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The Cantonfair – All you need to know about the biggest expo in Asia

The Cantonfair is coming up and I thought I’d give you guys an insight on the exhibition, how you can prepare, what you can find there and who it isn’t for.

I first went to the Canton Fair in 2005 and things have certainly changed since then. There were literally not many places to eat, find an ATM or book hotels around the area.
China and the Cantonfair have seen the potential and improved the general experience a great deal since then. I can only imagine how it was 20 years ago.

Some general information first:

The Canton Fair is the holy grail of exhibitions. This event is so large that it is held twice a year and each time runs over a span of 3 weeks in three different phases. Each phase comes with different product categories.
As of 2014 there were over 22,000 exhibitors. This exhibition is a must for me and it should be for you too. You will find a lot of suppliers, big brands, small factories, or the product you have been looking for for so long.
Plan at least 2, or better 3, days for your product category/phase. Sign up once and get a badge that will be valid forever.

Insider tip: Don’t throw away your badge. You can use it for your next visit without paying 100 Yuan for a replacement card.

How to register?

Most exhibitions require you to pre-register if you want to get in for free. Registration on-site is also possible but usually there will be a fee of 10-20USD. You will need to provide a name card for your registration.
When you pre-register online, just fill in your company’s details and print out the confirmation. Bring that confirmation and you will be handed a badge for entry.
The Canton Fair has the same procedure, however you can keep your badge for years to come. If you lose your badge you will have to pay a fee of 200RMB for re-issuance.
There is a first time registration fee of 100RMB. If you have a supplier who can invite you, you don’t need to pay any fees. Also remember to bring along a passport photograph for the application (required).
You can register here, among many other useful tools for the Canton Fair:
http://invitation.cantonfair.org.cn/Home/Index
Remember to keep the badge for the Canton Fair, as it is valid for years to come.

Know your goals

Remember you don’t have all day. I usually try to finish an exhibition within 1 day (except the Canton Fair). But this is also because I know how to spot the good from the bad ones and know which questions to ask. As a first timer I recommend you take some more time but don’t try to spend more than 20 minutes per booth with each supplier.
If you spot some item that really catches your attention and you would like to discuss further steps with the supplier right away, take your time. It is likely you will have 2-3 meetings that can take an hour.

Price preparation

You will likely be looking for a category of a product so you should prepare yourself with some basic prices that you have received from suppliers beforehand. Knowing your prices is essential before going to an exhibition.
If you are looking at new products and are not aware of prices try my “rule of thumb” calculation of 30%, adding this to your margin and calculating your selling price. You will quickly figure out if the price the supplier gave you at the booth is realistic or not.

Prioritizing

The Cantonfair is enormous in size. Grab a map at the entrance or the information counter of the exhibition and take a moment to study the areas of interest. You can also look online prior to going to the exhibitions at which hall or category is where to save some time.
Once it is clear where your suppliers are situated, start there. Go through each hall in an organized way and prioritize the halls by importance.
Once you completed all the halls you wanted to see you could go to the halls that were initially of the least interest to your business. You may find some ideas on other products in less interesting halls too.

Hotels during the exhibition:

Many hotels will provide a free shuttle bus to exhibitions. Check with the hotel staff to see if this service is provided.
Book hotels now if you haven’t booked them yet! Hotels during exhibitions can get very expensive. The sooner you book the better.
I usually won’t stay too far from the exhibition area, as I don’t want to waste time. Unfortunately that carries a price tag.
If your budget doesn’t allow this, find a hotel near a subway station (MTR).
Whatever you do, don’t take a taxi TO and FROM the exhibition. Take the subway or free shuttle buses provided by your hotel. At the Canton Fair, for example, it is impossible to get taxis at night. You can take a taxi in the morning TO the fair; that should be ok.

First things first. Here is what I bring to exhibitions:

• Name/Business cards (an absolute MUST)
• Trolley to carry all the catalogues that I collect
• My own (printed) company presentation
• Notebook & pens
• Passport photo (some exhibitions such as the Canton fair require a passport photo)
• Comfortable shoes (you will be walking all day)

At the exhibition:

Once you are at the exhibition, get a map; you should be able to get them anywhere at information counters.
Walk the aisles until you find something that interest you is definitely an approach but I prefer to prepare a little and do some research on my main interests.
You will want to work with manufacturers only at the exhibition and not with representatives. There are hundreds of representatives at the fair ground offering translation services, negotiation, insight etc. Do not go with them! They usually charge very high fees and aren’t totally honest with you. They are probably also no experts in every product category and that might end up in a disaster.
Never place orders right away. You should negotiate prices, ask questions and maybe show more than interest and tell the supplier that you may want to order when you are back. But don’t tell them to enthusiastically that you want to order right away. Why?

