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Episode 27: 2016 Canton Fair and Hong Kong Gift Show Wrap-Up

We have recently been overseas to attend the Canton Fair and the Hong Kong Gift Show. So on today’s episode we share our itinerary from the trip and what kind of experience we had over there. We attended both fairs and we both toured factories of companies who were potential business partners.

It was an interesting cultural exchange and we have definitely learned a lot about Asian business practices through our various experiences. We hope our discussion and tips help all of you decide if these fairs are a good business move for you.

The topics we discussed today are:

  • Our impressions of the Canton Fair
  • What it is like doing business in Japan
  • Our daily itinerary over the long stay
  • Unusual placement and hard to find vendors
  • The questions to ask vendors
  • Our impressions of Hong Kong

Resources we mention today:

Hong Kong Gift Show

Canton Fair

If you have any questions or anything you’d like us to discuss on the podcast please go to and fill out the contact form. Also we would really appreciate if you would leave us a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening!

Full Audio Transcription

Mike:   Hi, this is Mike.

Grant:  And this is Grant.

Mike:   And welcome to this edition of the EcomCrew podcast.  It feels like it’s been a while since we recorded and that’s because it has.  Grant and I actually just got back from China and we recorded a whole bunch of episodes beforehand and I think the episodes that are actually out right now that are just finishing up are the how to source from near and far, so this is kind of a good segue into wrapping that whole series up.  And so yeah, I mean we went over there in mid-April for the Canton Fair and Hong Kong – it wasn’t the Mega Show.  They did gifts and premium fare.  And then came back to the Canton Fair and went over to Taiwan and basically did a Southeastern Asian trip and it’s pretty crazy.  So, Grant, how are you feeling?  You still jetlagged?

Grant:  Yup.  I ended up waking up I think at 3:00 this morning and I ended up crashing completely at about 5:00 or 6:00PM last night, so still a little bit jetlagged but I think today will finally be the day that I make it to the end of the day alive instead of a zombie.  How about you?

Mike:   Yeah.  It was pretty funny.  Yesterday I got up at 4:00AM and felt great actually.  I got a decent night’s sleep at 4:00AM but it was a pretty eventful day because it was the first day back in the office after almost three weeks and like 3:30 came and I felt like someone had given me a sleeping pill.  It was ridiculous how tired I got.  And I was just like, “All right,” 4:00 came and I was just like, “I’m going home,” and passed out on the sofa for a couple hours and woke up at 6:30 this morning, so not quite so bad.  I got up and worked out a little bit and here I am.  Here we are recording.  So what did you think?  It was your first time, my second time headed over there.  What was your big takeaway of the Canton Fair?

Grant:  Well, I think there’s nothing that can really be said for just how big the Canton Fair is and we always hear about how big something is.  And it’s almost like somebody trying to describe a skyscraper for you and saying, “Well, it’s about this tall or that tall,” or saying it’s the tallest in the world and you just never really, truly understand until you finally go and see it in person.  And with the Canton Fair, just walking that whole thing every day, just going back and forth between the vendor stalls and seeing, I don’t know.  I would put it probably at somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 vendors over there, which is just an absurd amount when you think about it.  I mean that should be like the amount of buyers at any normal convention, but the sheer amount of vendors they had is just ridiculous over there.

Mike:   Yeah, it’s crazy.  I mean I try to put it in perspective for people on a pass, but one thing that kind of like resonated with me from this trip is, you know, we were looking at Hall 4.2, which doesn’t really mean a lot to people.  I’ll get to what that is in a second but we own and we’ve been talking about developing products for that so we were over there and just that one section from, what was it?  Like 9:30AM, Grant, to 5:30PM and it was our last full day together over there and so we didn’t take lunch and I took one restroom break.  So it was like from 9:30 to 5:30 in Hall 4.2.  And to give people some reference to that, there are 16 halls and every hall has at least a .1 and a .2 and some of them have a .3 and .4.  So basically, if you had, I don’t know, 32 days, you’d like get through Phase Two or Phase Three.  That might put it in perspective.

Grant:  Mm-hmm.  Yeah, and every hall has a letter designation from A through I guess it would depend on how big that particular hall is but I think P or…

Mike:   Yeah, all of them are a little bit different.

Grant:  P to S.

Mike:   Yeah, something like that.  Yeah.

Grant:  So we’re talking like 20 rows and each row would have number 1 through probably 40 or so.  So we’re talking 20 by 40 row-span.  So that’s about 800 vendors per one hall area.  And even if you spent a minute at every vendor, I mean that’s 800 minutes.  It just gets ridiculous after a while.

Mike:   It’s totally crazy.  But yeah, definitely a worthwhile trip.  I was worried going back this time because we were just there six months beforehand and we got a lot out of it six months ago, but I was worried A, that there would be a lot of the same vendors there, which there were, but I was also just kind of worried about having as productive a trip.  And as it turned out for me, I found this trip to be some multiple more worthwhile for us.  I think a lot of it was just having the experience of being there before so I had a little bit better game plan going into it.  We came with a little bit bigger war chest financially.  We’ve been doing well over the last year and the sales from the last six months have helped fund what we were looking for at this particular fair at this time.  Plus, we were looking to grow the Tactical brand while we were over there.  So obviously, being your first time, Grant, you can’t really compare as far as productivity, but for us, we landed and I was talking to my wife and we’re already thinking about the fair in October/November just because going over there and meeting with people face-to-face, there’s just nothing that can make up for that.

