Gone are the days when a bride-to-be strolled into Amy Craparo’s The Wow Factor Cakes in Charlotte with a blank slate and a couple of magazine clippings.

Now, brides in the throes of wedding planning come to her bakery armed with their smartphones and tablets open to their new primary source of inspiration: Pinterest, a social media site that allows users to maintain virtual pinboards with images from the web.

“Almost every bride I sit with for a consultation brings in a picture from Pinterest – almost every single one of them,” said Craparo.

It’s a virtual networking tool that’s changing the way wedding retailers do business. Many wedding vendors – from dress shops to florists, cake designers to stationery experts – now use the site as a cost-free way of interpreting trends, connecting with clients and garnering more exposure. It all helps these businesses capture a bigger piece of the $40 billion wedding-industry pie.

Since it launched in 2009, Pinterest has cracked Comscore’s list of top-50 U.S. websites, drawn nearly 26 million unique visitors and been valued at more than $1.5 billion. The site, which allows users to browse other people’s pinboards for inspiration and “repin” images to their own boards, offers a nearly infinite stream of idea for home decorating, recipes, fashion and weddings.

Approximately 68 percent of Pinterest’s users are female, and nearly one-third of those women are ages 25 to 34, according to digital ad agency Modea.

Given those demographics, it’s no wonder Pinterest seems tailor-made for the wedding industry, which revolves around evocative visuals.

“That’s the beauty of Pinterest,” said Kristin Vining of Kristin Vining Photography, who started using Pinterest in 2010, soon after the site launched. “It’s a domino effect. One person tags it, then BAM, pinning and pinning and pinning ... (People are) seeing your name over and over again.”

Vining now has nearly 1,300 followers on Pinterest, and she regularly updates her page to include photos from recent shoots and events. She has separate boards for engagement sessions, bridal portraits and wedding pictures, and strongly encourages her clients to maintain their own pages.

But for Vining, Pinterest is just one of many social media outlets to attract clientele. She also blogs and maintains a presence on Twitter and Facebook – all of which help her Search Engine Optimization ranking with Google, she said.

“(They say) it takes someone seeing your name three times to notice you and seven times to remember you,” said Vining. “Pinterest is just another one of those tools for us to reach our audience.”

Wedding planner Katrina Hutchins of Come+Together Events, often uses Pinterest to connect her clients with local vendors for rental chairs, linens, cakes and photography.

Party Reflections, a special event rental company that Hutchins works with regularly, has nearly 900 pins.

“I follow them on Pinterest, and sometimes they’ll be pinning ideas from their own inventory, and I’ll call my girl and say, ‘I want to use this in a wedding,’?” Hutchins said.

Hutchins said she also spots photos of events she planned floating around on Pinterest – even if she didn’t pin it herself first.

To encourage the same, Craparo of The Wow Factor Cakes, recently redid the gallery on her website to include a “pin it” option on each photo. Viewers now have a hassle-free way of pinning her creations on their Pinterest boards, said Craparo’s husband, Chris.

Jessica Sanders, 27, who works at Salutations Fine Stationery and Gifts, created the store’s Pinterest page last fall.

“It does take time, but I think it’s well worth it,” said Sanders. “The compliments we get and the people who reference our page – it’s almost daily.”

The Salutations Pinterest page has hundreds of pictures of invitations and gifts, along with boards, such as “traditional with a twist” and “rustic,” which they use to help clients nail down their style. These days, Sanders is also including videos and links to blog posts.

They even include links to their Pinterest page in the questionnaire they email to clients, so they can all be on the same page before the appointment.

Pinterest has directly impacted Salutations’ bottom line, Sanders said, as it proliferates new wedding trends with paper accessories that weren’t common in the pre-social media days. She cited the rise of “save the dates,” signs, vintage seating charts, scrolls, tags, fancy menus and place cards.

“Pinterest has really shown brides other paper products they could have ... all of the different things you need,” said Sanders. “Long gone are the days of (just) flowers in a vase and floating votives. That’s not happening anymore.”

Though Pinterest is rich in Do-it-Yourself tricks, a survey by TheKnot.com shows the average wedding cost is $27,800, and even higher in urban areas.