Canton Fair – How To Buy Wholesale Direct From Chinese Factories

These past few weeks I’ve been in Asia so I apologize if I haven’t been terribly responsive via email. Between jetlag and my packed schedule, I’ve been either too brain dead or fatigued to answer mails or write blog entries.

But now I’m back and I’m eager to tell you about my trip! As many of you know, my wife and I try to go out to Asia to meet with our linen vendors directly as well as attend the big Canton import export trade fair as often as we can.

With two kids however, we haven’t been out to Asia in over 2 years. This year however, my wife and I were absolutely adamant about getting out there so we flew my mom, my aunt and my uncle out to California all expenses paid in order to take care of our 2 kids while we flew to Hong Kong and China by ourselves. Buying all of those plane tickets was quite expensive, but this business trip was long overdue.

The Canton Fair

For all of you who are unfamiliar with the Canton Import and Export Fair, it’s held in GuangZhou, China twice a year (Usually during the end of May and the beginning of November) and is probably the largest show you will ever attend in your lifetime. It easily trumps any trade show in the US and is so large that it is split into 3 phases.

The first phase covers electronics, the second phase covers consumer goods, gifts and home decor and the third phase covers textiles, garments, shoes and office supplies. In order to give you an idea of the magnitude of the fairgrounds, picture the largest trade show that you’ve ever been to and multiply that by 10-20.

Yes, it’s that large. The phase that my wife and I attended (Phase 3) was the smallest of the 3 but the exhibition area covered almost 125 football fields worth of area by my rough estimates (The largest phase occupies over 200 football fields). The fair is so large that it’s impossible to cover the entire thing so you definitely have to have an idea of what areas you want to hit before you attend. You can’t just aimlessly wander and possibly hope to find what you are looking for.

The best part of the fair is that it’s a place where vendors and factory owners from all over China and Asia congregate all at once and you can easily find a vendor that either carries what you want to sell or can make what you want to sell.

If you’ve ever tried to find Chinese vendors or factories in the past, you probably know how difficult it is. In fact, it’s next to impossible to find a good vendor online or through a service like Alibaba.com. There are just too many companies to go through and it’s hard to gauge the quality of the goods being offered by just looking at photos online. That, and there’s often a language and cultural barrier which makes things even more difficult.

What’s awesome about the Canton Fair is that all of the vendors bring in samples of what they make and sell direct from their factories so you can get a sampling of all the merchandise first hand before committing to a purchase. Most of the vendors deal with US or European companies on a regular basis so they have the experience and infrastructure to export products to wherever you live. The other good news is that a good number of these vendors speak English…not good English mind you, but enough to communicate at a basic level. If you require an interpreter, you can easily hire one for a very reasonable price (100 yuan = 15 bucks for the day).

What To Expect

The only downside of the fair is that since you are dealing with Chinese factories directly, you have to buy in large quantities. Therefore if you are just starting out with your online store or just testing the waters, the Canton trade show is probably not for you.

Just as an example, let’s say you want to buy stuffed animals or baby blankets to sell in the United States. The merchandise might only cost you a dollar a piece to have made but you would have to commit to buying a minimum run of 1000 blankets per style/color. Other vendors might require you to purchase 10-20K worth of goods as a minimum but allow you mix and match.

In any case, the minimum order is generally on the higher end and the initial cash outlay is usually on the order of tens of thousands of dollars. The good news is that since you are buying direct from the factory, the prices are extremely inexpensive. When it comes to electronics, consumer goods, textiles and garments, nothing beats Chinese factory prices. Buying a t-shirt over here is in the 40-50 cent range (depending on quality). If you can and are willing to spend more money up front, you can find goods to sell at extremely attractive price points which will have a positive effect on your profitability when you sell them back in the United States.

The Canton Import and Export Fair is also an excellent place to find factories to produce items of your own design. Let’s say you want to create your own line of handbags. You can easily find a vendor to mass produce what you want to sell by showing them patterns of your design.