Grant:  Yeah, you’ve got to be there to see it.

Mike:   Yup.  And then, in addition to just going to the fair, we both went on several factory tours.  And most of those were with people that we already have a relationship with.  A couple of them were with new prospective manufacturers, but just strengthening that relationship with people that you are spending mid-five figures or low six figures with every three to six months when you’re reordering makes a big difference.  I find that having that relationship makes it harder for them to say no to you, it makes them work a little bit harder for you, you get to have dinner with them or lunch, which is kind of a big part of Chinese business culture, see the factory, take some pictures, see the environment and how your products are being made, get a better understanding of all that.  For me, it’s just completely worthwhile.  What did you think of that, Grant?

Grant:  Yeah, and we also got two free lunches out of it as well.  Or actually, a free dinner and free lunch from prospective buyers that are trying to wine and dine us.  And you got a nice bottle of Martell cognac for your lunch break.

Mike:   Yeah, that was interesting.  Should we tell that story?  I thought it was pretty funny actually.

Grant:  Yeah, I thought that was quite worthwhile.

Mike:   So I had been on other factory tours and had probably at this point like five or six different factories buy me lunch or dinner, and they’re typically at a particular restaurant, a standard restaurant, nothing too fancy or anything like that.  But it was interesting.  This guy’s factory was, I don’t know, maybe a quarter mile from a really swanky hotel.  He takes us over to this hotel and as we’re on the way over there, he asked if we like whiskey with lunch.  I was like, “All right.  Yeah, I guess there’s only one way to answer this question.”  So I was like, “Sure, whatever,” and so I’m expecting like a glass of whiskey maybe.  And so they usher us into this hotel and we go up to like the third or fourth floor and we go into this private dining room, which was literally just for us.  It was my wife and I, Grant, another business partner that was with us, and two guys from this factory.  And in the room was just like this couch and we sit down not even at the table first and we’re kind of just chilling out having some tea and ordering our food.  And then, once the food comes, we go sit down at the table and out comes this bottle of whiskey, which we pretty much polished off before the end of lunch and I’m not sure that I could walk anywhere near in a straight line by the time we got done with that meal.

Grant:  Yeah, it went from just a little taste to like, “Cheers, and make sure you don’t sit because you’re got to shoot it.”

Mike:   Luckily for me, I drink whiskey and so I kind of have a palate for it and can handle the strength of it but I sip whiskey.  I mean I do enjoy my whiskey but I took a sip.  He’s like, “No, no.  Shoot.”  The guy could speak like ten words of English, but one of them was “shoot” and I was like, “Oh, gosh.”  And the thing that was funny is we’re all drinking shots of whiskey.  I think between Grant and my wife and the other guy that was there, you guys had what?  Maybe like five shots?  But then he wanted to shoot with me like one on one.  I guess that’s like kind of a part of Chinese custom, so it was, “Just Mike,” and I’m like, “Oh, gosh.  I’m the lucky one here.”  So I got a few extra shots and yeah, just in the middle of the day here.  It was my first meal of the day on an empty stomach and I was definitely feeling it.  I was sweating by the time we got out of there.

Grant:  There’s definitely a cultural aspect to that, but coming from like the Japanese culture as well where I’ve done a little bit of like trade with those guys, there’s also an ulterior motive, which is really that whole idea that, one, alcohol is kind of I guess you could call it the socializer, but two, it’s also the truth serum.  And a lot of these guys kind of believe that the more that they can get you to drink, the more that you’ll loosen up and kind of tell them what you’re really thinking and whatnot.  So it was interesting because this guy ended up giving us the different terms at the end of lunch than what he had told us to begin with regarding the printing type and whatnot.  So it was kind of the, “Oh, by the way, now that you’re drunk I’m going to let you know about these tiny little details that you might not otherwise want to know,” which was not so tiny after all.

Mike:   Yeah.  I was pretty annoyed by that and it was probably good that I had had a few drinks when he told me that.  Like the whole point that we were here is to get this one particular type of printing and it was an interesting time.  And then we had what?  Four and a half hours to think about it stuff in traffic on the way back to Guangzhou after that.  I think that might’ve been one of the worst traffic jams I’ve ever been in.

Grant:  Pretty much.  That was an epic ride back on the Chinese like holiday of some kind.

Mike:   There were people stopping on the side of the road to use the bathroom in the woods and looking back at it, I wish we did that now because by the time we got back to Guangzhou, I think I might’ve ruptured something.

Grant:  Oh yeah, remember because we got back to the Weston.  I was peeing like a racehorse in that bathroom.  I think like three whole schools of people came out there and they left by the time I was done.

Mike:   Yeah, it was interesting.  So yes, I guess for our audience, maybe let’s just kind of go through chronologically a little bit what we did there.  So we both landed in Guangzhou.  I actually got a direct flight from L.A. and I think you had to connect through –

Grant:  Taipei.

Mike:   Taipei, okay.  Yeah because you were going to Taipei, we both did, later.  So we actually did it backwards.  I had a direct flight there and you had a direct flight home.  Yeah, so we went directly to Guangzhou.  Last year I had actually flown into Hong Kong because we were at that fair first so I had an extra day.  I wanted a day to acclimate just to time change and it worked out great for me because we actually had a meeting out first day with a manufacturer who’s up in Shanghai so our Shanghai manufacturer flew down for the day and showed us basically what they had been working on, brought us samples and stuff.  That was a really great way to kick off the trip for us.  Then, the nest few days I guess, we went to Phase Two, which is primarily – you were looking at kitchen stuff, I guess, Grant, and we didn’t really have a whole lot to look at in Phase Two and were just walking around aimlessly just looking for ideas and stuff.  We got to the point we were so desperate, we were actually looking at toilet paper to buy in container loads and resell.  Luckily –

Grant:  Oh, God.  Don’t even get me started on that.

