Canton Trade Fair – Phase 1

I have wanted to visit Canton Fair for about 4 years now, I was put off by two things in the past that had I known what I know now, would not have been an issue. Number one being getting a visa and number two being getting from Hong Kong airport to the Fair. I almost came here to the Fair in 2008 and I was trying to organise the trip through a Chinese agent. At the time I owned a business importing Bicycles and components from Taiwan and I was experiencing large price increases that were beginning to squeeze my margin. As i was buying in bulk by container i thought China would be a good move.

I looked into suppliers but the quality of the samples i recieved was poor, i needed to get out there and have a look around and maybe look for new business oppertunities.

Bit off topic but…very old picture of me collecting Bikes from a distribution depot. Really funny day as a container had been delivered from Taiwan the morning of a trade show in London where we were launching a new brand. I needed to take some samples out of the container to exhibit – it was a saturday an no haulage drivers were free…..

Anyhow I suppose like most of us westerners I was daunted by a trip to China and wanted to get it all organised thus I was willing to pay for this service. As these things go the price kept going up and I began to lose faith in what I was actually getting for my money, with me also bringing one of the lads who worked for me it was looking to end up pretty expensive. I decided not to go as a 3 week trip was looking like a huge headache and investment, it makes me laugh now to think that I considered paying those prices. It makes me cry to think i didnt just take the plunge back then.

It’s easy to see how it would have cost a lot though, here prices go up on everything over the duration of Canton Fair, and even my local restaurant here asked if it was ok to charge me an additional 10% because of the fair. Add this to your agent making a cut from everything they book for you and your burning money pretty quick.

So I have a few cost saving measures for you that I wish I had known back in 2008. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly – the visa.  Don’t pay for a premium flight into Guangzhou, don’t ask your agent to arrange it, don’t book through an online agent, don’t think you need any special letters from a factory allowing you into the country, don’t get into a flap. There are some great English speaking places in Hong Kong that offer a same day visa service for about £80. This is classed as a single entry visitor visa but will be fine for the purpose of your trip. I was quoted up to 4 times this amount so it makes a huge saving. Additionally I was having a panic worrying about if the invitation from the factory would be sufficient, in reality it’s not needed and perhaps a leverage strategy from a factory for you to visit them.

Next the trip from Hong Kong to Guangzhou. Flying into HK instead of Guangzhou, where Canton fair is held, has a few advantages. Firstly it is a shorter flight with fewer changes and the flight costs less and also it means you can arrange your visa when you arrive instead of having to do it before your trip. On top of this HK is amazing as you can see from my attempt at arty photos. I cant rate it enough.

Yes there is a shop selling chicks, how can you not want to stop off there on your way to Canton Fair?

I was ignorant enough to think that Hong Kong was actually classed as the same country as China, this is in fact far from the truth. They are very much separate and travelling between the two is very OTT. I again was looking at using an agent to collect me from the airport and get me to the fair – I must have thought I was Donald Trump? In my defence I was advised to do this as I was told that I would have difficulty doing it myself. It is though just like any other process in China, time consuming and rife with paperwork. Once you know the ropes it’s just a matter of following protocol, however backwards it may seem. The bottom line is that even if you don’t know the ropes you will be able to manage this, especially at the time of Canton fair as there will be an array of foreigners to follow. Most people in Hong Kong speak English so you can always ask for help. The cost is also very cheap, maybe £14 over the course of 2 trains and about 2 hours.

Another area you can save money on is hotels, They are often doubled even tripled in price over the duration of the fair, a hotel in the vicinity is going to cost you a fortune. Fortunately Taxis here are very cheap and you can easily stay away from the fair complex to save money on accommodation. I live roughly 25 minutes from the fair and it costs me about £2.50 in a taxi. The taxi price will likely be more if you look too fresh faced so try throw in a little mandarin to the driver so he doesn’t try it on.

One last thing, you don’t need your agent to get your trade show access pass sorted out, you can apply online yourself and upload your photo etc. There is no charge for these so don’t get fooled – this was something else my agent in 2008 quoted me for. I did mine on the morning of the first day of the fair with no problems.

I arrived at the fair with great excitement it has to be said. I have visited and exhibited at a lot of trade fairs all over the world and I always get a buzz from them, Canton felt more special as we pulled up outside. The scale of this place is huge, it is after all the largest trade fair in China and this is the 111th time it has been hosted. There was a lot of security and baggage checks, similar to any major airport. After collecting my pass and filling out the usual foray of additional paperwork I was in, and so it seemed was the rest of China.

The fair is so big that it is split into 3 phases meaning I will be visiting it for another 2 weeks yet. I have found that the best way to come across the little gems here it to wonder about and keep your eyes open so that is my intention here. Sure there are certain products I am looking for but I am keeping an open mind. I went to the fair for 3 days in the first phase and I will likely do the same for each coming phase. I did not get round the whole complex in that time, I had to pick my preferred sections from the map. I took my assistant on the first day but I did not take her after that as most exhibitors spoke English and you have to pay £30 a day for them to let your assistant in – who knows why?

My first impressions were that if there is one place in the world to find a product to sell then this is the place, everything is here, it all very well laid out and all the exhibitors are obviously very keen to assist a foreign buyer. Its staggering to see right in front of you the epic reality that truly everything is made in China, this is a real powerhouse and very obviously still on the up. It makes me a little sad to think that all we can do is buy other countries produce as its just not cost effective to make our own.

I got to look at some great new products that I had not seen before, a lot of it just released for the show. The coolest thing I looked at was a machine that takes your photo then prints it onto your nail. Apparently very popular in japan the integrated 5.0MP camera takes your snap before allowing you to edit it and then prints directly onto your nail using a normal HP inkjet cartridge, the results are pretty impressive.

After talking to exhibitors and watching other visitors enquire about products I was fast realising that I would perhaps not be placing any orders at the fair itself, the pricing was very inflated. I was not really expecting that to be honest and I was a little disappointed. One product I currently buy for £110 I had hoped to find cheaper to give myself a better margin, the cheapest price I could find it for on the day was £180. I tried at several suppliers and was looking to place a good sized order but the price was just too far out of the way. At the last place I enquired about I asked the sales guy why it was so expensive, he looked confused muttering the usual “best quality original”. I explained that I live here now and I currently buy these already for £110. He seemingly vetted me by asking which factory I buy from, I obliged and he then smiled and said “Oh this is Canton, we always add a premium price for foreign customers, come and visit us after the fair”. It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you just want to get a deal done but it’s useful to note that the prices here are not what you can actually buy the product for if you look hard enough.

With all the people, excitiment and “bright lights” it is easy to get carried away at a trade fair, I have done it myself in the past and overcommitted to a product order that I really didn’t have enough margin in. be careful here and know your pricing, just be solid and walk away if there is not enough money in it for you.

After a few hours I phoned my friend who exports to Brazil, I asked her why I was getting quoted such crazy prices. She informed me that it is always like this now at the fair and it is better just to use it to research and find new products/ideas. So that is my plan, hopefully come across some new ideas and then spend the next few months looking for the best source of these products. Im happy with that as I know that my position allows me to do this where as I guess a lot of the other guys doing business here may wind up paying a premium for their products. That’s why I moved here though, to try and give myself an edge in an already very competitive market.

All in all though another real eye opener for me, I did not think my eyes could possibly be opened up any wider by China but she continues to educate me. I will update you on each phase of the fair after they have passed.

2 thoughts on “Canton Trade Fair – Phase 1

  1. Hi Daniel,
    Enjoying reading your blog, very inspiring.
    I recently left my job and want to work for myself, just need to get past the wantrepreneur stage and do it!

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