It’s All About Establishing Relationships

Going to a trade show like the Canton Fair allows you to have face to face contact with a large number of vendors and to establish relationships with potential vendors early on. This is invaluable! In just one short trip, you can easily meet hundreds of factory owners that are all congregated in one gigantic exhibition hall. Most of the vendors who attend the tradeshows do not have a web presence so it’s next to impossible to find them otherwise.

It can be intimidating to travel to China to attend the fair but it’s well worth your time if you are serious about sourcing your products at rock bottom prices. If you are just starting out, I recommend that you start with a dropshipping and/or a light bulk wholesale vendor that can be found with a service like WorldWide Brands. Then once you are profitable and are used to running an online store, you can attend the Canton Trade Fair and have your products created factory direct at lower prices.

To make traveling arrangements as simple as possible, I also recommend that you stay in an American branded hotel in Guangzhou which offers free shuttle service to/from the fair.

Questions

If any of you would like to attend the fair and need travel advice, feel free to drop me a line. I literally just went last week so all of the travel arrangements are still fresh in my mind.

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38 thoughts on “Canton Fair – How To Buy Wholesale Direct From Chinese Factories”

  1. I use Alibaba and purchase my goods with a fair number of Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ).

    I purchase some very high-end goods and assemble them here in the States and then place them online on ebay and make a tidy profit (not millions, but OK). I shot for high-end niche merchandise that is my hobby and instead of sourcing it here Stateside, I went Alibaba (China mainland or Hong Kong) and do very well with that.

    1. @Daddy
      Alibaba is great if you take the time to go through and contact each vendor, request samples etc… But going to a tradeshow will save you a lot of time. I know several people that use Alibaba with mixed results.

  2. Would have loved to meet up. I live in Shenzhen and was at the Canton Fair Phase 3 as well. I find that if you can pull together an order for even just $5,000USD~ the smaller factories will be willing to give it a shot. I’ve done some direct sourcing and it is much better and cheaper than dropshipping. Of course you do need to warehouse and have the logistics in place!

    1. @marshall
      We actually visited Shenzhen as well for fun. Maybe next time I should send out some mail to see if readers want to meet up. I just assumed that no one was going.

  3. Steve, thanks for giving us aspiring entrepreneurs such a candid and insightful view into the world of trade shows in China! Your write-up couldn’t come at a better time for me. I’ve been working on creating a franchise for a premium children’s furniture line, and I’ve booked my first overseas trade show in Shanghai in January. Despite all the pre-show planning from making appointments with factories, to planning my route using the show floor plans, I have to admit that I’ve been a little bit nervous on what I should expect being that I can only speak Cantonese (which doesn’t), and have never been to Shanghai. Thanks for the tips (e.g. rent-a-translator, etc), you’ve instilled a little more confidence in my upcoming adventure!

    1. @Jason
      Awesome! Good luck at the show. I don’t think that most of the vendors will speak Cantonese there but I’ll bet you’ll be able to get by just fine with English. If not, just grab a translator! Should be a fun trip for you!

  4. Is Worldwide Brands really a good deal? It seems like I’m paying for the same info/vendors that I can get on Alibaba.com for free?

    1. @Cynthia
      Worldwide Brands is a different beast than Alibaba in that they specialize in light bulk and dropshipping vendors. WWB has already gone through the effort of screening out only legitimate vendors and have an elegant interface to search for them. Alibaba is for finding vendors in Asia. If you are having good luck with Alibaba, then stick with it. But if you are looking for lower volume merchandise, then WWB is probably better and much easier to use.

  5. Wow, what a great article! Thank you for sharing this information. My wife and I have always wanted to visit the canton fair, but I am not sure we could justify the costs involved with travelling so far away. I was also concerned with the language barrier, but from what you mentioned this is not as large of a problem as I had thought. I would have to say I have been one to find factories via Alibaba, but I rarely use it any longer. I have had my bad and good experiences with Alibaba. Without alibaba, initially I would have never been able to find the factories so easily. Recently, it seems the factories fortunately find me through our website. I would like to caution all who place orders through alibaba. You could receive and be stuck with a very poor quality product. Don’t ask me how I know.haha I have also noticed many “factories” on alibaba are actually only trade companies. Some of these trade companies are charging a hefty fees and may even be located within the USA or elsewhere outside of Asia. In other words, they are drop shipping container loads from the factory to you! But trade companies can also benefit you if they have modest fees and high quality control.