Mike:   Luckily, we came to our senses and skipped that, but on that same day we found some stuff for IceWraps that was, in my opinion, in the wrong part of the fair.  And that’s like one of the things that was frustrating to me this year.  The fair’s just so big it’s hard for people to classify where to be, so sometimes you find, for instance, IceWraps products not in the healthcare part.  But did you find any of that type of thing, Grant, or were you just kind of focused on your different areas and that was that?

Grant:  I definitely had a lot of that issue, and I think that’s probably one of the big things that is going to happen for anybody going to the fair, which is that you have this idea that you can go and look up the vendor directory and look up keywords and just kind of formulate like a plan of attack and that way you’re just not walking around the fair aimlessly, but the reality is I mean I don’t know if the number’s correct but maybe five to ten of all booths are either bought or sold, which means that you arrive at a booth and it’s like that time we thought we were going to be looking at tactical gear and then there’s a guy selling ribbons and we’re like, “Wait a minute.”

Mike:   Yeah.  And we looked at it like three times and this was actually the first time because I didn’t encounter this last year and if I did, I just didn’t realize it.  I probably did, I just didn’t realize it.  But yeah, we were like, “The guy’s selling ribbon.”  So we went over there and asked him in Chinese (I think you asked him or maybe Michelle did, but) just like, “What the heck’s going on here?” and they just disclosed, “Hey, we bought the booth from someone else.”  And it actually became a problem in the show this year.  I didn’t have this problem last year but there were some people that we wanted to go back and talk to a second time and we’d type their name into the directory, the business card that they gave us, and it wouldn’t show up at all and it was because they had bought the booth from someone else and the booth was in the directory still under someone else.  I’d kind of equate this to maybe Redskin season tickets where no one ever sells their booth because they’re just maybe so valuable.  I don’t know like how the landscape of the Canton Fair is because there are people that are in crappy positions in the fair or there’s like another fair that actually happens like at the same time in a building next door to the Canton Fair.  Maybe the fair’s sold out and there’s just no more space left.  It sure looks sold out.  I mean we didn’t see any – I’ve been there twice now so I haven’t seen any empty stalls.  Did you notice any empty spaces in the convention hall at all, Grant?

Grant:  I think I only saw a few that were like I think maybe they forgot to get their goods in somehow.  Like they were a little bit like in construction.  But no like straight-up empty ones.

Mike:   And it wasn’t like the upper deck of a football game that’s not sold out where there’s just like huge sections of the fair not occupied.

Grant:  Right.  Yeah.  And at the Hong Kong Gift Show, there was a few, especially in like the more remote rooms that were like not occupied, but at the Canton Fair, no.  Everything was pretty much booked.

Mike:   So I think one tip: if you’re in a booth where you think you might want to go back – and I did this last year but this happened mostly because we were kind of rushing through that one day of Phase Three that we were just kind of talking about a few minutes ago when we were in Hall 4.2 and yeah, it was tough.  I mean it wasn’t that big of a deal.  Luckily, I had their business card.  We take really good notes while we’re there.  I mean what we do is actually the same thing that the manufacturers do, which is to have like one of these little 4×6 sized notebooks and you don’t have to bring a staple gun with you because they all have one in their booth, so you just staple one business card per page and you take your notes right on that.  So I had the business cards and we just called them and said, “Hey, what booth number are you in?” and they’d be all excited, “Oh, when can we expect you to come by?  We’ll have champagne to something ready for you,” that kind of attitude because they’re excited to get people to come back because they know you’re interested at that point.  But yeah, maybe just write down the booth number on the business card or something if you have interest in going back.

Grant:  I would definitely say having been there a number of days, it’s pretty interesting because one of the things we would do – unless you are very, very specialized, you’re not always going to know everything there is to know about your particular product.  And we always had a bit of a template going up to somebody just from your standard trading with China, which is ask, “What is your MOQ?  What’s the minimum order?  What is your shipping port?  What terms do you ship by?”  And just start asking about the product and whatnot.  And one of the ways to get like a lot of information out of the vendors, you really start digging deep by asking about the product itself and asking, “What kind of material is it?”  If you’re doing textiles, “What kind of stitching?”  Or one thing that you always like to ask, Mike, is how many people work at your factory?”  And I always generally ask what kind of certifications they have, if they’re ISO9001 certified, which is like a quality control standard, or if they are a BCSI, which is AKA, the “I’m not a sweatshop” certification, which is kind of laughable because you can still get certified, but that’s not here nor there.

But you start asking a bunch of these kind of questions and I think that kind of, maybe I’m biased here, but I do think when you ask a bit more hard questions like that it gives them a better impression of you, which I actually do think helps out because, in my opinion, like if I’m a vendor and a guy just comes up to me and is like, “What’s the price on that?” as the very first thing, I’m probably just going to not give necessarily a high price because I don’t know what he’s coming from or what she’s trying to get it.  And then if they ask the MOQ afterward, I’m going to say, “Well, okay.  They just want to know the price and how much they want to buy and they’re just kind of shopping around.  Like they don’t really have interest.”  But if a guy really likes the product, he’s going to ask a bunch of questions and then kind of like figure out if he can get a good price out of it.  So what do you think, Mike?

