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Phillip Moorman

Days are getting shorter again and that means over hundreds of thousands of buyers flooding China’s Guandong province, and the capital city of Guangzhou.

The city sits at the head of the Pearl River, only 90 miles north of the China Sea, marking it as the focal point of trade and commerce back when water was the easiest way to travel. The first European explorers called the place Canton.

Millennia later, in 2019, Canton’s the hub of manufacturing, and two times a year—once in the spring and once more in in the fall—over 190,000 buyers visit over 25,000 exhibitions in the sprawling 1.18 million square feet China Import and Export Complex that houses the Canton Fair.

To give you an idea of just how big the space is, that square footage is almost 218 football fields lumped together and dotted with buyers and suppliers.

With so much going on, how can you get the most out of the event? What are the keys to finding the right wholesaler without letting the enormity of the gathering overwhelm your senses?

Fortunately, Sourcify knows manufacturing, particularly in China, and we’re here to get you prepped for the largest whole supplier trade show in the world:

The Basics of What’s Needed

  • Some of this you might’ve already missed, but you’ll want to pre-register. Don’t hesitate on this. You’ll get a visitors pass, free for international visitors, so print out your confirmation to save yourself from what could be hours of wait-time at the event, where lines and confusion—especially if it’s your first time in China—act as obstacles to creating relationships with manufacturers.
  • Avoid throwing your visitor’s pass away at the conclusion of the Canton Fair. It’s valid for multiple Canton Fair dates.
  • Get a feel for what suppliers will be where, so take down names and booth numbers of the manufacturers that might fit your product.
  • Email—which you’ll get along with an address—potential factory partners before you go, so they already know about you and what you’re making before you attend. This gives you an advantage over all the new names and companies they’ll be hearing about for the very first time.

Traveling to and From Canton Fair

  • Book your hotel in advance because hotels overcharge around the time of the fair. And make sure you reserve a room at a hotel that’s within walking distance of the complex, or the Guangzhou Metro Station because traffic is too congested to drive.
  • Apply for a multiple-entry Visa to China if you plan to visit Hong Kong or anywhere else in mainland China in-between the various phases of the fair.
  • Keep your visitors badge on you when you go sight-seeing. You can most likely get a discount, particularly at restaurants along the Party Pier in Guangzhou.

What to Bring Along for the Ride

You may be surprised at some the recommendations, but you want to be properly prepared.

It’s impossible to network if no one can remember you after you make a connection in person, and the marathon of displays and connections requires you to be armed with a lot more than just your person:

  • Orthopedic walking shoes, or comfortable business shoes. Even if they don’t match your outfit, you’ll need to be able to walk multiple miles a day before the fair is over. We mentioned how big the China Import and Export complex is, and you’re going to be on your feet moving to booth after booth for a long time.
  • A stroller,  preferably a sturdy four-wheel variety that doesn’t ever break down. There’s no way you’ll be able to carry all the catalogues and brochures on you at all times. Yes, a lot of these connections are digital now, but don’t count on it.
  • A WeChat account so you can share your QR code or add other WeChat users through their QR codes. Practice doing this so you’re not figuring it out on the fly because quickly adding exhibitor staff to dialogue with them is a huge part of the process. Also, there’s a built-in translation app so you can message with a contact even if you don’t Chinese and they don’t speak English.
  • A water bottle. This place is huge, and worrying about staying hydrated is a slog when you’re already worrying about so much else!
  • A VPN because Gmail, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are all banned. This will let you use those social media networks even when you’re in the country. Here’s a good place to start looking after China cracked down on this practice in 2019.
  • Pre-formatted enquiry sheets. We’ll get into this more in the next section, but a standard set of questions and info you’d like to glean from the exhibitor beyond their business card and empty conversation about the best tourist spots. We’re talking materials, regulations, FOB prices, order quantity etc.
  • Bring your business cards everywhere, way more than you expect to hand out. We’re talking hundreds upon hundreds. If possible, have one side in Chinese as well, which vendors will appreciate.
  • Mobile phone and portable charger. There will be charging stations, but you’ll be using your phone a ton to take pictures of the booth number while taking notes (especially if you didn’t bring enquiry cards). Don’t get stuck with a dead phone. A strong portable charger will make sure that never happens.

Trade Show Tasks — Get ‘em Done

The whole objective is to meet as many manufacturers in your space as possible.

Part of this is the due diligence you perform before you even go, but once you’ve finally arrived, you need a basic plan on how to acquire the information you’ll need.

This is where the pre-formatted inquiry sheets come in handy. If people at the exhibit are too busy to fill it out for you, make sure to get the information yourself.

  • Are they a factory or trading company? Factories are better because a trading company has their own business to worry about, so you’re dealing with their own cost-cutting measures. Better to get materials directly from the source.
  • Which country do they traditionally export with? If they don’t normally export products to the United States, you might want to try the next booth you have on your list. Markets outside the United States tend to work with less respectable manufacturers.
  • Will they perform private labeling? And will they do this even if you’re asking about a number of units that doesn’t reach their MOQ (minimum order quantity) threshold. If you aren’t prepared to meet that number, allude to a larger order if the more boutique amount goes well. This is a normal negotiating, so don’t get frustrated if you strike out with the first couple of manufacturers who expect a larger initial order.
  • Ask about the cost, obviously, but with the caveat that you don’t want to come on too strong. A standard quote works in person, and if the rest of your answers work, then you can ask about specifics when you follow up after the show.
  • Talk to the head honcho. Don’t waste your time with minor members of a factory or booth that’s set up. You want a decision maker.
  • Simplify your research after the fair by dividing every manufacturer into a “yes,” “no” or “maybe” category.
  • Eat at off hours to avoid lines and make the most of your day.

Following Up With Meaningful Connections

This is the most crucial step because you’re just a face in the crowd, or a brief interaction until you get back in contact with some of your “yes” or “maybe” connections.

Here’s what to remember when getting back in touch:

  • Create a spreadsheet to easily navigate and track who you have and haven’t contacted after the fair, and track where you are in the relationship.
  • An email template can be helpful to give a broad outline of what you want to ask possible manufacturers, but hopefully you took diligent enough notes you can personalize the initial interaction to show you remembered them.
  • Succinct and simple. Don’t write a thousand-word email filled with personal aphorisms. Keep it simple and elegant, so Chinese manufacturers don’t have to decode what you need to know.
  • Use a separate email address, which you should create before the show. You’re going to get a lot of spam. Better to keep it all separate and in one place.
  • Email as quickly as you can after the fair. The faster you reach out to your connections, the more likely they are to respond.

And of Course … Try Sourcify because while the Canton Fair is a big moment to expand your business, or lower your margins, identifying the right manufacturer is what we do!

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