    Anyway, in order to help me make a decision on whether or not the expense could be considered a wise investment, could you please share the costs of you and your wife’s trip? If so, please break down the expenses as best as possible. Such as airfare, hotel expenses, transportation expenses while in China (subway, taxi, other airfare, etc…), meals, and unforeseen expenses. I believe this information will help us make a decision on whether to visit the show in the coming spring or fall.

    Again, thank you for your post. My wife and I are jealous and cannot wait to explore the Canton trade show, visit with factories we have dealt with for years, and have a little fun travelling to the tourist spots.

    Tom

    wwwAHIdistribution.com

  6. Thanks for introducing me to the Canton Fair! Last week, my husband invited me to accompany him on a qtrly business trip to Beijing. As I considered how best to spend the time while he’s in meetings, I revisited the niche research that I began a month ago before I was downsized from my corporate marketing position. As luck would have it, I literally Stumbleupon your site the other day, and here you are giving me a great way to optimize the time overseas!! The trip is 3-4 wks from now and may not coincide with Phase 3, but at least the timing is perfect for me to sketch a short-term and long-term sourcing strategy. Attending the Canton Fair may be very ambitious for next month, but I definitely will consider going in Spring 2012.

    Thanks so much for bringing this into view for me, Steve!

    1. @Micaela
      Yeah the Canton Fair is incredible and easily the largest fair I’ve ever attended in my life by about 10X. You should definitely check it out if you get a chance.

  7. Hi Steve,

    Thank you for this gem of an article. Lately my hubby and I have been thinking of opening an online store, but without any knowledge of how to source the products.

    After reading your post we’ve decided to do some test runs with suppliers from websites like Worldwide Brands. However, we are so excited about the Canton Fair already. It sounds really exciting. Plus we need a holiday :)

  8. I had the opportunity to visit China a couple years ago. I can’t believe what you can get there and for how cheap.

  9. sandra says:

    We are planning on attending the Fall Canton Fair this year, any recommendations on good translators? Do most of the booths have English speaking personnel?

  10. rhona says:

    thank you for this article! i was wondering if we can attend the canton fair if we don’t have any business? we are just planning to have one that’s why we want to go and scout for potential business. thank you for the reply.

  11. Going to Canton Fair for the first time this year, very exciting just want to hear some experiences you have had and tips about dealing with the vendors and the event.

    Any info would help, looking for a good group of people to meet up with there as well.

    Best,

    Joshua

  12. roxy says:

    I found your article so helpful are there any more trade shows like that that are geared more towards fashion development? and maybe some that I can attend that are sooner I dont want to wait till may. thank you

  13. Steven W. says:

    Hi Steve,

    Just wanted to say that this was an awesome Article. I am currently 20 years old, and am searching diligently into opening up an online business and pursuing this line of work. I had started my first business at age 15, and stopped it at age 19. The hunger of being an entrepreneur does not stop. I have been eagerly searching for factories located in Asia that can supply my company with goods, and this has been a great read for me. I would love to have some one-on-one chats with you and learn a bit from you; just some common stuff. Thanks again for the insight on this, I will have to attend this show sometime in my life.

  14. Lin says:

    I stumbled on your site while searching for more info regarding the Canton Fair in China. I’ve been there 2 times but in the Bejing area. I currently wholesale several products but would like to go more direct with companies in China that make jewelry and scarves, etc. (women’s accessories) I don’t know what session to attend ~ I think it would be phase 2. If anybody has any ideas and hints to make this trip less stressful and more informative on how to go about everything please let me know as I’m always looking at how to expand my business.

