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.
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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