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My wife, a violinist, used to play weddings where we used to live. She was plugged into the local network, and would sometimes be at bridal shows, paying their nominal charges to local vendors, because she would make it back in one wedding. She would arrange to play with as many musicians as the bride wanted, taking about a 25% cut of the extra price per musician.

Now we live in NYC. No strings musicians pay the exorbitant costs for a booth at the local bridal shows. My wife cut a special deal with one show, they gave her just a small table outside the entrance, which was plenty for her, but so recent that she hasn't played any weddings yet (these weddings could be a year or more out).

The brides paid $25 a head to come to the show. My wife paid $200 for the table. We got about 60 or so brides' contact infos, with about half phone numbers. (I helped her solicit brides, next time we'll do better.)

Another big show is coming up that charges $75 per bride. Again, they have no other string musicians. They're offering have my wife to pay $1750 for a booth, exclusivity in her field (string instruments), and to have her play several times during the show.

She doesn't need a booth. She isn't selling anything but herself. My opinion is that they should be paying my wife to play, not asking her to pay to play. Since I'm providing the funds to get her going in NYC, I've only agreed to let her pay $250.

I asked her how badly she wants to be there on a scale of 1 to 10, and she told me 7. It seems to me that string musicians do not pay to play very frequently at these shows. I doubt they'll have someone else if my wife does not play. I wonder how "High-end" it can be if they have a DJ or rock band, I don't know that market well here, maybe they'll have them.

My main question is, "What's the value in this, and what should our negotiating position be?" Obviously don't want to pay what they're asking. They don't seem to want to negotiate, but I'm thinking it's likely they'll accept her $250 offer at the last minute, rather than not have any strings at their event whatsoever. Would it be worth paying their full asking price? How would I calculate that? Maybe she should just pay the $75 entry fee, and network with vendors?

  • (Please take my advice with a grain of salt, since I'm unfamiliar with the vendor-side of bridal shows and the New York City market) At face value, $1,750 does seem exorbitant. On the other hand, a show that charges $75/bride will either be empty or filled with brides who can afford that. If it's the latter, then I could see the organizers' point of view of charging that much. I think the best course of action would be to start networking with other string players in NYC first. – Chris Forrence Sep 19 '14 at 15:25
  • Thank you, @ChrisForrence. It is my opinion that she hasn't done that (networked) enough, but the next such show is likely to be 3 to 6 months away, and given lead times on weddings, getting her on her feet with this is likely to be very expensive in terms of time... – Aaron Hall Sep 19 '14 at 15:33
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You can look at this scenario fairly objectively from a math perspective.

In the first event you described, there was a $200 fee that resulted in 60 contacts/leads. That translates into $3.33 per lead.

If you're expecting to see a similar return on the second event, take the $1750 and divide it by $3.33 which comes out to 525.5. Rounding up, do you think the 2nd event will generate this many contacts for your wife or at least the equivalent amount of exposure/audience size? If the answer is yes, do the event. If the answer is no, you might still want to consider the following...

Out of the 60 contacts that your wife met during the first event, how many hired her or referred her? Depending on how valuable you think these types of contacts are, you can still justify her participation. If one contact results in at least $1750 worth of new business, you'll break event from a monetary standpoint, and net a positive return with regards to overall business value. Your wife will build her client roster and hopefully in turn, will generate referrals in the long-run.

If the math + your gut tells you the investment isn't worth it, the $75 entrance fee to network seems like a no brainer.

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I don't know the music industry, so my answer is really several questions to consider:

1) How much is one potential client worth?

2) What are the odds of picking up a client from such an event?

3) What track record can the trade show point to in terms of how many brides you can expect to expect to be there?

4) If there probably are no other string players champing at the bit to be there, would the show be interested in an "in kind" sponsorship where she does not have a booth but plays for their event for free in exchange for a mention in the program and/or the opportunity to hand out business cards?

5) If this opportunity is really worth $1,750 why aren't there other string players vying to be there? (or maybe there are) NYC is a populated area, she can't be the only string player who wants exposure.

6) Is there anyone you know with a complimentary service she could share a booth with? (If so, this may be one of those "asking forgiveness is better than requesting permission" situations 'cause other vendors will not be happy to know people got to split the cost)

7) If she just pays the $75 to gain entrance and network, how many brides can she realistically rub shoulders with enough to let them know what she does just milling about?

8) Now that we're thinking networking - if this doesn't work out, are there other places/events she could play for free to gain exposure to the right type of people?

Networking takes time. Something like this might pay off tenfold - years from now..., but as you've noted, it's a chunk of change when you're just getting started and might not realize any payback from it. It seems to me that a string player for their event would be a very nice touch and if she approaches it like "We aren't in a position to purchase a booth this year, but we can offer our services complimentary" they just might go for it.

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For $1,750 you'd better be clued-in on how many other vendors are gonna be there, whether their merchandise is considered high-end or not (heck, I don't know), and exactly how much time can be devoted to demonstrations.

I'd be looking for some sort of guarantee, i.e. X number of potential new clients will be showing up for that kind of money... because if nobody shows up, or if only a small percentage are actually going to BUY anything, you're screwed. Maybe they can implement the pricing on a sliding scale, with $1,750 being the MAX that gets paid.

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