Mike:   Yeah, and obviously it just comes with the comfort level of talking to a lot of them over a period of multiple shows, but yeah I’ve definitely developed questions and my favorite one for IceWraps is, “Do you sell them to the U.S. market already?” and most of them say yes and then you ask if they’re FDA certified and they’re like, “We can get that,” and then you just realize that they’ve never sold them into the U.S. markets.  That’s one way to see if they’re lying because obviously, you can’t ship anything into the U.S. that’s health-related without being FDA certified so there’s all kinds of little idiosyncrasies and stuff like that to find out.  The reason I ask about how many employees they have and where their factory is and those types of questions is because it helps differentiate the trading companies from the manufacturers.

So I mean if they’re telling you they have 800 employees and their factories in such and such a city and then I just ask them right afterward, “Can I come visit you?” and if they feel comfortable with that and they’re like, “Yeah, come visit.  We’ll set up a hotel or a trip or whatever for you,” most likely they actually have a factory versus the people that are a trading company, they get a little more skittish about it.  It’s kind of like reading poker.  You know, we used to play poker, so you’re reading someone when you’re playing poker.  I think being armed with those questions is really important.

Grant:  Yeah.  And to be fair, I do think that a lot of the trading companies are pretty straightforward and a lot of the companies will even have like “trading company” in their name and it’s pretty obvious.  When you walk into a booth that has like a smorgasbord of different items, you can almost assume they’re a trading company.  And to me, it’s interesting because I know a lot of people kind of rag on trading companies because you’re not buying from the source and whatnot, and for us, when we’re able to buy at a container at a time and the MOQ is 1,000 to 2,000 units, we obviously are really interested in getting the price down and getting customization available.  But I do know with most trading companies, the MOQs are going to be a lot lower because they’re essentially combining all these orders together and then they probably have some pretty long-established relationships with a manufacturer.  So I wouldn’t say that a trading company’s going to be the worst of the worst, but if they’ve got good relationships, I would almost imagine they would have better pricing and lower MOQ in some certain situations than you can get otherwise.

Mike:   Yeah.  And I think there are some other advantages to working with a trading company as well.   It’s interesting.  Everything kind of is an evolution.  But when we went last year, I was staying away from trading companies at all costs because I really felt like, “If I’m not dealing with the manufacturer directly, I’m going to pay a higher price inevitably because the trading company has to mark it up.”  This year, because we’ve been doing projects that are a little more complicated – let’s use our coloring pencils or our gels pens for instance, we’re actually using three different manufacturers to put all that together.  And so a lot of these companies are like a box manufacturer and a trading company or they’re a pencil manufacturer and a trading company.  And what it allows you to do is send one wire transfer because you need that for customs anyway, to just have one consolidated invoice, and then the trading company is going to make sure that the quality of the box or of the pencils or whatever it is will be good because you’re going to do an inspection, you’re paying the one company, and if the thing doesn’t pass inspection, they’re going to be out for the order.  So I find that they actually work harder and look out for you more int hat situation.  I don’t know if you’re run into that, Grant, or not but for us it’s been actually pretty helpful.

Grant:  With one of my deals I’m doing now I’m using a product sourcing agent, so I do have essentially somebody that’s got their skin in the game because they’re taking a portion percentage of what my final order’s going to be.  So in that sense, if I’m not happy and I end up not doing the order, then they don’t get any of it at all.  So it’s definitely in their interest to make sure that it’s going to be good from here on out, but never say never because people do stupid things.  But I have to imagine that, because it’s a sourcing agent, they’re a pretty small company and for them I think a percentage of the order, especially for a U.S. dollar denominated order, is going to be pretty big for them.  So like they have a lot of incentives to do right by me.

Mike:   Yup, for sure.  So yeah, we were just kind of talking about we got to Guangzhou in the Canton Fair Phase Two, so we wrapped up Phase Two and because I had been to China before, I knew better to buy in advanced the inner-city train ticket ahead of time so it wouldn’t be sold out and bought that online and we get to the train station and it turns out – this I just so Chinese – that you can only pick up your train tickets that you purchase online in Hong Kong.  And since we were going from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, there’s no way to pick up your tickets in Guangzhou.  So yes, you cannot pick up your tickets if you order them online.  That was a fun experience.  We get to the train station, I’m like all excited, gloating about this awesome train experience we’re about to get on where it goes directly to downtown Hong Kong and you don’t have to clear customs at the border and total fail.

So, same problem we had last year: the next several trains were sold out.  I think the next train departing was like at 10:00PM so we ended up taking the local train route, which took over twice as long and I know have train tickets sitting in Hong Kong that I can’t use.  So that was a fun experience.  Talk about fail.  But we ended up getting to Hong Kong a little bit later than we expected and we also had another fail that day.  I was supposed to have a manufacturer come down from Shenzhen and meet with me but she couldn’t make I that day so we ended up having to postpone that for later in the trip.  So we got to Hong Kong, had a couple extra hours, went out and had some fried chicken.  That became like our staple food for the trip there.  They have really good fried chicken.  And we rented an AirBnB in Hong Kong.  I thought that was actually pretty neat.  What did you think of the location we were in, Grant?

Grant:  Oh, it was great.  It was in a district called Wan Chai and it’s not exactly a tourist district, but it’s kind of like the fun district so to speak.  They’ve got a lot of restaurants and they’ve got a lot of like bars and clubs over there.  So we didn’t really engage in too much of that stuff.  We definitely had a good amount to eat over there though.

Mike:   Yeah.  I mean I don’t know if I gained any weight while I was there, but if I was doing my regular job I would’ve gained weight because we walked a lot so that certainly helped.  But yeah, there were a lot of things to eat right around our apartment.  It was really cool.  And then we were also just walking distance to the Hong Kong Convention Center, which was nice.

Grant:  Yeah.  That ended up working out really well.  And that show was kind of like night and day from the Canton Fair because it was just air conditioned for one.  Well, working air conditioning and just so much cleaner and Hong Kong just seems to be like a first world country and China’s still kind of second world/first world/maybe third world depending on where you end up really.

Mike:   Slash sixth world when it comes to the internet.

Grant:  Yeah.

Mike:   How many times did you hear me say “this effing internet?”

Grant:  Oh gosh.  I stopped counting at some point but…

Mike:   I’m sure that got old.  You’re like, “Yeah, whatever.  I don’t have any internet and I don’t care.”  And I was just like, “I can’t go without the internet.”

Grant:  Both Mike and I got SIM cards over in China and well, we actually ordered them in the U.S. and had them delivered over here but we activated them while we were in China so that we could at least try to communicate with each other.  And so internet would work here and there.  It was still a little bit iffy and that’s like really annoying because we kind of knew going in – and Mike had been there before – that Gmail’s going to be blocked, Google’s blocked, Facebook is blocked, and we run all of our business and normal email off Gmail so that was all going to be hosed.  But at least we figured we could communicate with each other on Skype and whatnot, but just the internet service was spotty at best.  And when we went over to Hong Kong it was still pretty spotty for me and then in Taiwan it just stopped working for Mike completely.  But I got a Taiwanese SIM card so I had like $10 unlimited internet at 4G, which was amazing.

Mike:   Yeah, the internet situation for me this time was way worse than last trip.  It was beyond frustrating.  I could not wait to get home.  It was so nice when I landed.  We landed at LAX this time on the way back and I just like used unlimited internet in the cabin on the way home.  I had every device.  I like had my laptop open and my iPad.  I was like downloading everything I could and browsing everything I could just like a heroin addict coming back.

Grant:  Gees, man.

Mike:   It wasn’t that bad.  I’m kidding.  But no, it was nice having internet again.  So yeah, I mean I agree.  The Hong Kong fairs are way nicer.  I prefer to spend as much time as possible in Hong Kong.  It’s just a little bit of everything is better.  I mean, as you said, Grant, it’s basically a true first world country.  I was shocked actually the first time I went to Hong Kong last year just how much like London it is.  From the subway systems to the “Mind the gaps” to the painting on the street like “Look Left” or “Look Right,” it looks very much like London and like you’re in Chinatown in London, like the biggest Chinatown in London ever, you know.  It’s interesting.  I just enjoy my time there and it’s little things like having fully-operational internet, having fast internet, having things that are just a little bit cleaner, having potable water.  People just seem to be a little bit more respectful.

It’s just a little bit of everything that kind of just adds up to making it a better experience, plus, as Grant said, the air conditioning was a major factor this time.  They were basically in the middle of a heatwave.  It was unseasonably hot.  It was about 95º over there and 98% humidity one day.  I did nothing but sweat the entire time.  By the end of the trip I was just so dehydrated and exhausted, it actually become like a problem and I feel a lot better now, just got some fluids in me and stuff.  But yeah, it was hot.  It was a pretty grueling trip so the Hong Kong part was a nice, welcome relief having two days of air conditioning in the middle there.

Grant:  Yeah, the heat is definitely something that, unless you’re from someplace like Georgia or Louisiana or maybe east Texas, is hard to get used to.  It’s like a crazy humidity level.  I’m pretty sure it hit 100% humidity on some days.  I mean it was just like walking in a sauna outside and your clothes would start sticking to you and it was just pretty miserable.  And on top of it, you’re walking the entire time and just on your feet and doing whatnot, and it probably doesn’t help having tens of thousands of people like under one tight roof just making everything even worse.

Mike:   I mean I took two showers almost every day while we were there.  You’d wake up in the morning, take a shower and you have to take another shower when you get back because you’re just like so sweaty.  It was ridiculous.

Grant:  Yup.  I’m pretty sure I was taking double showers too.  I mean every time I got back to the hotel I’d just take the opportunity to go take a shower just because you’re like miserable by the time you get back to your room.

Mike:   So yeah, from the Hong Kong Fair we rented a car.  We had a car service take us, which was neat.  We got to drive across the border again, which I had done last time, and it’s just neat kind crossing and from driving on the left-hand side of the road to the right-hand side of the road.  I went over to Shenzhen and did that factory tour we mentioned earlier and then sat in epic traffic to get back.  And then we ended up “having to stay” (this isn’t a bad thing) at the Weston in Guangzhou, which is attached directly to the Canton Fair, that one night, the first night that we got back because the other hotel we were staying in was booked.  And I enjoyed the Weston.  I’m kind of a toss-up.  We were staying in a place called the Ascot Apartment Hotel, which was about a 15-minute shuttle bus ride over to the Canton Fair the rest of the time and that hotel was a two-bedroom hotel that we were sharing and it was basically an apartment.  I mean it was a nice apartment.  It was one of the nicest hotel rooms I’ve ever stayed in and it was still cheaper for the two-bedroom at the Ascot than it was just for a one-bedroom for one night over at the Weston just because of location.  But if you were to take price out of it, Grant, which place did you enjoy staying at more?

Grant:  Oh yeah, I’d definitely pick the Ascot.  I mean it’s kind of weird, but just being somebody that enjoys cooking, having a kitchen, I enjoy the possibility of the option for cooking even though in a place like Guangzhou, I’d probably never, ever cook period.  But in any normal place that I stay, especially if I’m on a vacation (and I guess this being a business trip, that’s obviously much different, but) I love the idea of just being able to go to like a local market somewhere, grabbing a bunch of food, and just cooking myself a nice meal.  So I always love it when I have the option for a kitchen.

Mike:   I agree.  And just having that extra space made it so much nicer.  I really enjoyed the Ascot and I also really enjoyed the location.  I mean just having separation from the fair mentally, subconsciously, whatever it might be made a big difference and there’s more food options (talking about food) around where the Ascot was versus at the Canton Fair, which we stayed at last year.  You didn’t really get to experience as much, Grant, because we obviously left every day to go back to the Ascot, but there just isn’t much around the Canton Fair in terms of food options.  You’ve got basically the Weston buffet at $80 a shot or their a la carte menu, which gets old after a while if you’re doing that every night for two weeks.  So yeah, I mean being over at the Ascot was pretty neat and they had a free shuttle, which left either once or twice a day depending on what phase and it was a nice, air-conditioned, comfortable bus and I really enjoyed that experience.  I think that it’s something we would use again.

Grant:  Yeah.  And to give people some idea of like your general cost of going and attending the show and whatnot, I did have a friend that ended up meeting me over at the Canton Fair that’s just getting into the business and he was actually staying at a hostel.  He was paying $10 a night and just doing it like college-style, just bunking up in a shared dorm, and I think he was about 45 minutes away on subway.  So you’ve got that on one end of the spectrum.  You can get there for cheap, but you’re going to stay quite a ways away.  And then the Weston, which is obviously the closest because it’s literally attached to the fair itself.  We were there the day before the fair, but during the actual peak time of the fair, how much is that per night?  Like $350?

Mike:   I think it was like $400 a night.

Grant:  Yeah, that’s…

Mike:   I mean it’s ridiculous because like the Ascot was I think just a little bit less than that and that was a two-bedroom in what I would call a five-star hotel.  I mean we’ve stayed in some nice placed in our time.  We’ve been really fortunate and I’m kind of against spending a lot of money on hotels these days.  When I travel in the States or for vacation and stuff, I just don’t really want to spend a lot of money on hotels because you’re not really getting anything for it and whatever, but for this trip, because of the last time, the hotel was what made the trip for me.  Like it made the trip much more enjoyable and having someone there to split it with, basically $200 a night becomes pretty reasonable.  I mean every hotel room in Guangzhou within striking distance of the Canton Fair is basically sold out.  So prices are at a premium.

Grant:  Yeah.  I didn’t look at all the different hotel options, but I would assume that if somebody did want to spend like $100 a night, which is fairly reasonable, you could do it, you’re just probably going to have to stay like 30 minutes out of Guangzhou and probably by rail somewhere.  And I would say that the number one problem you’ll probably get is that it’s not going to be like super English-friendly in the area.  But the reality is I felt like Guangzhou wasn’t terrible English-friendly anyways.  It’s not that it was unfriendly, but it’s not like any of the cab drivers could really speak English and going into restaurants, nobody has English menus.  You can obviously –

Mike:   They have pictures though luckily, so we can just like point to it and be like, “I want this.”  That was fun.

Grant:  Right.  And they do have McDonald’s and KFC and whatnot in terms of local American-type cuisine if that’s what floats your boat, but just expecting to go in there and speak English and make your way around, I do think Guangzhou is a step up in difficulty from your standard travel that you would probably get in Europe or somewhere like that where it’s expected that everyone speaks English, or at least in the tourist-y areas.  Like even our hotel staff sometimes had trouble speaking English or the door guy or stuff like that.  So just kind of a heads up for anybody that wants to go on the cheap, the farther you go out, the most likely that you’re going to need to be a little bit more of a better traveler to make your way around.

Mike:   Yeah, I definitely agree with that.  I mean the Weston, now that I think about it and you mention that, the people at the desk and the bellboys and everyone spoke impeccable English versus at the Ascot.  Even the people at the desk were having a hard time communicating in English at some points when you’d ask them a question that was off the script.  So I definitely agree with that.

Grant:  Right.  And I remember just getting into a taxi cab and going to see one of my vendors that was in the Guangzhou area and even though I could make my way around kind of in Chinese and I talked to the driver and told him to go somewhere in Chinese, he just told me, “I don’t want to go there.  It’s too far.”  And I said, “What?  I’m paying you.  You don’t want to go there?”  He’s like, “No.  Too far.  Get out of the cab.”  And I could just imagine that conversation in English because I’d be like, “Hey, I want to go here.  Do you know how to get here?” and the guy just squawks back at me in Chinese and I have no idea what he says, keep pointing at the location.

Mike:   Nice.

