How to Attend Trade Shows in China Like a Pro
April is Trade Show time in China! Both throughout mainland China and Hong Kong there are several big trade shows going on. April is a prime trade show time for buyers and importers as it gives buyers an opportunity to buy products and launch them before the Christmas holiday season.
I'm a HUGE fan of Trade Shows for two reasons. First, they're great for meeting Suppliers not advertising on Alibaba. Second, they're great for building relationships with Suppliers. I'll go into why both of these things are critical for your success later in the article.
In this post I am going to give an overview of some of the shows going on during April and some tips and strategies for these shows.
What Events are Happening?
Guangzhou and Hong Kong are the trade show capitals. Guangzhou is located in mainland China but is only a very convenient 2 hour train ride away from Hong Kong on the high speed train. It's so convenient that I've known people to stay in Hong Kong and commute every day to the shows in Guangzhou.
There's three main trade shows in the region:
- Canton Fair, Guangzhou (see my guide) : the Mecca of Chinese Trade shows
- Global Sources Fairs, Hong Kong: Electronics/Home and Giftware/Fashion Shows
- HKTDC Fairs, Hong Kong: Lighting/Electronics/Houseware/Textiles and Furnishings/Gifts and Premium
Along with this, there's some other events going on:
- Global Sources Summit, Guangzhou: Geared towards eCommerce and Amazon Sellers sourcing from China. Held concurrently with the Global Sources Trade Shows
- Cross Border Summit, Shenzhen: Aimed at ecommerce sellers based in Asia but still a lot of good information for non-Asia based sellers.
Why Go to Trade Shows
The primary reasons I think trade shows are incredibly valuable are as follows:
- Find Suppliers not advertising on Alibaba
- Build relationships immediately with Suppliers
- Meet other vendors for other services (i.e. freight forwarding, FBA inspection, etc.)
Finding Suppliers not advertising on Alibaba is striking gold. Immediately, when you find a Supplier not advertising on Alibaba you've eliminated the VAST majority of your competition as the VAST majority of your competition only finds Suppliers on Alibaba. These Suppliers typically have exclusive products, and often they have no ecommerce sellers for them. In my experience about 5-10% of Suppliers at Trade Shows aren't advertising on Alibaba.
The second main reason to attend trade shows is to build relationships with Suppliers. You've probably heard of guanxi which is the important concept of relationships in China. Whether or not a Westerner can build true guanxi there's absolutely no denying that the Chinese value relationships in the context of business way more than Westerners. It's difficult to build relationships through email and WeChat. Meeting in person immediately builds a much closer relationship. Especially as more and more Chinese Suppliers are becoming selective with who they do business with, meeting Suppliers face to face at trade shows instantaneously increases the likelihood that that Supplier will do business with you.
And finally, trade shows are a great way to interact with vendors for other services. If you're looking for a freight forwarder, inspection agency, or someone to give you end to end services from China all the way to Amazon FBA, trade shows are a great way to find such vendors. You'll find vendors for services you never even knew existed.
Before the Show: Generate a List of 3-5 Potential Products Beforehand
You need to have a very clear idea of what products you're looking for BEFORE the show starts and then hunt for those products at the show. You will find them.
Do this before the show: generate a list of 3-5 products beforehand that you're looking for. Have questions prepared beforehand and know the key characteristics and specifications for them. I know–many of you are probably thinking of going to the Canton Fair for idea generation because you're stuck trying to figure out what products to import. Don't do this as you're unlikely to succeed. At a very minimum, you need to know what niche you're lucking at. (and “Housewares” is not a narrow enough niche!) You can browse the Canton Fair Exhibitor List beforehand and also browse the websites of vendors (be warned, the website is a pain to navigate but the info is there).
If you are looking for products with no clear direction I GUARANTEE you this is what will happen: you will wander around for hours, you'll be overwhelmed with all of the product selection, you'll get a bunch of brochures, and you'll accomplish nothing from the show that you could not have done from home.
At the Show – Stay Organized
If you've ever attended a trade show, you know that you're going to walk away with a tote back full of brochures and business cards. By the time you get back to your hotel, you will start to forget who is who and by the time you make it back to home you won't even remember what language they spoke in China.
Just like you generated a list of 3-5 potential products, also aim to generate a list of 5-7 Suppliers you're seriously interested in. For me personally, I bring a bunch of sticky pads to attach notes to put on Supplier's brochures and business cards. For the Suppliers that I know I will be contacting, I take a picture of their business card with my cell phone right away in case I lose their card. I may also email them while at their booth with a simple “Hi–It's Dave, we just met” and try to have them acknowledge receiving the email (and ideally reply back to me). Why? Because Chinese Suppliers are notorious for not responding to emails either because a) their email sucks thanks to the great fire wall, or b) they're picky about who they do business with. Emailing them at their booth ensures they get your email and also increases the chances they'll do business with you.
Back at the Hotel: Prioritize Main Contacts
I find the time back at my hotel almost more productive than my time at the fair. By this point, products are still somewhat fresh in my mind. I go through all the brochures. Hopefully I have a good idea of the potential market for the products even before the show but I still usually need to do some further product research once I've actually seen and felt the exact product.
Normally I use eBay to see how many items have been sold and Amazon to see how many competitors there are. With eBay through the “Recently Sold” search functionality you can see exactly how many of a specific widget have been sold. I'm not so concerned with how many items are being sold, but how much money they're being sold for. I need to make sure my target price isn't far off from what other units are being sold for.
