Whew, that was a whirlwind tour of the Canton Fair. It was an incredible experience, so glad that I did it, and with all first-time experiences, some room for improvement the next go-round (which I do plan to do in October!).
But first, because I like video, I wanted to share some of the images, video, and takeaways from my trip:
So let’s get right down to it.
Why I Went To The Canton Fair
I have a few products currently doing quite well, and work alongside my wife Jess to continue growing our brands.
So it seemed like a no-brainer as we are traveling throughout Asia to make a quick pit stop at the Canton Fair. And by “quick”, I mean about 48 hours.
Regardless of what products I found, or suppliers I met, I was just happy to get to Canton and take it all in. But once you get into the building, and the frenzy and excitement take over, you just want more more more…
The Necessary Preparation
Like I said, this was my first time to the Canton Fair, so some of the “necessary” preparations were not all accounted for.
As an Australian national living in Thailand, I actually had an easier time securing a Chinese passport than what I had researched online. Though I had seen people suggest up to 30 days to get a Chinese visa, it took me about 4 days: I had to go in person to the Chinese Embassy in Chiang Mai, leave my passport there, and pick up the documents 4 days later.
What do you need to get your visa? You will generally need confirmed airlines tickets into and out of China, as well as a confirmed hotel reservation or your invitation to the Canton Fair.
Yes, I was surprised as well that you needed an invitation to attend the fair. The good news is that it’s super easy to secure: you can see the process on the Canton Fair website here.
So my first piece of advice for preparation for the Canton Fair: Get your visa as soon as possible!
When To Go?
There are three phases to the Canton Fair (and just to be clear, there is a Spring Fair and a Fall Fair).
They are divided based on type of products, as such:
- Electronics & Household
- Electrical Appliances
- Lighting Equipment
- Vehicles & Spare Parts
- Hardware & Tools
- Energy + Resources
- Chemical Products
- Building Materials
- International Pavilion
- Consumer Goods
- Home Decorations
- Office Supplies, Cases & Bags, and Recreation Products
- Medical Devices and Health Products
- Textiles & Garments
- International Pavillion
How To Experience the Fair
As I mentioned, this was my first time to the Canton Fair, and I devised a strategy that I think worked well. Given that I had two days at the Fair, I really needed to be prudent with my time and try to batch as many things together as possible, in the name of efficiency.
My strategy for the Fair was as follows:
Day 1: Spend the day taking it all in, walking the floor, gathering pamphlets, and just jotting down as many product ideas as possible. Conclude the day by doing product research on the ideas, pursuing ideas that had potential and discarding the duds, and cherry pick the suppliers to follow up with on Day 2.
Day 2: with a list of booth numbers and product ideas, have more detailed conversations with suppliers and reps, get contact information, pricing when possible, and make plans for further follow up. I really just wanted to leave a memorable impression with these suppliers, so that they could remember me when I dropped them an email soon after the madness of the fair subsided.
The Rationale Behind My Strategy
As you’d expect of me working at Jungle Scout, I spend a lot of time on Amazon and helping others with product research. However, that doesn’t mean that I know everything. Not by a long shot. So it takes me some time to do a thorough job of looking through the numbers, evaluating demand, competition, profit margins, and everything else we teach at Jungle Scout.
If I were to do research on every product that I come across, it would be a huge time-suck, and I would barely get through one corridor of the show before the day is over. Believe me, it was so tempting to pop open Jungle Scout and get some product research done on the fly. But I withheld my temptation, and I’m glad I did.
I highly recommend this strategy to others in your upcoming planning for the Canton Fair, or any other fair, to batch your idea gathering and supplier vetting into separate days.
After Day 1, I had about 50 pamphlets, which I would estimate was one for every 5 stalls that I visited.
Additional Tips For Attending
I must say, the suppliers were incredibly friendly and there was no language barrier that I came across at all.
Here are a few takeaways that I would recommend for your future plans to a supplier fair.
Bring business cards:
when you approach a supplier and ask for a pamphlet, the rep will ask you for a business card in exchange. Alas, I didn’t have one. Thankfully in the age of smartphones, I was able to create a business card on the fly with an app called Bizz Card. It may not have the same appeal as an actual business card, but I’m an environmentalist 😉 In reality, having a business card adds a level of professionalism and credibility that I think would go a long way in establishing a strong relationship with the supplier from the outset.
Install WeChat on Your Phone:
China makes it very hard to access Facebook, Google, and other communication apps that we often take for granted in the West. However, WeChat is a hugely popular, free, and easy-to-use alternative that I can’t recommend enough. I saw suppliers’ light up when I suggested that we connect via WeChat, and it made the connection instant and lasting (as in, I had their contact info, and exchanged digital pleasantries immediately).
This is one that I got from Greg’s previous trip to the Canton Fair. Take selfies of you with the reps, so that you can send it to them soon after and refresh their memories of your conversations. It was just a fun thing to do anyway, and you can see from the video above that I think we all had fun with the selfies!
Get A SIM Card Immediately Upon Landing:
My phone’s internet was the most reliable connection that I had while in China. For that reason alone, I recommend getting a SIM card as your first order of business when getting to China. For example, I needed to print out my pre-registration letter, which I had in my email… the only way that I was able to get it was with the data plan on my phone. As they say, “you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone,” and that couldn’t be more apt a phrase than struggling for WiFi in a crowded building in a foreign country.
Confirm Your Hotel Has Good WiFi:
Perhaps if you heed the advice above and have a good SIM card, WiFi at the hotel is just a nice insurance. But it’s great to have. The WiFi at my hotel was quite poor, and quite maddening. The next time, I am going to do some due diligence on Trip Advisor or other forums to confirm that the hotel as a reliable and speedy connection.
All told, the Canton Fair was an incredible experience. It was like a two month product research process crammed into a 48 hour frenzy. I am still trying to process the whole thing, and work through the contacts that I met there.
If you have any questions about the Fair, or other experiences that you can share, please drop them in the comments!
We have also had some other helpful articles from Canton Fair veterans, Gary Huang of 80/20 Sourcing, and of course Greg Mercer: