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How to attend a sourcing show like a pro


April is sourcing trade show season in Asia with many exhibitions being held in Hong Kong and mainland China. The shows are generally scheduled to cover similar product categories in a way that lets buyers visit multiple shows during a single trip. 

This guide explains the benefits of visiting a trade show, and offers tips on making the best of your visit. The following topics are covered:

  • Why visit a trade show
  • Which trade shows to visit
  • How to visit a trade show
  • How to prepare for your trade show visit
  • How to maximize your time at the show
  • What to do after the show

Download a printable trade show calendar with dates and locations. The article at the link also lists product categories at each show.

Why visit a trade show

Today, it is easier than ever to inquire about products online and without ever leaving the comfort of your desk. There are, however, certain advantages of visiting a trade show that online sourcing can’t beat.

The decision to visit a show mainly depends on your business model, scale of business, and availability of financial resources. Here are some benefits of visiting a trade show:

 1.         Get new product ideas

Sourcing fairs are a great way to discover new products to source. Walk down the aisles and you might find an exciting new product you wouldn’t have thought about sourcing.

All Global Sources shows include a “Startup Launchpad” featuring innovative products from emerging suppliers.

2.         Be the first to source a new product

Many suppliers launch new products at trade shows, and these are not posted online until the shows are over. You get a first-mover advantage by discovering these products.

3.         Speed up your sourcing

When sourcing online, you have to wait for the supplier to send you samples before you can decide whether or not a product is suitable for you. At trade shows, you can shortlist products much faster by seeing the product and asking all your questions.

You can select products manufacturers are displaying, or have them custom make a product for you. Most of the manufacturers will do custom work.

4.         Touch and feel products

You can touch, feel and experience products. This experience can't be had from behind a computer screen.

5.         Research a product category

If you are starting to source a product that you are not familiar with, trade shows enable you to research the product and identify the right questions to ask prospective suppliers.

6.         Network with China sourcing experts and industry leaders

Co-located with Global Sources Electronics phase 2, Mobile Electronics and Gifts & Home shows is the Smart China Sourcing Summit – an event especially designed for Amazon and online sellers. Attendees will learn sourcing best practices, and network with industry experts and successful Amazon sellers at the event. (More details about the event below)

7.         See the next big thing

At the Global Sources Exhibitions, you can see and experience next-gen products and trends at the various experience zones:

 

Global Sources Electronics show

  • Smart Home Experience Zone
  • Next-Gen Components Zone
  • Drones Experience Zone
  • Start-up Launchpad

Global Sources Gifts & Home show

  • Creative & Design Product Gallery
  • Color Trends
  • Start-up Launchpad

Global Sources Fashion show

  • Color Trends
  • Trends Forum
  • Fashion Parades
  • Start-up Launchpad

8.         Deepen relationships with current suppliers

If your current suppliers are attending a trade show, this is a great opportunity to meet up with them and deepen your relationship.

9.         Find suppliers that don’t market themselves online

Some suppliers feel they get higher quality leads at trade shows, and therefore only market themselves at trade shows. Buyers sourcing online only won’t find these suppliers and their products. You generally won’t find these suppliers online, or you won’t find all their products online. 

10.       Find manufacturers more easily

Some of the largest online sites have become very crowded with agents and trading companies, making it more difficult to go direct to factory. While trade shows also have trading companies, it’s much easier to find manufacturers, and then differentiate them from agents and trading companies.  For example, manufacturers tend to deal in a single product line, while agents may carry multiple product lines that require different raw materials and different manufacturing skills.  The company that carries both a power bank and an umbrella is likely and agent or trading company. 

Which shows to visit

First, decide which product categories you are interested in sourcing, and then see which shows cover these categories. Often you’ll find that Hong Kong has two shows covering a category and Canton has one. The trade show calendar shows dates, locations and product categories. 

