see how they could use the venue.
     “I thought, what better thing than to have a really cool bridal show in this community room,” Ms. Christ recalls. “It would feature so many departments in our store: the floral, the catering, the bakery, and so on, and then it would also showcase our room. If [customers] wanted to have a shower or a bridal dinner there, we can do those things too‚ and with catering.”
     The store now offers annual bridal fairs, with the next one scheduled for November. Ms. Christ coordinates the events, which take place on a Saturday and a Sunday, and starts planning them at least six months in advance. One of the first things she does is meet with the managers of the departments involved, choosing the date, brainstorming themes and working out other details.
     She also invites outside vendors, including a photographer, a bridal shop and a disc jockey, and they help publicize the event by posting fliers in their businesses. The store also publicizes it with in-store signage and a display table at the store entrance featuring wedding cakes, florals, a catering vignette and fliers.
     When preparing for the event, Jean Rakich, the floral manager, says her staff of nine full- and part-timers work the designs required for the show into their regular duties. She doesn’t have to order extra flowers—“We just take from what we have,” she explains.
     The florists take care to ensure the event’s designs, including bouquets, table arrangements, corsages, boutonnieres and cake flowers, make a statement and let the brides know what the department can do for them. Designer Kelly Johnson remarks, “I don’t want them to come in here and be disappointed about anything that they would see. When they walk into the room, I want them to see the wow factor.”
     Visitors also see beautifully decorated cakes; sample catering and wine offerings; and discover a formal table display, complete with linens, stemware and china. The linens and tableware are provided by a local vendor and are available through Buehler’s for couples to rent.
     At least one floral designer is on hand throughout the show, meeting with brides and showing them wedding books and samples. Ms. Rakich reports that the department has booked several weddings while at the show and also sets future consultations. The designers ask the brides to give contact information, and everyone receives a follow-up call after the show.
     Ms. Rakich believes the bridal shows are a good way to boost the department’s wedding business but also to let potential clients know about all its services. “We don’t have much expense in it, just some of our time,” she enthuses. “I think it’s wonderful for us.”

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buehler’s fresh foods

LOCATION Wadsworth, Ohio
EVENT Annual Bridal Show


advice for first-timers

Get outside vendors involved—a photographer, a jeweler, a bridal shop, etc. That really helped us.

Jean Rakich, floral manager
Buehler’s Fresh Foods
Wadsworth, Ohio


customer excitement
     Market Street, a banner of Lubbock, Texas-based United Supermarkets, focuses on creating customer excitement with its annual two-day “We Do ‘I Do’s’” wedding expos. “There’s a really big store impact that weekend,” confirms Bradley Gaines, Market Street’s floral supervisor.
     The expos are planned at the corporate level, with instructions given to the 10 Market Street stores about a month before the events, which usually take place on a Saturday and Sunday in late February or early March. Frequent radio advertisements help build consumer anticipation, Mr. Gaines remarks.
     The expos are at the front of the stores for maximum exposure, and some stores have live music as well as limousines or horses and carriages showcasing their services outside. Other nonstore vendors include photographers and rental companies.
     The expos feature several themed vignettes, with the floral departments contributing altar arrangements, reception centerpieces, hand-tied bridal bouquets, corsages, boutonnieres and cake flowers to each one. “It usually takes two people about 10 hours to get everything designed and displayed,” Mr. Gaines says.
     Two floral designers staff each event, showing brides samples and the department’s wedding brochure. “We usually get eight to 10 consultations a day” at the expos, Mr. Gaines reveals.
     The expos also feature samples from bakery and catering as well as wine tastings presented by Market Street’s sommeliers. Adding to the wedding theme are a “bride” in a wedding dress holding a bouquet while her “groom” offers cake samples.
     One couple at each store wins a $600 wedding package that includes $200 each in floral, bakery and catering services. Market Street’s concierges use the contact information received from the giveaway registration to follow up with attendees after the event.
     Mr. Gaines says the expos have helped grow Market Street’s wedding business, which averages one to two nuptials a weekend per store. He also says they’re good for letting customers know about the floral department’s services in general. “Even if they’re not in the arena for a wedding, [the expos] sure spark a lot of interest.”

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market street

LOCATION Headquartered in Lubbock, Texas
NUMBER OF FLORAL EMPLOYEES Averages four to six per store
NUMBER OF WEDDINGS One to two per weekend, per store
EVENT Annual “We Do ‘I Do’s’” wedding expos in all 10 Market Street stores


advice for first-timers

The bigger the better. Show what you can do. Really wow them.

Bradley Gaines, floral supervisor
Market Street
Lubbock, Texas


one-time showcase

     Sarah Parslow, floral supervisor at a new Macey’s in Providence, Utah, knew weddings could be a lucrative way to boost sales. But first she had to get the word out about her fledgling department’s services.
     She decided to organize a wedding showcase in August 2008 in the store, enlisting other departments to take part, too. It was so successful that Mrs. Parslow has as much wedding work as her department can handle, and she doesn’t feel the need to have another in-store bridal fair.
     Mrs. Parslow and her staff of two part-timers planned the wedding showcase in about a month and a half. They decided on four themes, and asked other store departments, including bakery, deli and produce, to offer coordinating fare. A large banner at the front of the store as well as radio advertisements and public address announcements publicized the event.
     Inside the store, wedding shoppers found everything they needed to plan the big day. The floral department showcased vignettes of wedding flowers in the four themes: early summer, late summer/fall, winter, and black and white. Mrs. Parslow also gave a free class in the store’s “Little Theater” on wedding ideas and flower styles.
     Outside vendors helped make the showcase a one-stop venue for couples. In advance of the showcase, a local photographer took photos of Macey’s florals, and the store used them in a wedding brochure and posters. In return, he received credit for the photos as well as space in the showcase to exhibit his work. A backdrop business “transformed our lobby into something amazing,” Mrs. Parslow shares. A local bridal shop displayed dresses, and a nearby resort featured its wedding services.
     At the showcase, seven couples booked the department’s services, and then word-of-mouth advertising helped spread the news to other couples. The year of the showcase, 2008, Macey’s provided flowers for 69 weddings, up from 15 the year before. In 2009, the business grew even more, to 80 weddings. So far this year, the store has 90 weddings booked. The wedding showcase “really kicked it off,” Mrs. Parslow describes.

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LOCATION Providence, Utah
NUMBER OF WEDDINGS 90 so far this year
EVENT One-time Wedding Showcase


advice for first-timers

Make sure everything’s cohesive and that the bridal fair has a good flow to it. Have lots of samples and a place to do consultations that’s out of the way.

Sarah Parslow, floral supervisor
Providence, Utah


pre-event to-do list

  • Meet with leaders of the other store departments that will be part of the bridal fair
  • Pick your date
  • Invite outside vendors (photographers, bridal shops, etc.)
  • Choose your themes and colors
  • Make sure your designs are up to date and on trend
  • Order products
  • Plan the production schedule for the floral products that will be showcased
  • Order brochures of your floral products
  • Schedule times for working the fair
  • Decide on pricing; will you offer a discount for couples who choose your store for all their wedding needs?
  • Have wedding books and magazines on hand
  • Decide on publicity, whether through newspaper, television and radio advertising; in-store signage; bag stuffers; and social media




Reach Editor in Chief Cynthia L. McGowan at or (800) 355-8086.