Going to a trade show is like going to the State Fair

David Dayton | Silk Road International

Every year growing up my family went to the State Fair.  When I was little, it was great.  Sickeningly fun rides, overly sweet foods, great attractions, cool shows—it was an event that we looked forward to each year.  But as I got older and had few more fairs under my belt it was less and less an anticipated event.  Maybe I was a jaded teen, or maybe I realized what it really was, an evening out with my parents and little brothers, the same crappy rides, big crowds, farm animals, poor food and the odd chance that we might see something cool.  The Whip was one of my favorite rides but I still can’t ride it without getting sick.

Going to your umpteenth tradeshow in China can be very similar—lots of fried food, huge crowds, the same booths, long travel and a slight chance that you may get lucky and see something new.  For my money, going prepared is the only way to make the trip worth the time.

Before you go know who is going to be there.  Many suppliers you’ve meet before will email you before the shows to tell you both what their booth number is and what they’ll be showing—take advantage of this to cut down you must-see list before you even get there.  If you’ve been there before and the suppliers you’re interested have both been there before, then contact them before you go to see if they have anything new that you’ll be interested in.  If not, you can save time by skipping their booth.

One of the biggest time wasters is “walking the floor.”  This is like browsing at a buffet—you’ll fill up your plate but how much of it do you really want.   Browsing fills up your days but rarely brings tangible post show results.  Sure you’ll pick up business cards but you’ll get more spam than results once the show is over.  If you’ve planned ahead you’ll get exactly what you want and save time.

Global Sources has a great “virtual trade-show” feature on their website that can really help you to see actual product without attending too!  Check it out.

Also, when you’re doing your pre-show planning, don’t stay longer than you have too.  This may sound obvious, but if you can plan your floor time well, you can use other days in China to actually get something valuable done!   One of the best ways to do this is to book changeable tickets and an early return date.  If all goes like you’ve planned you can get back home “on time.” But in the off chance that an opportunity pops up you’re in a position to take immediate advantage of it.

To maximize your time in China set up appointments to meet with suppliers in the days surround the show dates.  Sometimes these appointments can be held at the shows themselves.  Be sure to book time in the mornings since if the show is slow (and/or if the city is fun/new for the vendor they’ll be checking out early each evening).  Often since you only in China every few months you can finagle a visit while the show is still going on.  You may not meet the owner (probably at the show) but you’ll get what you need—a factory tour/audit with out the expense of an additional trip to China.

Use your trip to China to visit multiple shows. During April and October there are shows with similar product categories in Hong Kong, Macao, Shenzhen, Dongguan and Guangzhou.  All of these cities can be visited from any one of the other cities for a day without having to change hotels.  The value isn’t just in volume of potential suppliers that you’ll be able to visit either.  The China shows (as opposed to the HK and Macao shows) will have a different class of vendor.  Typically China shows are easier to get into for non-factory reps, there are no visa requirements and they are cheaper (and so more crowded).  Lots of the vendors at China shows would like to take the next step to international trade but don’t quite have the money/experience to afford HK yet.  If you’re an SME, these vendors can really be a valuable find for you—they are aggressive, have better quality than purely domestic vendors and are not too big to discount smaller orders from foreign buyers.

When you get to the show plan on attending some of the buyer services offered.  There are great resources (yes, I’m a speaker at one of them!) on tap at most shows—everything from how to negotiate deals to auditing factories and booking third party services.  There are transportation services (that can save you money immediately), information services, trade groups, and much much more.

Finally, plan to follow up with vendors while you’re still here in China.  Meeting with vendors 2-3 times over a 2 week period can save you months of trying to go back and forth with the same vendor via email.  Find them at the show, negotiate with them in a follow up, visit their factory and pick up some samples.

Fairs can be fun, but all to often they are too long, too much the same as last year’s, and not productive enough.  Make the most of your time by planning ahead.  And stay away from The Whip unless you have a strong stomach!

Leave a Comment