Since both Hong Kong and Guangzhou have trade shows for many of the product categories, the decision of which shows to attend comes down to convenience, time, financial resources available and personal preference. Here are some options to consider:

1.         Attend only the Hong Kong shows

There are two sets of shows in Hong Kong: Global Sources shows and HKTDC shows.

An increasing number of buyers prefer to visit only the Hong Kong shows for a couple of reasons.

  • Convenience

Travelling to Hong Kong is more convenient and hassle-free. Most nationalities don’t need a visa to enter Hong Kong, which is not the case for mainland China.

There are many more airlines flying into Hong Kong than Guangzhou. Most people traveling to Guangzhou have to go via Hong Kong.

Sam Boyd, CEO of Guided Imports echoes this sentiment, “As a buyer, I’m much happier only having to go to Hong Kong v.s. making the trek into Guangzhou.”

The Global Sources shows are right by the airport, which makes it even more convenient, especially if you stay at a hotel near the airport.

Global Sources offers free travel to and from the city. 

  • More export-experienced exhibitors

Generally, suppliers at the Hong Kong shows are more export-focused and -experienced. There are of course similar suppliers at the Guangzhou shows, but there are also a ton of smaller suppliers and a lot more trading companies. It can become difficult for buyers to tell the smaller companies apart from the more professional ones.

  • Wide range of products and suppliers

While the Guangzhou shows are bigger, the Hong Kong shows also offer a wide range of products and suppliers.

Anthony P. Fichera of My Private Label team, said, “We often take new buyers only to the Hong Kong shows. There is more than enough variety there, and being English speaking Hong Kong is easier to navigate than mainland China.”

A regular visitor to the Global Sources show, Danny Xu from CREATA, Australia said, “I’ve been coming to your fashion show for a long time, since 2006 or 2007 up to now. I started first and then I lead my team, and I introduced my other teams (to the show). Because you have many factories and suppliers, and we need different kinds of products. Since the size of the show is quite big, you organize so many different factories, we have the chance to find the right products and right factories.”

  • English-speaking

Most people (including most taxi drivers) in Hong Kong speak English, so getting around is easier.

Signboards, restaurant menu cards and other information is also in English, which is mostly not the case in Guangzhou.

Exhibitors at the Hong Kong shows tend to be more export-oriented and have more export experience. All suppliers have English-speaking sales staff at their booths.

At the Guangzhou fairs a lot of booths have English speaking sales staff who speak enough English to give you basic product details and pricing. Larger factories tend to be better at this. Smaller suppliers often hire students or part-time employees who speak some English but may not know much about the product.

2.         Attend both Hong Kong and Guangzhou shows

Some buyers looking for even more supplier options like to visit shows in both locations.

The shows are scheduled in such a way that makes it convenient for buyers to visit one after the other.

For example, Global Sources Electronics phase 1 runs from April 11 to 14, while Canton Fair phase 1 (featuring electronics) starts a day later on April 15. HKTDC Electronics Fair (April 13 to 16), meanwhile, overlaps both Global Sources Electronics phase 1 and Canton Fair phase 1.

There are many options for traveling from Hong Kong airport and the city to Guangzhou including trains, buses and limousines.

3.         Attend only Guangzhou shows

Canton Fair is larger than the Hong Kong shows so some buyers prefer to only attend this show.

Buyers visiting Canton Fair have even more supplier and product options.

There are a number of wholesale markets in Guangzhou that buyers looking to buy small quantities like to visit.

Increasingly, Canton Fair is attracting more buyers from emerging markets / developing countries.

How to visit a trade show

Now that you’ve decided which show to visit, here are the options you have on how to attend a show.

1.         Attend the show yourself

See a schedule of shows here, along with a handy printable calendar view of show dates.

Here’s a detailed guide on visiting trade shows in China with a focus on Canton Fair.

  • Hotel

You need to make travel arrangements well in advance as hotels fill up fast.

