My First Chinese Trade Fair: Tips And Tricks For A Productive And Stress-Free Trip [Podcast Ep11]
Back again with another segment from my webinar with Tom Pirenne of ShowSourcing.
In the last episode of the GlobalTQM podcast, Tom and I talked about whether Trade Fairs will exist in the future.
The answer was a resounding, “HELL YES!”
Now that’s clear, let’s say you decide you’d like to fly to China to attend your first trade fair.
(FYI, there are a bunch happening October. And they repeat around April. Both in mainland China and Hong Kong.)
How should you prepare for trade fairs so you have a fun, comfortable trip that’s also fruitful?
That’s what we’re going to cover in this episode.
Like the last episode, we’ve included a transcript of the conversation between Tom and me.
However, if you’re short on time and don’t want to read the entire transcript…
Here’s a summary “checklist” you can note down for reference:
- Install a good VPN on your computer before you fly over. Many of the services you’re used to (like Gmail, Google search, etc.) don’t work in China. A VPN makes sure its business as usual and you’re not stuck without your essential tools.
- Install Didi on your phone. It’s the Chinese version of Uber. You can also use local taxis but most Chinese taxi drivers don’t speak English. Ask your hotel concierge to write down the hotel’s address on a piece of paper. Take a photo of the address with your phone. If you use a local taxi, all you need to do is show him the photo.
- Pre-register for the big fairs and get your badge in advance. The trade fair’s website has instructions on how to register. Many trade fairs today have apps and digital badges. The apps also have maps of the fair and electronic show guides, so they’re quite useful to have. Also, when you pre-register online, the trade fair will send you an invitation letter which you can use for your visa application. This means you get your Chinese visa easily.
- Do some research ahead of time to figure out which suppliers/manufacturers you’re going to visit first. Email your suppliers or potential suppliers to ask them if they’ll be at the trade fair and what their booth number is. If you want to have a detailed conversation with a supplier, you can make an appointment with them for later in the afternoon/evening. Use the booth numbers of your researched suppliers and the digital or physical map of the show, plot your route the fair efficiently.
- Wear comfortable shoes. You’re going to be doing a LOT of walking. Don’t be afraid to dress casually. It’s an unspoken rule at these trade fairs because everyone knows how physically tiring it is to attend the fair. Ask your hotel concierge where the nearest foot massage parlor is because it’s the best way to relax after a long day of walking.
- Bring a lot of business cards. It’s a business card culture, so think carefully about what contact information you put on your card. It’s a good idea to give an e-mail address that you’ve created specifically for supplier communications. If you don’t want to be contacted by phone, maybe give them your WeChat info. Remember to ask the suppliers for their business cards too. Take photos and save them in your phone.
- Do some research on the type of products you’re interested in. This is tied to the supplier research. Knowing what products you want narrows the area you have to cover and lets you spend your time efficiently. This is most important for new businesses and Amazon sellers. If you’re interested in also browsing other suppliers and products for inspiration, you can set aside half a day or a day for this.
- Take one or two power banks with you for your electronic devices. You’re going to be recording so much information during the day that you will run out of battery at some point.
- Don’t rely on your memory. At all. Take pictures of products, the booth, the booth number, the supplier’s business card, and the catalog. Make notes in the catalogs and take pictures of those too. They’ll be a massive help after the trade fair. E.g. if you want to email a supplier about a product, it’s much easier to send them a picture you took rather than describing it to someone for whom English is a second language.
- The afternoon of the last day of the fair is the least productive time to attend. Suppliers are not in meet-and-greet mode. They’re in break-down-the-booth mode. If you do go, this is probably a good time to casually look around for inspiration and creative ideas.
- Start your post-fair work before you leave China. Use your nights back at the hotel to do your product selection. Eliminate products you’re not interested in pursuing. Keep only the ones you’re serious about. This will save you a lot of time when you get back home. Send out your RFQs early. On the same night if possible. (With the ShowSourcing app you’re able to send the RFQ while you’re at the booth!) These manufacturers are going to be drowning in thousands and thousands of inquiries after the fair. The faster you take action, the easier it will be for you to get a response from the manufacturer. Your responsiveness builds credibility in their eyes and will allow you to develop a better relationship in the long-run.
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Just a quick rundown, if any of you are planning to travel to China in the next few weeks or months, you should really watch this. Just full disclosure, there are going to be some offers at the end, but regardless of the offers, there’s great content in this webinar and it’s all free and extremely helpful. So, we’re really trying to give that to you and encourage you to listen to it. Having said that, let’s get on.
