The Canton FairCaitlin Donnelly
What is the Canton Fair?
The Canton Fair, or the China Import and Export Fair, is one of the world’s largest trade shows and serves as a venue where businesses can directly find and meet with prospective suppliers for their products. When the Canton Fair comes to Guangzhou, China twice every year, hotel prices rise, the streets are more crowded, and some of China’s leading manufacturers come to town.
The Canton Fair is held twice a year, during Spring and Autumn, in 3 separate phases:
- Phase 1 – Electronics & Household Electrical Appliances, Lighting Equipment, Vehicles & Spare Parts, Machinery, Hardware & Tools, Energy Resources, Chemical Products, Building Materials, International Pavilion
- Phase 2 – Consumer Goods, Home Decorations, Gifts
- Phase 3 – Office Supplies, Cases & Bags, and Recreation Products, Food, Medicines, Medical Devices and Health Products, Textiles & Garments, Shoes, International Pavilion
What does the Canton Fair have to offer?
There will be close to 25,000 booths at the fair. If you already have an idea of what you want to have manufactured, then you can most likely find a capable supplier there. If you don’t though, it serves as a great place to brainstorm. You end up walking endlessly row through row seeing product after product. You stop at booths, hold samples, take photos, make measurements, and figure out which products would fit your business and which wouldn’t. The advantage the fair gives you over online research is you can do more than just look at 3 photos of the products. You can feel them, weigh them, even drop test them (ASK PERMISSION). Many people attend the fair with no product in mind whatsoever hoping to stumble across that golden product that will end up making them millions.
At almost all of the booths at the fair there will be a representative who speaks English. That being said, it is up to you whether or not you want to hire one of the many translators present there. Being able to speak with a potential supplier in person gets rid of all the back and forth emails, the 3 A.M phone calls due to different time zones, and the hassle of having delayed responses on important questions. Being able to directly communicate with the suppliers will save you a ton of time when searching for the right manufacturer of your product.
Better Bargaining Power
One thing you will come to learn about China is that prices are not always set like they are in the US. Any street market outing will allow you realize the prices vendors set are usually 2 to 3 times higher than what they are willing to sell it for. It is hard to bargain via email, which is usually your first means of communication when using Alibaba or other wholesaler sites. Being present at the Canton Fair will allow you more power and credibility when asking for a specific price. When manufacturers are producing mass quantities of output every day, they most importantly want to make sure the items are being sold to credible customers.
In many booths, samples of products will be available — Beware though. Just because they are at their booth, doesn’t mean the samples are exact replicas of the products that they will be creating for you. Also, keep in mind that many of the samples brought to the fair are not in the final state that they will be after being shipped to America. They weren’t placed into boxes, stacked up on each other, carried through the sea, and loaded on and off several trucks.
Ordering custom samples from a manufacturer you found online can be time consuming and expensive. Like at the fair, many times, the samples you order online are not from the specific batch you ordered or will order. Usually ordering a sample from a manufacturer takes a few weeks and costs in the lower hundreds of dollars range. You can order online, wait weeks and pay hundreds of dollars for one manufacturers samples, or you can spend three days at the Canton Fair sampling thousands of manufacturer’s products for no extra charge.
Higher Degree of Trust
Attending the Canton Fair will give you a higher degree of trust with your supplier. It is very common for attendees of the fair and potential suppliers to go out to lunch or dinner and get to know one another at a personal level. It’s also common for potential clients to request or be invited to tour the manufacturer’s factory. Knowing the other party will not only help you do business with them, but it will also reinforce their legitimacy and build trust.
One important quality about the exhibitors at the fair is that they require certain qualifications to have a booth. They need to be registered as an enterprise, must be a member of certain Chinese associations relevant to their industry, and fulfill a minimum quota for total yearly export income. The companies at the fair are not just randomly selected and not just any factory can set up a booth. This is a bonus, but still it is best to remain cautious when doing business with companies from other countries.
Networking and Other Opportunities
The Canton Fair is China’s largest trade show and along with the hype will come some of China’s manufacturing giants. You will meet many Chinese citizens and foreigners, all of which may be able to help you in the future. You will meet people who work in every aspect of the eCommerce and shipping industries and will find services that can help make getting your product from China much easier.
One of our favorite opportunities that the Canton Fair offers is a reason to travel to China. Guangzhou is one of China’s 3rd largest cities and is home to great food, people, and history. It’s a beautiful city and a hub for China’s vast trade network. It’s a great idea to visit the place you are planning on doing business with while having fun in the process.