  • The prices you get at the fairs are usually not the best prices. Negotiate when you are back home.
  • You will want to clarify your terms first via email/phone calls before you place an order. Have him sign a purchase order agreement.
  • You will want to compare prices of more than one supplier for the same product

To determine if the person you are speaking to is a manufacturer or representative make sure to ask a lot of questions:

How to act and ask questions at exhibitions

I usually prepare a little speech before I go to the exhibition. It depends on my project or product that I am looking for but I like to introduce myself a little bit and give the supplier a professional image of me.
He is likely more interested in giving me answers, good prices or proper email feedback after the exhibition. Here is how it could look:

Hi, I am Manuel and I am the Managing Director of Mandarin-Gear Limited in Hong Kong.
I manage/own a sourcing and buying office for many large retailers worldwide.
My customers are looking for product “X” and I am interested in discussing more details or receiving a quotation based on my customer’s requirements.

Then I ask my questions and once I am satisfied I will ask him to provide me a quote based on my requirements. I will hand him my business card and I will MAKE SURE that he wrote down everything we discussed.

Could you please send me a quote of this item (from his booth) based on “X” quantity, including certification “XY”?

I will also take his name card and catalogue to study later.
Here are some questions that I ask the suppliers. You can adapt these to your product or requirements as necessary. You can also make yourself a checklist with these questions and print it out for each supplier meeting you have.
Obviously you can also memorize these questions and make notes on your notepad.
Clip the supplier’s name card to your notebook and write down answers to these questions:
• When was his factory established?
This is important as to figure out if he has been doing business for a long time or if he is newly established. If the factory is brand new I will be wary of dealing with them, while if they are older than 5 years I will probably go ahead with further questions.
• What is the total count of staff, workers, engineers and managers?
A well-organized factory has at least 200 employees. That could be 160 workers, 30 sales staff, 10 engineers and 10 managers.
• What certifications can he provide for product “X”?
Know the certifications that you need for your product. If a supplier has no idea about FCC, CE, RoHS, ERP, GS or other certifications of a chemical or other nature, you can probably leave the booth right away. If he is aware of the certifications and requirements but hasn’t applied them to all his products it’s not an eliminating criteria, but make sure to ask if he is willing to apply for the certifications after order-placement.
• Who are his main customers?
Do you know the customers he is talking about? Do they have a certain reputation in your country that would make you feel comfortable working with him? If he is working with customers that you know, it should be a good sign of his competence.

• Mention a few of your competitors or bigger clients
Drop a few names of the bigger competitors or clients of yours. If he knows them it’s a good sign. If not, it is very unlikely that they are doing overseas business and perhaps aren’t even interested in your business, knowing that your requirements are too high or “too much work” for him.
• What is his main market?
If he operates already within or near your country it is also likely that he can fulfill your requirements. It’s usually a good sign if he works for countries like the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, the United States, Canada and other first world countries. It means that his factory is able to pass audits, tests and certifications needed for these countries.

• What is the factory quality management standard?
Remember that good factories are also easy to spot if they have a certain quality management System (QMS) such as ISO 9001, BSCI and so on.
• What is the MOQ?
Can he actually provide the low or high MOQ that you need? Is he willing to produce a first order based on a very small quantity or does he have the capacity for large volumes?
• What is the rough price of this item based on X quantity?
Most suppliers will give you a very rough figure for the product they are exhibiting. These can be vague as often these are “blank” prices that do not include any certification, licenses, etc. But it is necessary to ask for prices (and write them down in your notebook) for your follow up. You can also use my “rule of thumb” to add on 20-30% on top of the supplier’s price to calculate if the price is competitive.
• What certification is included in his price?
Does the product currently fulfill your minimum requirements for certifications or standards? If not, is he willing to apply for certifications after order placement? Is he aware of the different certifications that you need or do you get the feeling he doesn’t know what you are talking about?
• Ask if he can provide samples after the exhibition
If you would like to have a sample after you come back home ask him if he is willing to send samples. Most likely he will agree but make sure you remind him once you are back home to send you the sample. Some suppliers will actually sell or give you a sample right on the booth if you ask for it. It is actually not allowed but if there is a sample I would need right away because it’s that good and I want to show it to customers back home, I will ask anyway.
• Ask for payment terms
Are his payment terms a K.O. criteria? Make sure he agrees to your payment terms and doesn’t insist on 100% payment upfront.
• Ask for his top-selling items and who his customers are
Sometimes you may not have time to look at all products so you might miss the best selling items. Ask him either to show you his best selling items or send you a quote later for his top-sellers. Make a note that you are expecting his prices and offers later.
If I get the feeling after 1 or 2 questions that a supplier has no idea what I am talking or asking about, I politely end the conversation and leave the booth. There is no use in screening a supplier with all questions when I already know he is not interested or can’t fulfill my requirements.
After all, I need to scan the entire exhibition and I can’t waste my time with suppliers that are ignorant or need a basic education on my market’s/customer’s requirements. You will develop a gut feeling pretty soon if it is worth it to speak to a supplier longer or if you should leave the booth right away.