Jumping straight into it, the first question is, what are the best ways to prepare for a trade fair? We’ve got lots of them coming up now in October and in April they get repeated. There’s Hong Kong trade shows, the China trade shows, the Canton trade show. So, we thought let’s give you some tips and tricks. I’m gonna let … Tom, maybe, why don’t you jump in and kick it off.
Perfect, it’s a good idea. Let’s talk about these trade fairs. There are going so many people and so many people every year, but it’s interesting to be very well prepared. Especially if it’s the first time you’re going to China, for example. I think it’s important. There are some things you maybe might not know, but can be really important. Let’s kick into it.
The first point is to get a good VPN. If you are traveling to China, Google is not working. All related Google services like Gmail is not working, also social media. So, it’s important to get a good VPN so you can work as the way you’re used to working and still use your Gmail, use your Google to look up some supplier details whenever so. Because if not and you arrive there … Do it in advance because if you arrive there, you won’t be able to look it up anymore, to look for a good VPN and install it. So do it in advance. Install a good VPN and you can work as you’re used to working. I think we can share some good VPNs later on in the comments.
Yeah, that’s a great idea. We’ll add some links to some good VPNs that work well in China. But guys, a lot of people coming to China don’t realize you can’t search things, a lot of apps don’t work, a lot of access to websites is limited. So, a good VPN is the best way to start. The second important thing of course is transport. Tom maybe can talk about DiDi and taxis. Any tips and tricks there for us?
Yeah. DiDi is actually the Uber app of China. Uber is not working in China, so I think it’s very useful to install DiDi on your phone. Just look for it in the app store and you can use it. You can also use normal taxis which is fine, but if you’re using a normal taxi, it is very important that you ask your hotel or whoever can speak Chinese to write down the address where you want to in Chinese because a lot of these taxi drivers don’t speak any English. So, you’re easy lost if you’re not well prepared.
Know where you have to go, note down some different addresses, the way you go maybe to the fair or to a supplier you’re going to visit. But also note down the address of your hotel to come back, because otherwise it can get really, really difficult to come back.
Tom that’s such a great idea. What I always do is, the minute I check into my hotel, I go to the hotel concierge and I always ask them to write the hotel address on a piece of paper for me in Chinese for the taxi. I also do a bit of research, for example the address of the showgrounds or any restaurants we want to go to or any foot massage places we want to go to. What I do is, I just snatch pictures of those address of the English and Chinese on a piece of paper and I can snap it on my mobile phone. So, as soon as I get into the taxi I can just flip through, find the image, and show them exactly where they need to take me. It’s the simplest and most effective way to do this.
For sure. It’s interesting and it’s smart to snap some pictures because sometimes if you’re out there, you don’t have any internet connection and you want to look it up in your email or in your notes, but you’re not connected to the cloud.
And the driver is getting impatient while you’re searching as well, you’re right.
Yes, it’s true. I always have it written down in Chinese for sure. It’s something simple, but it can be really important because it can make you lose a lot of time if you’re not prepared for around this discussion. But getting to the next one, also preparation point, it’s pre-register for the big fairs and get your badge in advance. It really depends on the fairs how you have to pre-register, if you get a printed out badge or if you get a badge from the mobile app because a lot of these fairs have a mobile app nowadays where you just have a digital badge.
But go to the websites, it’s very, very clear how you have to register, but do it in advance. Just fill in your details and you’ll know how to get your badge. I think even for the Canton Fair, it’s mandatory to register in advance, but some other fairs it isn’t. If you enter these fairs, you always see a lot of people queuing because they still have to register at the fair. I think it’s a loss of time because sometimes it’s half an hour.
Absolutely Tom. It saves so much time just registering in advance and all the websites, as you correctly said. If you go cantontrade.org or others, they’ll really walk you through the registration process. I would definitely download the apps because you get the digital maps as well and electronic show guides to find suppliers and their booth numbers. Just the time saving of trying to do it at the fair is worth it.
The other thing you get which is very helpful is, when you register online, the fair will actually send you an invitation letter which you can actually use as an official invitation for your visa application for when you’re coming to China. So, that’s another really important reason to register in advance, so that you can be granted your visa easily.
