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What to ask for at a tradeshow (and afterwards too)

I recently received this email from someone planning on going to a show this fall and I thought that it would be a good blog since I get multiple similar requests each year about this time.

Good-day David,

I read your piece on “It’s just a little bit more. They can afford it, right?” I enjoyed your straight- forward opinion.

It also made me aware to be “cautious” when attending the China Sourcing fair in November. It is my first time I am attending, seeking business opportunities. With the economic struggles we still feel the pain as we are small fish here.

My question to you here is: could you give me any suggestions on what questions to ask the suppliers and what to look out for? Also what products do you suggest I should look at for our market here.

Anything else you think I will need to know?

Thank-you for your input and help in this regard.



Thanks for your email questions. Yes, there is a lot that you’ll need to ask suppliers to make sure that they are both who they claim to be and are appropriate fit for you.

First questions to ask the suppliers at the show.

  1. Where is the facility and can you go to visit (this week while you’re in the country)?
  2. Will the person that you’re speaking with at the show be in the factory when you go to visit (so you don’t have to repeat everything you’ve gone through today)?
  3. Do they have business documents that they’ll let you see?
  4. Will they let you talk with engineers and other managers?
  5. Will they allow 3PQ?
  6. Can they give you referrals?
  7. Will they sign (and keep) NDA’s and other agreements?
  8. Can you meet and even QC sub-suppliers?
  9. Do they have the correct export documentation?
  10. Have they exported to your country/region on the world before?
  11. How much of their production do they outsource?
  12. How do they deal with non-conforming product?

Second, questions that you need to ask to understand if they are right for you. You need to realize that just because you find a great factory that doesn’t mean that it’s a great fit for you and your project. You need to realize that if you’re too big/too demanding/too advanced or if you’re too small for them you’ll not get the service that you really want or need.

  1. What is there average order qtty? Is your order similar?
  2. What is their average order time? Is your lead time sufficient?
  3. Have they done similar projects (similar levels of customization, similar components)?
  4. Can you communicate with them effectively and do you feel comfortable working with them?

Third, questions you’ll need to ask when you visit them. I would never advise anyone buying from China to pay cash to a factory that they hadn’t personally visited. You need to confirm everything that they’ve told you at the show–remember, it’s a tradeSHOW (emphasis on SHOW). Who they really are and what they really can do may be very different from what you see in the booth at the show venue.

  1. What are their current conditions (social compliance, environment compliance, etc)?
  2. Do you approve of the processes that you see (what you see them do for others is exactly what they’ll be doing for you)?
  3. Is their physical capacity what they told you/enough for you?
  4. Do you feel confident that they can make your product?

Fourth, There are then things you’ll want to confirm before you place an order (even for samples).

  1. Can you verify their business documents? Did you pay for business information from a 3rd party?
  2. Is their level of English (or your level of Chinese) good enough to resolve the problems that will come up in production?
  3. Can you trust them to keep their commitments and work with you like you expect?
  4. Do you own and can you pull all your molds and dyes in case you’d like to move to another facility?

"Finally, let me share with you some things that you need to do yourself. I know that I regularly bash on factories that are not honest about what they can do, but I’ve had just as many bad experiences (and lost more money with) Western clients that didn’t keep their end of the deal. So realize that even though you should rightly be worried about the supplier you’ll potentially be working with, you too have a MAJOR responsibility to be both wise (don’t pay without doing QC) and honest (keep you contracted agreements too).

  1. Always keep your word concerning dates and monies and anything else that is your responsibility.
  2. Always take into account the reality that if you’re late with art (or money or answers) it will cause production delays (usually longer than your delay).
  3. There will be problems so take notes and keep records and follow up on anything that you’re not clear on.
  5. Never make any changes from your specs or your contract.
  6. File all legal work in your home country and in China BEFORE you start passing out specs to anyone (even at the show).
  7. Spec out all your details and present them in a consistent and clear format.
  8. Meet FACE TO FACE with your factory as much as possible.
  9. Admit when problems are your fault and take responsibility for them.
  10. There will always be problems—usually you can work through them. But always find a back up facility just in case.
I will be speaking at shows for Global Sources in HK 6 times this month. Oct 12th, 14th, 20th, 22th, 27th, 28th.

David Dayton is the owner of Silk Road International and currently lives full-time in Shenzhen, China. He speaks English, Thai and Mandarin and has worked in Asia for more than 15 years. You can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at


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