Hall arrangement:

Once you arrive you need to pass trough the registration area which is pointed out through signs. Don’t forget to pre-register trough the link I gave you and bring 2 passport photos. At the registration area you will have to line up for “pre-registered buyers”. You will be guided trough the process by the staff there and then get your entry badge. You can then move to the main halls.
There are 3 main areas on each phase:
http://www.cantonfair.org.cn/hall/en/index.aspx?start=bn
Once you choose your phase you can hover over the hall and see what products you will find in these halls. Within the 3 main areas (A,B,C) you have numbered halls as for example 6.1. (ceramics). Within this hall you have over 200 suppliers!

Depending on your priority products I recommend you start with the most important halls first.
During the registration you will also get a printed guide with all hall details that helps you to navigate. But you can already write down the main halls now when you look at the link above.

At the Entrance of each hall:

Look at the main halls you want to see and prepare to walk them trough in order. It is your first time to visit the fair so I am guessing you have no appointments with suppliers. Therefore I recommend you just start walking until you see something of interest. That could either be a product that you have on your agenda or an item that really pops out.

In the halls/at the booth:

Suppliers will either be eager to give out brochures of their products or you simply walk into the booth of this supplier if there is anything of interest for you. Unlike in the US or at European exhibitions, the suppliers are very open and welcoming in receiving you in their booths. No appointments are required. Just walk in and introduce yourself and what you do or what you are looking for. You don’t need to hand out any business cards at this point since you don’t want to be spammed later from suppliers that do not interest you anyway.
If you see anything of interest within the booth point to these products and start asking the questions I mentioned above:

If you are happy with the discussed (make sure they also take notes) hand over your business card and tell them to email you all the details. Nice touch with the “thank you in Chinese” on the back by the way
Take a catalogue or a brochure from the supplier as well, have him staple his business card on it and note down what is important to you. Try to get catalogues from each supplier that you visit. They will be happy to give you a catalogue in exchange of your business card.
You will quickly see which booths you should walk in. The goal is to find manufactures or good trading companies.
For example avoid booths that have only a few products in the shelves (A) or booths that have too many different kind of product categories (B). Go for booths that have maybe 3-4 product categories but seem to be specialised on each category (C).

 

A: Few products only indicate a small trading company with high margins and no real expertise and little value
B: Say you see a booth that has all these products inside: towels, pet supplies, electronics, ceramics etc. It’s a clear sign that this supplier trades everything and anything. They may have expertise in certain areas but their prices are high.
C: A booth that has 3-4 product categories. For example a booth that has: bathroom accessories, shower cabinets & faucets. They all relate to each other and thats a good sign for a real manufacturer. Try to focus on these.

Miscellaneous:

Food: There are a few western restaurants and coffee shops on every corner
Money: There are a lot of ATM’s everywhere in case you need to withdraw money.
Printing services: Printers and business centres everywhere available.
WiFI: Is available for free. Just ask for the log-in at the info centres.
Hotels & ticketing: Travel agents are available on several main levels to book flights, train tickets or hotels
Bus: There are buses leaving to major hotels during peak hours (9am 5pm) for free. Major hotels also arrange buses TO the exhibition. Check with your hotel.
Taxis: Taxis are a nightmare to get. You can take a taxi to the exhibition in the morning from your hotel but in the late afternoon you can sometimes wait up to 2 hours to get a taxi. There are illegal taxis everywhere but they charge 10 times the price. I recommend to take the hotel bus or the Subway.
Subways: There are 2 subway stations at the exhibition grounds. One at the beginning & one at the end. I usually take the Subway as it is the most convenient way to get back to the hotel. When booking your hotel see to book one close by a subway station.
I hope this gave you a bit of an overview and I wish you all the success at your trip during the Cantonfair :)
Happy sourcing guys!

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