October is a major month of the China trade fair season, with the Canton Fair in Guangzhou, and some other shows in Hong Kong. Many importers will be getting ready to head over to China to source new manufacturers or products, so what advice can we offer to help you get the most out of your visit?
7 Helpful China Trade Fair Tips For Importers
Some of these tips are common-sense, whereas some are more advanced and will really help you to source the right suppliers and protect your business interests.
1. Register in advance
Visiting a China trade fair is busy and tiring, so do yourself a favour and register online in advance. For instance, online registration for the Canton Fair is free, but registering in person at the fair can cost up to 200 RMB per person.
It’s hot, busy, and you need to get in there and seek out potential suppliers, so being prepared will save you some stress.
Your niche will impact on which exhibition or date you visit on, so make sure that you’re attending the correct trade fair (it sounds obvious, but there are many options).
2. Decide on products you’re sourcing
Not every importer visiting trade fairs in China will have a firm product design in mind that they need to find an OEM manufacturer for. Perhaps you’re looking for an ODM who has products ready for you to rebrand and sell to your market?
Even if you’re attending the fair to source products rather than manufacturers, if haven’t made a final decision yet you should at least be armed with sourcing notes on a few product types from your niche.
In order to be able to get an accurate proposal, suppliers will need to know the basics about the products: their key features and specifications.
Your prior research, which can be helped by visiting websites like Alibaba and Global Sources, also helps you gain an idea of the market price so you can assess whether quotations you gain later on are reasonable.
If you already have products ready and need a production partner, consider keeping information like your design, specifications, and BoM to hand (but be careful with IP – more on that later) so you can have a detailed conversation with the right prospects.
3. Plan your day/s at the fair
The fair websites always provide a map which you can examine in advance. This is a good idea because you can locate your current suppliers and those that you want to meet and make a route plan.
You should take the opportunity to meet the big names in your niche, get to know market trends, and compare products, prices, and services. You can also research your niche online in advance to see who is new, innovative, and long-standing, and try to see these companies, as well, as they may be worth getting to know. Those are your priority. When finished with those, you can explore the rest of the fair in a more leisurely way.
4. Collect as much information as possible
Your goal at the trade fair should be collecting business cards, brochures, and any other literature that helps you make a decision. In addition, you also need to question potential suppliers to make sure that they’re right for you.
You can use post-it’s to write your own notes during sales consultations and stick them to brochures. Information such as prices will be useful to come back to later (and in the case of prices may not be the same as you receive in a subsequent quotation email!).
You can take a small backpack or even wheeled case to store all of these paper resources, and don’t forget to pack a plentiful supply of your own business cards, too.
Pro tip 1 – Use a smartphone or tablet to take pictures of business cards so you have a digital backup. You can even send a follow-up email to sales reps that you’ve met live from the fair. (There are also apps such as ShowSourcing for that.)
Pro tip 2 – Many Chinese sales reps’ cards have WeChat QR codes on them, so scan the code and add them on WeChat for immediate connection. Haven’t joined yet? This will be an invaluable tool for non-official communication with suppliers and is China’s main messaging app (WhatsApp and others are blocked by the Great Firewall). Here’s how to join WeChat.
5. Prepare your questions
Now that you know what product types you are targeting and have a good idea about the suppliers that you want to visit you also need to plan the kinds of questions to ask in advance too. Many importers have them saved on their tablet, or even written down as a list on paper.
The basics typically will be:
- Pricing – what is the MOQ and unit price? Is there a sample and tooling cost? Write down the responses to your negotiations and questions, because these will need to be cross-checked against any follow-up proposal that you receive later. Don’t be surprised if sales reps ‘forget’ the price discussed at the fair and go for a higher price later on.
- Packing – what methods are provided and how do they influence the final price that you pay? Can the supplier provide a different type of packing method to what they’re used to if it’s what you require?
- Shipping – what is the estimated delivery time? How are goods typically shipped and from where? Is my lead time enough for you to deliver?
- Payment terms – the ‘standard’ payment term is 30% down payment and 70% after shipment. This should be agreed and set in stone as early as possible and any deviations to this agreement, later on, should usually be rejected.
For some more detailed questions to ask, try this list from QualityInspection.org’s post: China trade shows: what to ask exhibitors. Many of these questions deal with supplier legitimacy:
Where is the facility and can you go to visit (this week while you’re in the country)?
Will the person that you’re speaking with at the show be in the factory when you go to visit (so you don’t have to repeat everything you’ve gone through today)?
Do they have business documents that they’ll let you see?
Will they let you talk with engineers and other managers?
Will they allow 3PQ [third-party QC firms]?
Can they give you referrals?
Will they sign (and keep) NDA’s, NNN’s, and other agreements?
Can you meet and even QC sub-suppliers?
Do they have the correct export documentation?
Have they exported to your country/region on the world before?
How much of their production do they outsource?
How do they deal with non-conforming product?
Are they familiar with your country’s safety standards?
Does your company belong to a mainland Chinese person?
