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10 questions to ask a supplier at a trade fair

by Adam Gilbourne

If you are planning on importing, attending a trade fair is a great way to identify potential suppliers and get the answers to your questions face-to-face.

You should have done your research prior to attending and be fully conversant with the typical production costs associated with your product in that country. It would be very difficult to negotiate effectively without such information. The following are 10 important questions you should ask to determine if a supplier can deliver what you need.


1. Price

What is your best price per unit? Usually this will be based on an order of at least one container of product. Make sure you are talking to someone who has the authority to give you such information

2. Quantity

What is the minimum quantity I can order, and what would the price be for that quantity? Can you supply the quantities I require on a regular basis?

3. Lead time

How long will it take from the time I place my order until the goods are delivered to the port, ready for shipping?

4. References

How long have you been exporting to my country? Do you have existing customers I can contact for references?

5. Quality control

What quality control procedures do you use? Can I do my own quality control during production and prior to shipment?

6. Payment terms

What are your payment terms, and are they negotiable? (Normally it’s 30 per cent up front and 70 per cent when the order ships)

7. Export licence

Do you have the necessary regulatory approval and licences to export this product to my country?

8. Updates

Do you provide regular updates on production progress? Am I or my representatives able to visit the factory during production?

9. Guarantees

What guarantees do you offer and what happens if my product is not up to the standard we agreed on? What happens if I decide to cancel my order?

10. Contacts

Who is the main contact I would be dealing with if I place my order? Do they speak English? Do they have the authority to speak on your company’s behalf? Is it possible to meet them?

While some of the answers to your questions may not be exactly what you want to hear, you should weigh up the overall message you are getting and, if there are only small doubts or problems which could be ironed out later, you could safely conclude that this supplier is worth consideration.

Make sure you shop around. Depending on how much time you have at the Trade Fair, try and visit at least half a dozen suppliers of the same product to gauge the general lie of the land. If you keep getting similar answers, you can assume this is the way things are done in this part of the world.

11. Follow Up

Allow plenty of time after the trade fair to visit the best potential suppliers you speak with. Although speaking with people initially will help narrow down suitable suppliers, you cannot know their “true story” until you see what their factory is actually like on the ground. Often trading companies with a better grasp of English and fancier promotion come across the best – even though this may not be the case in production. If you do not have time to inspect these factories on the ground, get an agent who can do this for you!

If you have an import agent to act on your behalf in the country you are importing from (a wise option if you are new to the game), then the information you gather can be confirmed by them at a later date.

Adam Gilbourne is the founder of Easy Imex Ltd and helps importers to source product & manage their supply chain in China. He writes advice for importers on the Easy Imex blog. He lives full time in Shanghai, China. You can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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