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5 Tips for The Canton Fair (Import and Export Fair)

The Canton Trade Fair, or, The China Import and Export Fair, as it is now known takes place twice a year and is one of the largest trade fairs in the world. The fair takes place around April and October and last year saw a total of over 30,000 exhibitors and almost 200,000 visitors.

The fair is divided into three different phases, with each phase highlighting a different category of products or services. For example, consumer electronics, tools and machinery are just some of the things exhibited during Phase 1. General ceramics, toiletries and gifts are just some of the things exhibited during Phase 2. Clothing, bags and shoes are just some of the things exhibited during Phase 3. Each phase lasts about 4 days or so.

The fair started off small in 1957 but has now huge. It takes up space around 180 football fields in size. It is an excellent way to make new business contacts and see the best that China has to offer.

The fair is amazing but it can also be a bit overwhelming. In this article, we’ll provide insider tips and tricks so that you get the very best out of your visit.

Canton Fair

Tip 1: Before You Book Your Trip

Being properly prepared beforehand will make the whole experience much more pleasant. Before you even get on that plane, you need to know the answers to the following:

  • Which phase will the products you are interested in fall under? Make sure you book your trip at the right time.
  • Are you going to need a guide and translator? Some of the exhibitors will speak English but a translator may be needed at times. There is also a big difference between Chinese culture and Western culture. It will pay you to learn what some of these differences are before you leave so you get the most out of the experience.
  • It’s a good idea to stay at least three to four days to get the most out of your trip – there is too much to see in even one or two days.
  • Pre-register online before you leave to make it easier when you get there.
  • WeChat is an extremely popular way to communicate in China due to restrictions on many forms of social media. Download the WeChat app and start getting to know it’s features. Fill in your WeChat profile and make sure that it looks professional. Add a professional-looking profile photo. Think of it as you would LinkedIn rather than Facebook.

Tip 2: When You Pack

You will need to pack comfortable clothes and shoes. You are going to be spending a lot of time walking around the fair so make sure that your clothes are comfortable and breathe well – natural fibres are a better idea here. Make sure that you have shoes that are broken in and comfortable to walk in. That said, you must still look presentable so aim for smart-casual. Pack a couple of notebooks and also work out some generic questions you will ask prospective suppliers like what the minimum order quantities are, customizability, etc. Also, make sure that you have either a bag on wheels or a backpack to take with you to the fair. You will receive a number of business cards, pamphlets, etc. throughout the day and these get heavy to carry after a while. Have plenty of business cards made to take with you – this helps to convince exhibitors that you are a serious business person and many will want a business card if you ask for a brochure. Make sure that either your WeChat ID or QR code is printed on it. Also, make sure that you have a business email address or they won’t take you seriously. Do not use a Gmail address as Google is blocked in China.


Tip 3: Know How to Get to and From the Fair

There are a lot of options when it comes to getting to and from the fair. The cheapest and easiest is usually to take the hotel shuttle. Just make sure that you know what times they arrive and leave because they are very strict about keeping to schedule. The metro system will take you just about anywhere you want to go but it is easy to get yourself lost. Learn the route you need to take and what stations you must get off at the upfront. Taxis are relatively inexpensive but there have been reports of taxi drivers being less than scrupulous with tourists. This won’t always be the case but it pays to be on your guard. Try to keep a selection of small bills to pay drivers with as some will swop out larger bills with fake ones. Also, stick to metred taxis rather than fixed price ones to avoid being scammed.


Tip 4: Do Reconnaissance First

Your first day should only be about seeing what is there and getting basic brochures, etc. You cannot, at this stage, get too involved in conversations with the exhibitors or you won’t be able to see everything This is where your notebooks come in handy. Make notes as you go along that can help you do research back in your hotel room. Be prepared for a late night – you now want to start looking up information about the companies that you were interested in and do some more in-depth reading on the products you were interested in so that you can whittle down the list of people to speak to. Also, take note of where the restrooms are – be prepared, many of the toilets will require you to squat over them – and where the food courts and banks are.


Tip 5: Approach Your Shortlisted Candidates

Now that you have an idea of who you want to speak to, go out and meet them. Remember that list of prepared questions I suggested that you make up? This is where you will use it. This is how you find out what the minimum order quantities are, whether or not you can have a logo added, etc. What you can also do is to take a selfie with both you and the exhibitor in it and use it when contacting them later so that they remember who you are. Aside from that, the number one tip is to really enjoy the experience – there is nothing else quite like it.

ChinaDirect Sourcing acts project managers on behalf of our clients to negotiate with the suppliers. We keep our clients informed of every stage in the sourcing process. As advocates of free and fair trade, we also give those seeking to import, and even seasoned importers, opportunities to learn the right way to source goods from China.

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