Amazon isn't as good as eBay for seeing the total number of units sold historically, but it is good seeing the number of competitors. If the number of competitors with the exact same product is 10 or less, I'm generally satisfied as I know I can pretty easily differentiate the products. I go into detail on my differentiation strategy along with pricing strategy in our paid Importing Course.
If I have another day at the show, I will often have a bunch of followup questions regarding the products. I'll use the next day to really drill down more specific questions with the Suppliers.
Back at Home: Final Negotiations
Once I'm back at home, I should have a good idea of exactly what Suppliers I want to work with and what products I plan to buy. By the this point I have a good idea of the product specifications, costs, and whether or not I think I can sell the products at a reasonable profit so hopefully by this point I'm merely finalizing order details such as:
- Pricing, specifically future discounts for larger orders (first order will normally be small)
- Packaging (including documentations, actual packaging, and barcoding/stickers)
- Critical deadlines for shipping products
- Payment details
As long as I can get an initial minimum order quantity low enough, I normally don't worry about ordering samples. I should have seen and felt the product at the trade show and any sample (re: “golden sample”) they send me is unlikely to vary much from what I had previously experienced.
I'm aiming to place any purchase orders within a couple weeks of being home. I know some people, especially larger vendors, place purchase orders at the shows but I've never felt comfortable doing this as I still have too many questions after the show.
General Tips for Visiting Shows in China
Here are some general tips for visiting shows in China. Read this over before you leave :)
- Make sure you have a Chinese Visa
- Make sure you have a multiple entry Chinese visa if you plan to enter Hong Kong and then go back to China
- Most Westerners don't require a visa for Hong Kong but check to make sure
- Remember, Hong Kong and China are for all intents and purposes two separate countries
- Cirrus enabled ATMs (required for most Western bank cards) are plentiful but not ubiquitous in China – don't ever be in a position where you need to find an ATM
- Bring business cards with a gmail or hotmail email address that you don't mind receiving spam to
- Dress in breathable clothing as southern China is very warm–I prefer slacks and a polo t-shirt (avoid jeans)
- Wear comfortable shoes – you don't need to dress up too much
- Bring a fully charged cell phone for photo purposes
- Bring a portable USB charging device
- Have a 4G sim card–do not expect to be able to get Wifi at any China trade show
- Make sure you or your business isn't reliant on any Google product (they're blocked in China)
- Buy a VPN. Panda Pow is my favorite ($9)
- A rolly bag or backpack to carry all of the materials you’ll accumulate
- Buy an activated Hong Kong (Hong Kong is preferable to avoid the great firewall) sim card or China Sim card beforehand on eBay
- Have a card written with the name of hotel on it in Chinese
- Canton Fair: Book a hotel near Line 8 on the Subway
- Canton Fair: Register for your badge before hand
- Canton Fair: Your badge and/or registration approval (that you got after registering for it above)
If you're selling products that are heavily dependent on Christmas sales, April is a great time to head over to China to visit at least one or two trade shows. In addition to trade shows, there's a lot of other importing and ecommerce focused events held during the same time. From April 15-21 I'll be in Guangzhou and Hong Hong attending the Canton Fair and the Global Sources trade show and Summit event. If you're attending any of these shows please drop a note in the comments below. If you're considering going to any events, feel free to post any questions below as well and I'll be happy to try and help.
I’m curious – why do you recommend using a VPN? What do you like about Panda Pow, and do you just use it when travelling?
Many western websites are blocked in China, mainly any google app, but also facebook/twitter/etc.
Good informative article. I’m getting ready to head to China to import stuff. I’m looking into buying a container in China and filling it up and bring it back instead of renting. Do you recommend any sourcing/freight companies? I travel back and forth from Vancouver, Canada and am going to the Canton Fair, possibly Yiwu market and other places for a month. Also, have you ever rented out a furnished house/condo instead of a hotel while in China instead of a hotel? I saw some places available on airbnb that look like they would be more convenient than staying at a hotel.
Renting it? As in you want to keep the container in Vancouver for a few months? Or do you just mean fill it up in China, move it to Vancouver, and unload it? A sourcing company and freight forwarder are two different things, so what services in particular are you looking? (for a freight forwarder try Trust Freight in Vancouver).
Yes, there are some good deals on furnished apartments in China. Some may or may not rent to foreigners, so make sure that they will. Also, I’d advise booking at least your first night or two in a hotel as immigration and/or the embassy/consulate will want to see it when doing your visa.
I am looking for hair and eyelashes would I find that at the trade show or do I need to go to the convention centers?
I’ll forward your question to doug ;)
Hi Dave. Very helpful article.
I am nurturing the idea of going to Canton for fashion and textile purposes. I am a designer and have been helping my clients get in contact with china manufacturers and textile factories. Also, I’d like to expand my personal catalog of textiles so that I can advise clients on what to use for the designs. Do you know if the exhibitors are reluctant on giving fabric swatches?
Is there a good online way to get in touch with manufacturers in the meantime? I;m starting a research on them.
Are the fairs free? Are hotels way much expensive than usual during fair venues?
If you pay for shipping and perhaps sample costs, most are willing. Visit their websites for contact info and contact them this way. Most of the fairs are free; hotels can go up in price but China always has a huge number of hotels to fit every budget :)
Very informative article. I saw that most messages were before the pandemic. After the pandemic what’s going on with the Trade shows? Can one still attend a Trade show in China? How can one get invitation to attend a show.
China is basically off-limits currently.