Grant:  Yeah, you’ve got what?  Like an immovable force against – I forget what it is.  Yeah, rock and a hard place.  You’re just stuck there.  Nobody knows what’s going on.  And Google Maps doesn’t work whatsoever in that area.  You get it to the point where it works just bad enough to screw you up and that’s as good as it gets over there.

Mike:   That’s about right.  Yeah, so at this point, we’re back in Guangzhou at the Canton Fair, Phase Three so Grant and I, as I mentioned earlier, did a quick blitz.  We were there together and then Grant left two days before we did to go to Taiwan, visit family and a couple factories, and then we went back to Phase Three for one more day and went back and visited some vendors that we had some questions for and then we went over to the health and medical hall and the bags hall to do IceWraps stuff and some other stuff for ColorIt.  And then on our last day in Guangzhou we took a factory tour.  We’re getting some clothing made so we went to a textiles factory, which was pretty neat, and saw that operation.

And then the next day after that, we reunited back up with Grant in Taiwan, which was really neat.  It was my first time in Taiwan.  It was definitely an upgrade over China.  I guess you could have a toss-up of, “Is Hong Kong or Taiwan nicer?”  They were both pretty cool for different reasons.  You know, Hong Kong’s much more of a skyscraper, compact type city and Taiwan was more spread out.  if you’re into Asian food, the night markets and the food stuff was just incredible.  Grant, because he has family and stuff there, was able to show us a really good time at the night markets and with the tourist-y stuff so I definitely appreciate that, Grant.  We got a pretty cool firsthand experience of Taiwan.  You said you went to a couple factories obviously before we go there.  Which factories did you go visit?

Grant:  Yeah, you had the whiskey experience and I had the three trading companies using one factory experience for my epic story, which is essentially that I was looking for a cutting board manufacturer in Taiwan to get me set up and I’d gone back and forth between a lot of Chinese companies and Taiwanese companies and I ordered the samples from a whole bunch of them and I just really didn’t like the qualities from the Chinese companies.  I just put them through the wash literally and they just did not turn out as well as I would’ve hoped.  And I do think there’s something to be said about having essentially people that care about QA and QC working on your products even though you would think it’s like a standard type of product.

So I ended up contacting a number of Taiwanese companies that I thought had some better samples and could do some good work for me and it turned out they all were using the exact same manufacturer.  So it turned out to be a little bit of like a circus show in some ways because I went to see the first trading company that picked me up at the hotel and they told me all about what they can do, their high quality.  Then I met with the second trading company and they were all very upfront with me that they were just trading companies except for the very last.  And the second guy just said, “Hey, yeah, we’re a trading company.  We use these guys that do the manufacturing,” and they just told us that everybody does the same thing as they do; they use these guys for their manufacturing but they’ve got the best relationship out of all of the trading companies so I was like, “Well, that’s interesting.”  And they did have some very good pricing for me, and from them, I got to meet the manufacturer, which was a very interesting experience since I got to do the whole factory tour and everything like that.  I sat down with the owner, had tea, had some like biscuits and stuff like that.  So I got to meet them.  And then I got to meet the last trading company and they were a little bit more fuzzy on who they were using for manufacturing but I already knew that they were using the same manufacturer as everybody else but they essentially just tried to tell me about their history.

So it was quite interesting.  I got to essentially see almost like three different types of negotiation tactics, not that I really like pressed them on price or anything like that.  I generally think face-to-face meetings aren’t the time that you hammer in on price, especially the first time.  I think it’s generally considered rude in Chinese culture to just like demand lower pricing the first time you meet somebody.  It’s really just to see how well you get along with somebody.  So when I say “negotiating tactic,” I meant like how everyone kind of really – I don’t know how you’re put it – just gets to know you.  What do you think, Mike, when somebody is just trying to get on your good side I suppose?

Mike:   It’s kind of to feel you out in that period.

Grant:  Yeah, they all had their different ways of approaching me.  The first one was really trying to stress about family importance and talking about working very closely and having a good relationship.  The other person talked about how they had the best relationship with the manufacturer and they had good family as well but their family was in relationship to the manufacturer and how they had good relationships.  And the very last person, they actually were pretty aloof, the one that didn’t really want to talk about their relationship with the manufacturing company, but they just kind of talked about just having like a big history but they didn’t really try to win me over as hard as the first two.  Yeah, it ended up being quite interesting and then I’ll probably end up using one of those companies for sure since it seems like they all don’t really care if I want to contact the manufacturer directly.  So it was kind of an interesting concept to me.  But my thinking is that they know that the manufacturer is not going to give me the same pricing if I work through them or if I work through the manufacturer direct.  So that’s kind of whey I mentioned what I did earlier.

Mike:   Gotcha, yup.  Cool, so yeah, then our last day we went actually and visited a pencil manufacturer that we’re going to be working with, and that was personally my only reason for going to Taiwan, which is pretty cool.  We’re actually kind of running a little bit long on this episode so maybe it’s a story for another time, but nothing too exciting.  I thought it was very interesting visiting a pencil manufacturer.  I grew up in the woodworking space and obviously it was a lot of the wood type machines to make the pencils and then they painted them and all that good stuff.  It was pretty neat.  But I could talk for like 10, 15 minutes about all that, and like I said, we’re kind of running short on time so that meeting was obviously really good.  I mean those pencils are a big part of our ColorIt business so it was a very important meeting for us.