If you’re visiting the Global Sources shows in Hong Kong, you can consider staying at Regal Hotel, which is very convenient to both the Airport (2 minute walk) and the AsiaWorld Expo (2 minute Airport Express ride) where the Global Sources shows are held.

Visit the Canton Fair website for recommended hotels that are close to the fair venue.

  • Visa

United States, UK, Australian and most European citizens can enter Hong Kong for up to 90 days without a visa, as long as your passport has 6 months validity. Check the Hong Kong Immigration department website for more details.

Most foreign nationals do need a visa for mainland China.

2.         Attend a show combined with a sourcing conference

Global Sources will be running a sourcing conference, Smart China Sourcing Summit, co-located with the Mobile Electronics and Gifts & Home shows in April.

The event brings together sourcing and online selling experts, and successful Amazon sellers. The conference will cover key sourcing topics including talking to suppliers and researching products on the show floor, IP, inspections, customs, logistics and more.

Attendees will be able to network with sourcing service providers including inspection, packaging and logistics companies. 

The cost for early bird registration is US$499 before February 15.

Register for the summit here

3.         Join a "tour group"

Some companies / individuals offering sourcing services or running online selling courses organize group visits to trade shows. Costs are generally a couple of thousand dollars, depending on whether hotel is included or not.

While some of these tours take clients to only the Hong Kong shows, others cover shows in mainland China as well.

My Private Label Team is one such company that offers China buying trips to clients twice a year, April and October that may include both Hong Kong and Guangzhou. They prefer to take new buyers to only the Hong Kong shows.

Online selling expert Mark Scott Adams arranged a successful tour to the October 2015 Canton Fair.

Here is a list of people organizing tours:

 

How to prepare for your trade show visit

Regardless of which show you’re attending or how you’re attending it, here are a few things you should do before boarding the plane.

1.         List products you are interested in

Start listing the kinds of products you want to source. This will help you focus and save time when you’re at the show.

2.         List product features and your requirements

If you already source certain kinds of products or know what you want to source, make a list of specifications, product functions and features, quality standards, certifications and other information that is important for you. This is especially important if you are looking to buy OEM products.

While composing the list, don't shy away from being "too detailed." Manufacturers will not necessarily know what you want and they're not in the habit of providing anything that isn't specifically asked for.

As Rosemary Coates notes in her book "42 Rules for Sourcing and Manufacturing in China," "Americans are notorious for not being detailed enough in the specs and being disappointed because the product did not meet their unspecified requirements."

Don't fall into this trap. Write down exactly what you want. Common details that should be included are design and colors, dimensions, materials, packaging design and functions.

Not all suppliers at sourcing fairs will be able to meet your requirements and it's important to know which are which. This includes knowing who can meet international safety standards and regulations.

Going through this process will help you quickly identify suppliers who are worth talking to and which ones are not worth your time. This should make for a much more fruitful sourcing fair experience.

3.         Get estimated prices

Send inquiries to suppliers online before you leave for the show to get reference prices of the products you are interested in. This will help you quickly determine if prices quoted by exhibitors at the show are suitable for you.

4.         Shortlist exhibitors online before the show

Search for exhibitors online and send them inquiries asking for information about the product, pricing, certifications, and other aspects that are important to you (the list you prepared in step 2).

This will help you shortlist exhibitors that can meet your requirements and you won’t waste time at the show talking with too many suppliers that don’t meet your needs.

You can search for exhibitors at Global Sources shows on the website or app:

Website: http://www.globalsources.com

App: www.globalsources.com/SITE/MOBILE-APP.HTM 

5.         Research new products online

Keep yourself updated on new products from China suppliers in your industries so that when you are at the show, you can immediately tell which products are really new.