Indeed, indeed and so is easy. Start early enough to get your visa because it might take some time. Homework in advance and setting appointments, that can be interesting. It’s important to select some suppliers in advance. Go through the list of the suppliers that are exhibiting or go to your personal list and check who is going to exhibit at that fair and which supplier you really want to see because there are so many suppliers. Of course, we will come to that later on.
It’s like fairs are really good for inspirations, but try to stay focused as well and prepare the suppliers you want to visit for sure. Then look show map guides. Try to get a map which is really easy. You can find it within the app or you can find it at the trade fair and plan your route as efficient as possible because you don’t want to go from hall one to hall five and back to hall one and back to hall four. Because you will be walking a lot, try to find out booth numbers which is easy and then plan the route of the suppliers you definitely want to visit.
I think Tom on that, that’s great advice. Part of that planning in advance as you say, emailing your suppliers or potential suppliers to ask them if you they’re exhibiting at the show and what their booth number is. It will help you identify, oh, which ones are in the same halls and you can cluster them together for those meetings.
Yeah, indeed. You can also try to book an appointment with another supplier in advance or at this booth or maybe even later on at night. If you really want to talk in depth with him or her, it’s perfectly possible to book an appointment in advance. It always shows your interest. You don’t have to do it, but if it’s someone you really want to speak, it shows your interest and you’re not one of the hundreds or a thousand people just passing by and just looking around a little bit. It can be interesting.
The next point is 100% related to it is wear comfortable shoes. And not only shoes but as we said before, you will be walking a lot. Even if you’re prepared very, very well, these fairs are in general so huge, so many halls, so much distance to cover. So, you will be happy you wear some comfortable shoes instead of your very nice leather shoes for your suits.
Yeah Tom, and just to put everybody’s mind at rest, I wear sneakers, most people wear sneakers. You don’t have to worry about being too formal or informal because I have meetings. Trade fairs are kind of this unspoken rule, everybody is happy to wear sneakers and be casual because you’re going to walk your feet off. Especially if you’re visiting China, what I strongly recommend, a great tip is ask your concierge where is the best foot massage place because it’s the best way to recover.
That’s a good idea. It’s lovely and it’s true.
Business cards. What do we do with business cards Tom?
It’s a business card culture, it’s a business card world let’s say. So, bring business cards for sure and bring a lot because you will need them. You’re just handing out business cards to everyone. Just to hand it out at suppliers booths for example. I heard that some of the suppliers don’t even want to give you a catalog sometimes without having your business card, without having your contact details.
It’s really the way of handing out your contact details for suppliers to be able to contact you back, but also the other way around. Ask their business cards, put them in your phone or whatever, because you don’t want to go and look it up later on and remember who did you talk to or what was the name because you obviously saw many people.
And then another important thing is, because it’s such a business cards culture, think really well about which contact details you put on your business cards. So, if you don’t want to be contacted by phone for example, don’t put your phone number or put your WeChat. Put the preferred channel or the preferred channels you want to be contacted by.
Also, I heard some stories of people creating some completely new cards, business cards, for these fairs with another email address because you will be spammed as well in these email addresses with a lot of information of [crosstalk 00:11:36].
Tom, I actually really, really recommend that. Have an email address that’s dedicated to your supplier communications because you don’t want end up with a cluttered inbox where you can’t differentiate your clients verse your suppliers verse other things that might be important to you. As this grows and you give out hundreds of cards all the time, it really does become a minefield to manage.
So, if you get that right from the beginning, set up a dedicated email address to communicate with suppliers, you can look at it when you need to and keep the focus on other things when things get busy at your office.
Yeah. I think it brings us to the next point which we slightly covered with the suppliers, but is, know which products you are looking for. Also here, I think it’s very important that you have an idea. You don’t need to know the exact product, but have an idea in advance especially if you’re starting a new business. This can be important for Amazon Sellers. Have an idea in advance, what you are looking for, that you can go and look for it in a specific way. Don’t make your business plan at the fair. Of course, trade fairs are amazing for inspirations and you should get a lot of inspiration out of a trade fair, but try to somehow separate it, I would say.
Know in advance which suppliers you want to visit, which kind of products you’re sourcing for, looking up in advance which areas in the trade fair these products can be found. Go to these spots and afterward if you still have the time or even plan half a day or a day to just the inspirations day and to look around. Go to spots you don’t really … Yeah, are not that 100% interesting for your product, but can be interesting for inspirations. But, be focused somehow because otherwise you will get lost in the enormous fuss of suppliers, I think.
No, you’re right Tom. That kind of leads into the next two points which is about actually taking notes digitally and saving into the cloud and taking a power bank with you to the trade shows. Because you need to take so much information, record so much information, you’re definitely going to run out of power at some point. So, carry enough power bank around for your phones or tablets.
The easiest way to make notes literally is to take a picture of the booth, the booth number, the business card of the company, and to make notes in the catalogs or process information take snapshots of that. Of course if you had asked to that for you, which of course outsourcing do have, even better. But it’s the easiest way to visually go back and pick up and find what you found or what inspiration you had.
A lot of times I see so many people that walk to a trade show and everybody thinks they’re going to remember everything, it’s just too hard. So, having a good visual way to log that information kind of lets you flip back on the journey at a later stage.
Yeah, for sure. That’s an important point, I think, that can be at a later stage. Just snap a lot of pictures because, as you say, it’s easy to remember the products because you will be products or even business or even booths, but also it can be very important to communicate afterwards with your supplier. If you want have a question about a product and you have the product picture, you can send them the product picture and you can for example draw a bit on the product picture about the details of the product you want to change or you want to ask is this in another color available.
If you don’t have pictures, communication becomes a lot harder. So, I think it’s important to. For your memory, take pictures of products and everything. Also, the digitization, it’s just … We all know we have an app for that, but in general, there are different ways to take digital notes. But it will save you so much time after a fair if it’s already in the cloud if it’s already in the system.
Yeah, we’ll talk about that in detail. You’re right. We can do a whole segment on that which we’ll add in here. That’s critical, I think. Then the last three tips which maybe Tom you can run through them. I think they’re very valid points, maybe simple things that are overlooked sometimes.
Yeah. The first one is don’t go on the last afternoon of the fair, or at least not your first visit, because last afternoon or last day, some suppliers already start to break down their stands, their booths. If they had a good fair, they’re not really in a mode anymore of giving … They are in breaking down mode, so you won’t see as much products as you could on the first days. So, definitely try not to go on the last afternoon because it can be not a full experience than it would be really.
I also find Tom that often at the last day, especially if they had a good show, some of the key personnel whether it’s the boss or the head of sales and they just disappear. They feel content, they’ve met their key suppliers, and then they leave it to junior staffs. I would say that the last afternoon on the last day is really the least productive time. In fact, I use it as a good time just to wander around and get inspiration ideas, but I’m not really seriously looking for anything.
It’s a good point. And then the last two points, they’re kind of related to each other. In general, it means start doing your post fair work as soon as possible. The first is go to your products straight after trade show. In this, as we said, it’s a good place to get inspirations, it’s a good place to get new product ideas and get as many as you want, but make the first selection straight after the trade show. Maybe in your hotel room at night, go through all these products you found and make the first selection to kick out the products that you don’t really need or don’t want to continue with.
They will save you a lot of time afterwards when you come back to the office. Then the other one is send out RFQs as soon as possible after trade fair. You can also even do it on the same night for example or even if you are at the booth, through our app, for example you can send an RFQ from the app straight away. But it will get you ahead of competition because there are so many people visiting these trade fairs. There are so many people in the weeks after opening up their laptops to send our inquiries.
That’s such a great point. Yeah, Tom, that’s such a great point is that, a lot of people that are successful at this, the efficiency of following up after a show is the make or break of if the show was worth it. There’s hundreds, if not thousands of people seeing the same products or visiting those booths and I think the quicker you get your query out to the factory and you get the information back on all the literature, you can make decisions faster. It just builds this reputation and trust with the manufacturer where they feel, “Oh, you’re responsive, you’re quick, you’re serious.”
So, I think after every trade fair, if you can get those emails out to those suppliers, you kind of set yourself apart as “very interested.” I think you’ll find you’ll start developing better relationships and you’ll be a lot more successful. Leaving up to the end when you get back after the show, you get too busy, you forget things, things slip, and believe me, your competition are doing it already. So, you want to be the first. I love your idea of actually even sometimes taking a break after the meeting and just quickly sending them an email to summarize what you want. It’s done, it’s there. I like that. That’s great advice.
It’s also out of your mind, somehow. Because if you have so many tasks to do, if the boxes are picked up and it’s out of your mind, it opens up some space to think about other stuff.
Productivity 101. I couldn’t agree more.
No, that’s great Tom. That’s fantastic, thank you. Guys that’s the best way to prepare for trade fairs and tips and tricks. We will put some links in the notes to help you and accommodate you.