And luckily we did go because there’s like a worldwide shortage on pencils now.  There’s been a lot of articles about this and just having that face time and getting on their radar I think is important.  It also put us in a position to place our order for Christmas, which was something we probably wouldn’t have thought of if we weren’t there at the time because we didn’t really realize like how backlogged they were.  So yeah, that was basically the end of the trip and the last day, we had a free day.  We were hoping to visit other manufacturers or find other things to do there but there weren’t any organized fairs or anything going on at that point and I think after working 16 days straight, we were both pretty exhausted anyway so we were not looking for an excuse to go do anything else.  So we just took a tourist-y day, went over to Taipei 101, went to the top floor of that and went over to some of the memorial halls, and closed it off with and awesome dim sum dinner.  What was the name of that restaurant, Grant?

Grant:  Din Tai Fung.

Mike:   Din Tai Fung.  So that was cool and yeah, then the next day we flew back home.  And the flight on the way back for me went pretty fast.  How was the flight back for you, Grant?

Grant:  It was pretty good.  I just tried to stay up as much as possible so that I could – because I was landing at 8:00 and I figured if I just stayed awake the whole time then I would be able to go to sleep when I landed and I did go to sleep but I just woke up at 3:00.

Mike:   I had the same problem.

Grant:  Yeah, so I was just extremely tired by the time the afternoon finally rolled around so I don’t know how that tactic ended up working out so poorly but it did.  But yeah, at least I got to see like, I don’t know, my five movies or whatever it was on the way back.

Mike:   Is it shorter to fly to Seattle?  How many hours was it from Taipei to Seattle?

Grant:  It’s only 10 hours on the way back because we were working –

Mike:   That’s not bad.

Grant:  With that nice tailwind.

Mike:   Yup.  Yeah, so for us, we had to fly out to Shanghai first but we were headed to L.A., which was further south because it used the curvature of the earth so it was 14 hours on the way to China and 12 hours on the way back so a little bit longer for us.

Grant:  Ah.

Mike:   But yeah, I mean on the way back, I think just because I had a lot to think about – I mean I did a lot of planning on the plane and went through my notes and, quite frankly, I spelt really well.  I mean I was just so exhausted, I put the seat back.  We were lucky enough to fly in business and it was actually a newer plane so it was like a really nice like lay-flat seat and I just got maybe like six hours of sleep over the 12-hour flight.  And the rest of it, they’re feeding you or bothering you in some other way so it went by pretty quick and I just couldn’t be happier when I landed in California.  I was just like, “Oh my gosh, we’re finally home.”  It’s just a long trip.

Grant:  Both of us are West Coast and anybody that’s traveling from Midwest or East Coast – you had two days of acclimation.  I landed the day before and –

Mike:   I only had one day.

Grant:  Oh, you did?  Okay.

Mike:   Yeah.  All right, well, I guess technically it could’ve been two.  It depends on how you look at it.  We landed at 10:00PM so we landed and went right to bed and then we woke up and then that next day, we had a full day to acclimate.

Grant:  Right.  So I was just going to say that being on the West Coast, I mean we’re “only” 15-hour difference from Guangzhou, but from the East Coast or Midwest, you’re at 17 hours or 18 hours, which is like really just a horrific time change.  So the idea, I think, is that if you’re coming from the East Coast, you definitely want to give yourself at least a day, if not at least two days to acclimate, because otherwise it’s just going to be a miserable experience I think.

Mike:   Yup.  I couldn’t agree more.  We learned our lesson last time.  I mean we landed last time and woke up the next morning and had to go right to the Hong Kong Fair and being at the fair keeps you awake because you’re walking around doing things all day, but I just was basically not functional.  And this time, it was just such a better experience.  I was fine.  The only time I was every really tired was in the evenings.  I think it was mostly from walking around and sweating so much all day and everything, but I mean I was waking up ridiculously early.  I woke up at 4:00 every morning, or 5:00 was like the latest I slept in pretty much the whole trip, which was annoying but I mean I was up early and it was giving me an opportunity to get work done in the morning and I just went to bed early because I was tired from waking up so damn early.  But yeah, having that extra day I think is really important to acclimate.

Grant:  Yup.

Mike:   Cool.  All right, well we’re way over so I’m going to cut this off and we will talk to everyone next week.  Just a quick reminder: if you have a minute to head over to iTunes and leave us a review, we would really appreciate that.  We’re going to be checking those reviews out and reading them on the air next week, and also next week, we’ll be talking about our consulting giveaway that we did.  So it’ll be pretty cool to announce that winner and a future episode coming up pretty soon will probably be recapping that conversation that we have with whoever wins that.  So until next week, everyone.  We really appreciate you tuning in and have a good week, everybody.

Grant:  Yup, and I’m just going to give two quick shout outs: one to Josh for having all the gusto of meeting Mike and I (or at least me) over in Canton and doing the $10 a night hostel and still trudging out over there.  Kudos to you, Josh.  And also a big shout out to Liz, our podcast transcriber who’s been doing a fantastic job and if you’ve been reading our transcriptions, she’s on point.  So big thanks to Liz.

Mike:   Definitely.  Thanks, everybody, and we’ll talk to you next week.

Outro:  If you have any questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.  Head over to and sign up for the EcomCrew newsletter to get regular updates on what’s working in ecommerce today, and get the latest from our blog.  If you haven’t already, we’d really appreciate an honest review in iTunes.  These reviews help us make sure we’re delivering exactly the content you need to be successful.  And make sure you subscribe to the show for more tips to move you up in the business ladder and into success.  We’ll see you next week.

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