There are a few ways to do this. On GlobalSources.com, for example, the following sections feature new products from China:

  • Analyst’s Choice: Innovative and new products from China and Asia – selected by Global Sources Analysts
  • New from Exhibitors: New products from exhibitors at Global Sources shows
  • Top 20 Most Popular Products: Exhibitor and advertiser products with the highest buyer interest
  • Top 20 Trending products: Exhibitor and advertiser products with the highest growth in buyer interest 

6.         Get a map of the show floor

Get a map of the show floor before you head to the show, and identify which halls at the exhibition venue have products you want to source.

You can even plan your walking route prioritizing important halls. This will ensure you can get to work as soon as you reach the venue.

7.         Print business cards

Business cards are a critical means of introducing yourself in China. You will want to arrive at the show prepared with business cards to hand out at a moment's request. It is recommended you have about 150 to 200 cards available at the beginning of the show.

Avoid putting your personal or primary business email address on the cards you distribute at the show so you’re not flooded with emails from suppliers you’re not interested to work with.

8.         Prepare your wardrobe

Hong Kong and Guangzhou are located in a warm and humid atmosphere, but conference centers are air conditioned and it can be much colder inside than out.

Be sure to pack comfortable, business casual clothes. Many people tend to dress pretty casually in China while doing business. Suits and dress shoes are not the most comfortable in a setting that involves a lot of walking and possibly long days. 

Checklist of items to bring with you:

  • List of products, specifications and prices
  • Exhibitors you want to meet
  • Name cards
  • Writing pad
  • Tablet or smartphone for taking notes
  • Pens
  • Stapler
  • Power bank
  • Company brochure
  • Trolley or wheeled suitcase to carry brochures
  • Comfortable footwear

 

How to maximize your trade show visit

Your objectives on the show floor are to contact as many exhibitors as you can, and gather a lot of product and supplier information. Let’s take a look at how you can make the best of your time.

1.         Prioritize halls

If you haven’t already downloaded the show map, get a map and exhibitor directory first thing when you reach the venue. Identify the pavilions that have the products you are interested in, and prioritize them. Once you’re in a hall, walk around the aisles in an organized manner. 

2.         Introduce yourself and your company

When you see a product that interests you, approach the exhibitor and introduce yourself and your company. You could prepare a short introduction about your company before you head to the show. It is important to position yourself as a serious, professional buyer who understands their market and products.

3.         Identify which suppliers can meet your needs

Recognize that not all suppliers will be able or willing to meet your requirements, nor do all suppliers conform to all relevant international standards and regulations. Be sure to ask suppliers upfront if they meet those requirements and can show compliance documents to prove it (this can be done after the show).

Aim to spend about 10 to 15 minutes at each booth, and about 30 minutes to an hour with exhibitors you think are a good match for you.

4.         Ask questions

When you meet a supplier that seems promising, there are a few questions that are good to ask.

And when you starting asking “technical questions” about the product, components and manufacturing processes, that is where you can differentiate the good factories from the average ones and also stand out as a buyer who knows what he wants, which means you are less likely to get “newbie pricing”.

  • Price minimum order quantity

You will want to know the best price and minimum order quantity for anything you're interested in buying. The latter will affect the former because of economies of scale, so you will want to be thinking about these things together.

Minimum order quantity is especially important if you’re just starting your import business. In many cases, this can be negotiated, but many suppliers are rigid about minimum order requirements.

Note that any price you get at a show will just be a reference price. An accurate price from manufacturers requires more time-consuming calculations that take into consideration their manufacturing process and the scale of the order.

Also, while you're discussing pricing, it might be a good time to find out about the company's payment terms. Ask if they accept payment via PayPal or Escrow (especially important if your order size is small).

  • Export markets

Ask if they have exported the product to your market previously.

  • Main products

You will have fewer problems with suppliers that specialize in your product category.

  • Quality control

Do they have a formal quality control procedure in place?

  • Lead time

You want to know how long it will take to get goods to port and, ultimately, to your market after placing your order.

  • References

A good company should be willing to connect you with previous customers.

