If you want to make direct personal contacts, identify suppliers, and find out the ‘ins and outs’ of doing business in China, attending trade fairs can be a great first step. However, it is important to bear some points in mind to get the most out of your business visit to Hong Kong and/or the rest of China.

Get to the fair on time…

 The first day of every trade fair is enormously busy. Hong Kong Trade Development Council estimated 97,000 buyers from 140 countries and regions attended a recent Hong Kong Electronics Fair. Some of the other fairs in China, in cities like Guangzhou (Canton), Beijing and Shanghai, can be just as large.

So make sure you allocate enough time for such fairs, perhaps up to four days, whereas a more specialist fair in a smaller city like Zhongshan or Wuzhou may only require a few hours.

Patience is particularly required for a large fair since the first day may be incredibly crowded and it may be wise to delay until the second day to make any serious inroads.

Arriving one or two days early is a good idea. This gives you time to orientate yourself though the hotel’s concierge desk and local maps, and to get some rest if it’s been a long flight!

Book your hotel well in advance. Most hotels are completely sold out around Trade Fair time and you cannot expect to just arrive and find a room, except perhaps at super-premium prices. Tripadvisor.co.uk or Asiahotels.com are useful sites for finding hotel rooms. See if your chosen hotel has a shuttle bus to the fair or is on the local metro system.

Like a good boy scout or girl guide, be prepared….

Make sure your documentation, photos, business cards etc are perfectly in order for registration when you arrive. Some fairs allow registration online, which will enable you to largely avoid the long snaking queues at the entrance booths.

Many booths at larger export trade shows will have interpreters. There may also be ‘interpreters’ offering last-minute services at the entrance to the fair. These are not dependable, are often expensive and are to be avoided.

Reserve a well-briefed, proven interpreter well before you arrive, either from the fair website, or from contacts. Good English speaking is rare at Chinese trade fairs (although not in Hong Kong); you need to test an interpreter beforehand. He or she can also guide you to the event, and around the event.

Set your goals beforehand and know what you ideally want to accomplish before, during, and after the show. For example, you can set specific goals for supplier leads and for gathering industry information.

List the products you want to buy and the number of units you plan to buy, note the retail and wholesale market prices for the goods in your home country, and be aware of the highest price you can afford to pay for each item and still get a good return.

Seek advice from ‘old China fair hands’ and contact them before you go, as well as set up appointments around the fair.

Don’t expect too much from initial contacts with Chinese counterparts. Although cold calls and direct approaches are more common today, Chinese business contacts remain mainly referrals based on a long-term relationship: for example, on another business associate recommendation.

Exhibitors and buyers will be hard pressed on all sides, which will make anything but the most simple and introductory discussions difficult.

Remember to be realistic…

Rather than expect immediate deals and signed contracts, or even negotiations on price, remember that a China trade fair is largely an information gathering and contact-making venue for future purchases and business.

 Chinese exporters are prepared to do business based on low prices but high volumes. If you mention low volumes the chances are their interest will disappear very quickly, so be ready with some convincing numbers.

Ask about quality control procedures and tell the supplier what quality levels you are expecting. If the supplier seems anxious about any quality control procedures you may suggest, such as providing UK or US safety standards certification, be prepared to move on.

Obtain all available information on products in which you might be interested, and on the import regulations for such products into your own country or elsewhere. If the booth staff are unable to give you the answers you want, ask whom you should contact at their company for follow up.

Prioritise rather than try to cover every single booth in your sector. Research potential vendors and clients beforehand and make a list of ‘must visit’ booths. However, do not expect every booth to be as it is named in the catalogue or even on the booth entrance. Booth owners sometimes sell on their booth allocations.

If you do find the booth you are targeting, make a note of the booth number and hall for future reference. It is almost impossible to find the same booth the next day without good coordinates. Use a floor map to plan a feasible route that will not exhaust you and divide it into a manageable daily schedule, perhaps shared with colleagues.

Finally, it may seem obvious but use the handbook, catalogue and all information wisely so you know the event’s opening hours, schedule of events and any alternative venues or exhibits other than in the primary venue. It’s amazing what goes on in and around trade fairs and it’s not always easy to keep up.

That’s it for the basics. I’ll continue with Chinese Trade Fair Survival Kit:Part 2 about business etiquette, road warrior necessities, and following up contacts in a few days.

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David Clive Price, Author of The Asian Way and several books on Asia, helps entrepreneurs and businesses to improve their knowledge of Asian culture to grow their profits and promote their brand. Claim your free special ‘3 Key Elements of Asian Business Culture’ at www.davidcliveprice.com

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