I think there are generally three effective ways to source your product:
- Internet (Alibaba, Globalsources, Aliexpress, HKTDC)
- Exhibitions / Conventions
The Internet is probably the fastest way to source for products.
There are hundreds of providers on the Internet to source for products. The most reliable and efficient ones would be:
ALIBABA (B2B-Business to Business for larger quantities)
ALIEXPRESS (B2C Business to Consumer for small order and drop shipment)
GLOBALSOURCES (B2B and Marketplace) Alibaba’s competitor in Hong Kong
HKDTC.COM (B2B with small order and drop shipment) from Hong Kong
I mainly use Alibaba or Globalsources since they have been around the longest and are the safest to use.
There are many other websites within China similar to those two but they are not as user friendly and safe. For some of them, including TAOBAO or BAIDU, you would need to speak Chinese or hire a translator.
I go into details about Alibaba & Globalsources here.
I would say exhibitions are the most effective way to find suppliers and products since you meet face to face and can also see the products.
As a first step Internet sourcing is fine, but maybe try to arrange your next China trip around an exhibition.
I learned, after many disappointments, that you don’t want to place a large order (more than 100 pieces) without knowing what you will get. You wouldn’t want to place an order with someone you never met and transfer a lot of money to him. So going to exhibitions helps a lot.
Even if you can’t go to an exhibition you can still find out about all the suppliers exhibiting there. How? Simply go onto the exhibition’s website. For example, this lighting fair in Hong Kong: http://www.hktdc.com/fair/hklightingfairae-en/HKTDC-Hong-Kong- International-Lighting-Fair-Autumn-Edition.html.
Then click on “Full Exhibitor List” and there you go. You have all exhibitors exhibiting at this fair. It’s a bit of a lengthy process but you can check all websites of the suppliers, look at their products, and contact them directly without even going to the exhibition.
As I mentioned already, in this section we focus on the exhibitions in Asia. I would say there are three major organizers and hosts that cover EVERYTHING that you need. You need to preregister with all three organizers and it’s FREE of CHARGE.
Main Exhibition Organizers in China/Hong Kong:
HKTDC covers most of the fairs held in Hong Kong. All exhibitions are held at the Wan Chai convention center on Hong Kong Island. Hong Kong exhibitions will also be the most important ones for you (apart from Canton Fair). They cover everything from jewelry to food to electronics, gifts, optical, maritime, and much more. Click on the link and see all the upcoming events. HKTDC’s events usually have the big names exhibiting. That’s a good way to spot trends and innovative products. But eventually you want to buy from the factories with lower prices.
Globalsources is the second organizer in Hong Kong. They exhibit at the Asia World Expo Hall at the Hong Kong International Airport. But they also hold other events around Asia (Korea, China, Thailand, India), which are usually a lot smaller and deal mostly with local industries.
They also cover the most product categories (electronics, jewelry, textiles, and more). The events are usually smaller in size and the exhibiting suppliers are mostly cheaper than at HKTDC. This can be positive and negative, as in lower prices but less innovative products.
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 31⁄2 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 innovations, 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.
Don’t throw away your badge. You can use it for your next visit without paying 100 Yuan for a replacement card.
Last but not least, contacts that you already have can be very helpful. Ask around in your friend circle, relatives, and so on. You never know, your sister’s cousin might have a contact that you didn’t know about.
Sign up on business networks such as www.linkedin.com or www.xing.com if you haven’t already. You can find a lot on there and can ask around if anyone has any contacts to suppliers for your products.
There are also professional groups on those two websites with lots of suppliers offering their services. Simply search for a group that could meet your needs (e.g., consumer electronics suppliers / textile suppliers, etc.) and post your inquiry to this specific group.
If you aren’t on any business networks or have no contacts, I recommend that you start with Alibaba/Aliexpress.
Usually, government agencies in your country will also provide you with supplier contacts. But be aware, most of these contacts will likely be importers themselves. You will want to cut them out and go to the source. Remember, that’s what this course is all about.