First published in Power Retail. Canton Fair is the world’s largest trade show, held twice a year in Guangzhou, China. If you have a retail business, or considering starting one up, a visit to the fair offers an unparalleled opportunity to source excellent products at competitive prices. It is also much safer than importing from overseas without meeting suppliers and inspecting goods beforehand. However, the event attracts 22,000 exhibitors and 165,000 buyers, making it easy to get overwhelmed. This list of Canton Fair “don’ts” will help you sidestep potential pitfalls and get the most out of your experience. Come without your documents prepared. Complete your registration forms before you arrive, and have a passport-sized photo with you so you can get your guest pass badge organised efficiently. The other option is to pick up your entry badge at one of the 30 Overseas Buyers Registration offices, set up at appointed hotels. Waste money on an interpreter. People will try to sell you interpreter services before you walk in, but in fact, everyone at the Fair can speak a reasonable amount of English. Save your money for making deals! Stay in a hotel without handy transport. When choosing your hotel, ensure that it has regular bus services to and from the Fair, and that it is within walking distance to the nearest subway station. Don’t count on being able to get a taxi, especially after the end of each Fair day. Go dressed in a suit. Savvy Canton Fair-goers know they will do a lot of walking, and dress casually and comfortably as a result. The few people wearing business attire stand out, and not in a good way. You’ll get more respect and better deals from the suppliers if you don’t look like a novice. Use sarcasm. Throwing some sarcasm or irony into your speech is commonplace in the West, but any such witticisms will miss the mark completely in China. Not only will your new Chinese acquaintances not “get” any sarcastic jokes, they will probably be confused and alienated as well. Focus only on getting the best price. If your sole objective is to get the best price, then you’ will almost certainly be compromising on the quality of your products and service. Much like doing business in Australia, it’s usually worth paying a bit more for quality control and peace of mind. Forego supplier background checks. Even if you bond really well with a supplier, never skip on researching their company. Start by Googling “(company name) reviews” to see what type of experience other buyers have had. You should also visit each supplier’s factory to inspect the size, scale and quality control processes of their operation. This will minimise your chances of dealing with a supplier that may be unable to keep up with your business’ growth, or one that manufactures substandard products. Be complacent when making deals. You may have sourced a great product at a great price, but don’t assume that yours will be the only Australian company trying to market it. We heard many other people with Australian accents during our time at Canton Fair, and wondered if some of them might not be competitors to our online retail store Furniture Escape. Ask suppliers too few questions. When meeting with a potential suppliers or visiting their factory, ask lots of questions. Make sure you find out what other countries they supply, where there biggest market is as well as their biggest clients. Don’t let the opportunity to conduct invaluable market research pass you by. Expect to do business and nothing else. Twelve hour days are typical at Canton Fair – but you also need to schedule in time for getting to know your new business partners! Your new suppliers will expect that you share a meal together, and let them show you around the city. This is as important to Chinese business etiquette as exchanging handshakes and business cards is to Westerners, so don’t try to brush it off if you want the business relationship to be fruitful. Canton Fair is hard work, but going armed with the right attitude and a few insider tips will see you survive and thrive! So, who is coming with me this year?
January 27, 2012