Has the factory been auditied, and can you see the report/s?
Does the factory have experience with certifications and regulations for your market? Can you see their certifications?
Have you worked on similar projects before? Proof?
It’s possible that you may not be able to ask all of these questions to every potential supplier that you meet, but if you’re able to ask a lot of them and get decent responses this gives you a good foundation to go away and assess if they’re a good fit for your needs.
6. Are you dealing with a trader or manufacturer?
While this is certainly a question that you can ask the supplier, it’s an important issue that needs some further exploration here.
Many trading companies pretend to be manufacturers to entice foreign buyers to work with them. What the importers don’t realise is that they’re effectively paying a middleman additional margin to deal with a factory on their behalf.
While there are positives to working with a trading company, many importers will lose out over ‘going direct’ to a manufacturer. Working with a manufacturer directly will provide you with:
- Better control over and visibility of your supply chain (you choose the supplier, not someone else)
- Lower prices, on average (as traders need to add their margin)
- You control compliance, quality testing, and certifications (with a trader these are out of your hands as you do not know who the supplier is)
- A firmer hold over your IP (you do not know the supplier/s that a trader would be sharing your IP with to manufacture your products, and so you don’t know what they may be doing with that either)
If you are dissatisfied with any answers given at a China trade fair, you can follow up later on by performing additional due diligence. For instance, you may request that a third party performs a supplier background check to confirm that the supplier is indeed who they say they are.
These blog posts give you some more background on the dangers of trading companies: Chinese trading companies and their dirty little secrets and Why First-Time Buyers Fall for Trading Companies in China.
7. Don’t forget to protect your IP
When attending the trade fair it’s also important to be cautious about how much product information you provide to would-be manufacturers. As China Law blog says in this post, encouraging suppliers to sign an NDA or NNN is a good form of protection (read more about IP protection in China here). These could help protect you from unauthorised sharing of your IP if they’re valid in China.
However, if someone is pretending to be someone else or from a different company (fake names and cards can be given), then some due diligence from yourself is also smart. Many Chinese use LinkedIn, so see if their name and credentials match up with a profile there. Also, check their WeChat account.
Don’t give away the farm when it comes to product designs and your BoM at a trade fair. Only give sales reps enough information to provide a quotation. Later on, during the follow-up phase you can perform more in-depth checks on them and their business and, if satisfied, can give them full product details in order to draw up a proposal and contract.
Which China Trade Fair Will You Attend?
So, you know what kinds of products and suppliers you’re looking for. Now, which China trade fair to visit?
The Canton Fair – also known as the China Import and Export Fair
Perhaps China’s best-know trade fair, this monster fair takes place twice a year in Spring and Fall in Guangzhou, at the China Import and Export Fair (Pazhou) Complex in Haizhu district.
Fall 2019 is on these dates:
- Phase 1: Oct 15-19, 2019
Electronics & Household Electrical Appliances, Lighting Equipment, Vehicles & Spare Parts, Machinery, Hardware & Tools, Energy + Resources, Chemical Products, Building Materials, International Pavilion
- Phase 2: Oct 23-27, 2019
Consumer Goods, Gifts, Home Decorations
- Phase 3: Oct 21 – Nov 4, 2019
Office Supplies, Cases & Bags, and Recreation Products, Medical Devices and Health Products, Food, Shoes, Textiles & Garments, International Pavilion
These exhibitions take place at a similar time during October and early November to the Canton Fair’s second phase, but are all in Hong Kong at the AsiaWorld-Expo out by the airport.
- Consumer electronics: Oct 11-14, 2019
- Mobile electronics: Oct 18-21, 2019
- Lifestyle (home, sports, health, gifts): Oct 27-30, 2019
- Fashion (apparel, textiles, accessories): Oct 27-30, 2019
Also in Hong Kong, but taking place mainly in the city, for instance at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai. HKTDC has exhibitions throughout the year.
Coming soon they have:
- Hong Kong electronics fair & ElectronicAsia: Oct 13-16, 2019
- HK international outdoor & tech light expo: Oct 29 – Nov 1, 2019
- HK international lighting fair: Oct 27-30, 2019
Check this link to see a full list – note some events are not in Hong Kong, too.
Intertextile Shanghai Apparel Fabrics 2019 & Yarn Expo
This doesn’t take place until Spring but is a major Chinese textiles trade fair outside of the Canton Fair phase 3. It occurs on 11–13 March, 2020.
You can expect to see:
- Cotton, wool, silk, linen, ramie, man-made, knitted, coated, jacquard fabrics
- Lingerie & swimwear fabrics
- Functional fabrics
- Printing / Digital printing
- Fibres & yarns
- Embroidery & lace
- Textile-related CAD/CAM/CIM technology
- Design & styling agencies
- Fashion & textile trade publications
Which China trade fairs do you attend? Do you have any tips for our community that I’ve missed here? Perhaps you have some sourcing issues that you’d like clarification about? If so, please leave them below as a comment.
Featured image credit: Canton Fair by H2NCH2COOH [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
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