  15. Hazeleyes says:

    Hi
    I really liked your article ,i am also amom of two and always wanted to do something and at same time wanted to give the kids proper attention si never went out to lok for a job ,recently i started to sell small things on an online auction place and since then have been looking for ideas what to sell.I really wanted to go to the canon fair this year with my family but i was just worried because taking kids might not give us what we are looking to get from the fair.do you know do they have any facilities over there for the kids or will we b able to suceed from the fair with the kids,hope you get what i am trying to say.Also we wanted to get ideas of what to sell were focussing more on phase 2 and phase 3 ,will you please advice that if we want to buy small quantities of few items to try which is the best place ? Can you please help or give ideas as which items will be best to make profit on?

  16. Natalie says:

    Hi! Nice article you’ve written. Do you know by any chance a vendor who is fair trade in hair weave or extensions?

    Thanks!

  17. ekta says:

    Hi, thanks for such a gud article, pls advise if children are allowed in the fair .my three yr old will accompany me and if pure vegetarians will hav any problem in finding food thr.
    Thnks

  18. Faisal says:

    Hello Steve!

    Do you think the exhibitors/suppliers attending the Canton Fair are all legit? Like I started an advertising business recently and looking for potential Chinese suppliers for my products which I sell. I have gone through alibaba.com, globalsources.com and few others but doing a bit of research on Google shows me all of these sites had mixed outcomes for importers as most scams also use these sites. So, should I completely “trust” the suppliers mentioned on the Canton Fair sites? (cantonfair.org, cantonfair.net, cantonfair.org.cn).

  19. Basil says:

    Hi,
    I can only appreciate the great advice. I am planing to travel to this trade shows in China, make contacts and if possible purchase electronics and house goods for sell in Africa (Cameroon). Do you have any Idea on how to ship to Cameroon from China. Secondly any ideas on accommodation for the period of the trade shows (say 2 weeks)? Any recommendations will be appreciated.

  20. I can well recommend the Canton Fair. Everything on here is true, it is an enormous buying opportunity.
    You can organise everything yourself or take the strain out of it all and book through ourselves.
    Happy trip!

    Beverley Bradley.

  21. Lily says:

    Hi Steve,

    Could we purchase products directly from the exhibitors at the Canton fair?

    Thanks.

  22. Esther says:

    Im really interested in attending the carton fair I also have afew products to exhibit and after that export from China Kindly advice on how to go about it.

  23. From any type of companies or any product the the owner of the company the new in
    market they should by the items in bulk in wholesale the person who bought the item for business the product should be bought in bulk so the minimum rate will be assign for the product.

  24. Hey,

    I Will be visiting phase 3 of the canton fair this coming month and had some questions.

    1. Do you think i need to be there for the entire phase 3 or is doing 2-3 days out of the 5 suffice?

    2. You mentioned it was a 2 hour train from HK. I’m staying in Kowloon so that seems great however someone mentioned to me with the travel time from HK to the train, waiting for the train, going through customs, then from Guangzhou station to the fair can be about 4 hours one way, is this true? If so i was thinking maybe i should double book and get a hotel in Guangzhou for phase 3 but i would like to avoid this additional expense being my hotel in HK is already paid for and non refundable.

    3. I am a clothing company looking to bring my own patterns for manufacturing. I already have a invitation from a factory that I have been working with previously. Do I need a badge to enter the fair? Do I need to register online to be an attendee?

    Thanks for the insightful advice and the open invitation to contact you.

  25. Dear all,
    Do you need interpreter, sourcing consultant, liaison officer with your suppliers and you, quality control staff in china for your purchasing? i would like to do it for you at a reasonable price.

    Thank you again and best regards,

    Bill

  26. Jon says:

    Great article, but I wouldn’t commute from HK!! Just stay at one of the hotels next to it (Langham, Westin) so you can be fully fresh. In fact you can pop back to your hotel room for lunch and to rest your legs.

    Oh, and they all seem to speak english in my experience. And if they didn’t would you want to work with the supplier anyway?

    Hope that helps!

  27. Nasser says:

    Thank you Mr.Steve for this great article
    I just wanna Ask you in one thing about what you’ve been said
    of the beginner saler should start with dropshipping and/or a light bulk wholesale vendor how i can find the light bulk wholesale vendors
    i hope you please replay me coz i was for the one who will guide me to start
    of my small business of T-shirt and clothing
    thank u again and im waiting for ur replay ^_^

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