  • Inspection and guarantees

You will want to ask suppliers what kind of updates they can give you during this process and whether you or someone hired by you can inspect the factory during the production process. Also, in case something happens with the order and it's not what was agreed upon, does the supplier offer any guarantees to fix the order or refund the money? 

Most of the details of such a deal will be hammered out in more formal business negotiations, but sourcing fairs offer a good opportunity to get a sense of these aspects. 

If you make the rounds enough times, you're bound to wind up meeting both suppliers who are very supportive of the options you're looking for and are accustomed to such arrangements and those who are not so accommodating and can be eliminated as a potential option for future purchases.

  • Factory location

Ask if you can go to visit week while you’re in the region.

  • Production capacity

Also ask if they outsource (some of) of their production. And if they do, will they let you inspect the sub-factory. Subcontracting is common among China factories and could lead to quality issues later. You may not end up doing this, but it helps gauge how transparent the supplier is with their subcontracting.

  • Number of years in the business

It is common for suppliers in China to jump into high demand product categories even though they might not have any experience in the line. A ton of laptop manufacturers, for example, have recently started producing self-balancing scooters. If your product is technical or could have safety issues, you want to buy from a company that has some experience in the product.

  • Manufacturer or trader

If you want to order small quantities or test a product, sourcing from a trading company might be a better option.

5.         Collect brochures, business cards, contact information

Brochures with details about the company and its products are good to have on hand so they can be used to jog your memory later. You might end up gathering a lot of brochures, which is why a trolley or wheeled suitcase will help carry them.

Keep business cards and other contact information organized so you can get back to suppliers you consider important or have potential. 

If you’re using a writing pad to jot down information, staple suppliers’ business cards to the page where you have noted down their information.

6.         Take pictures and videos of products that interest you

Taking pictures and videos is an easy way to recollect what the product looked like after the show. Always ask for permission before taking pictures of samples as some suppliers, especially those with unique products, will not allow this.

7.         Use a tablet or smartphone to gather information

A tablet or smartphone is a great way to write down information. Use a word-processing app such as Microsoft Word, Pages or Evernote to take notes. Take pictures / videos with your mobile device, and insert images with the respective notes. This will save you time and effort organizing your notes after the show.

You don’t want your device to run out of battery during the day so bring a power bank or two. 

8.         Try the products

This tip might seem obvious, but in the midst of talking to suppliers about product specs, standards and certifications, don't forget to actually spend time examining the sample products at the show.

 It can be difficult to fully assess something on the floor of a trade show, of course. Some things take time to examine, like whether power banks hold the advertised capacity and charge at adequate speeds. The feel of a product can say a lot about it, like the quality of certain fabric or durability of a device (though not longevity). Remember that you're just trying to assess whether the supplier before you is someone you might be able to work with.

What to do after the show

The real work begins after you’re back from the show. If you have gathered information in an organized way during the show, processing the information after the show will be more efficient.

1.         Identify potential products to source

While you were at the show, you probably got some good ideas for new products you might like to source. Now that the show is over, it's time to make a decision. List the new products you were most interested in and the specifications you would like them to have.

You don't have to make a decision about anything until after you talk to the suppliers about price and quantity, but you should have a clear idea of what you want before discussing anything. Don’t be surprised if the quotation they send you now is not the same as quoted at the fair.

2.         Organize your contacts

Organize all the information and contacts you've gathered. This will help you identify which suppliers you're seriously interested in and quickly be able to find their contact information and remember relevant information about them in the future. During this process, you will want to be sure to sort suppliers by priority as much as possible.

3.         Follow up

Now that you have everything organized, follow up with the suppliers. When you do reach out to these companies, remember what you've seen from them already and what you still need. The "still need" category will usually include compliance documents, and more specific feedback about product specifications and quality.

4.         Follow exhibitors online

Many exhibitors have an online presence on supplier directories. You should follow them or ask them to send you an update whenever they launch a new product. These are suppliers you have met in person and verified to some extent as legitimate companies. 


 

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