The Canton Fair is the largest product trade show in the world. It happens twice per year in both the Spring and Fall. The show is broken into three phases depending on the products that you produce. You can check out the product lists and see where your niche falls. Each phase lasts 5 days.
The exhibit takes place in Guangzhou. Guangzhou is the fifth largest city in China—it’s about one hour by train from Hong Kong. There are 20+ million inhabitants as of 2020 and the skyline is expanding quicker than a bamboo plant.
Pick A Phase 1, 2, 3
The first thing you need to figure out is which phase to pick. If you manufacture in multiple niches then you might need to attend more than one phase.
I find that many factories and trading agents are now mixing themselves into multiple phases to cast the largest net. Personally, I can only handle one phase before I need to get out of dodge. It makes for a long week and being landlocked in China is not at the top of my bucket list.
You don’t need to attend all five days, but you want to pace yourself and also visit sourcing agents and factories while in the city. Developing relationships with your current factories is my main goal, the trade show is icing inside the Chinese fortune cookie.
Business is about the relationship, going to China and having face-to-face meetings over a few beers can lead to amazing opportunities. Personal relationships are as important in China as they are in your home country. Maybe more important.
Hotel prices triple during the Canton fair so expect to pay several hundred dollars per night for Western hotels. I found an Airbnb in the financial district for about $100 per night. But it kinda sucked.
Expect to pay $300-$500 for the nicer hotels. I had breakfast before writing this in the W Hotel and it cost me $35—damn good though.
You can get most things done in a few days. It’s more enjoyable to stay at a nicer place—I like to pamper myself on these trips—you can go full budget too but your experience won’t be as nice.
The area around the W Hotel has a bunch of great bars and restaurants. This is where I like to stay after traveling to the Canton Fair more than a handful of times. Look for the Tianhe District when you are booking your accommodation.
Typically the Chinese aren’t big drinkers so don’t expect them to hang with you through late-night debauchery. I usually do dinner and drink or two. This is your night and they want you to have a great time. However, be respectful but strategic.
After a few drinks dive into any contentious issues or major problems that need hashing out. After the second beer, it’s a good time to talk about competition or anything that might require a loser tongue. For example, are they thinking about selling your product in other markets?
You’ll need a visa and letter of invitation to enter the country. Go for the ten-year visa if they are available. You can get a letter of invitation from the Canton Fair.
Once you get to the Canton Fair it takes about 20 minutes to process your pass. Many of the Western hotels have processing centers at the hotel. Once you arrive ask in the lobby to see if you can get your pass there. Usually, they will also have a bus to the fair that runs a few ties a day.
Getting To & From The Canton Fair
Try and stay within 15 miles of the fair. The traffic is horrendous and travel by taxi will always take at least 30 minutes if you stay in the 15-mile zone. Give yourself ample time to get to the airport, it could take you 1-2 hours from the Fair zone.
You’ll be walking a ton so bring good shoes. Casual dress is fine. The Chinese like business cards, get some made before you leave.
You can also get business cards made out in front of the Canton registration building. There are people in front of the registration that will make business cards for you on the spot with small portable business card machines.
Create a temporary email for the event. The cards you give out tend to get passed around and you might get a bunch of junk emails.
I hired a sourcing agent on the ground in China and when I attend the fair he does all the communication and I have him give out his card. This is best because it takes me out of the loop and impresses upon them that they’ll be negotiating in Chinese which leads to better pricing.
There are typically a few Western entrepreneurial meet-ups during the event which allow for some awesome networking.
Keep your ear to the ground or shot me an email and I’ll hook you up. My first time at the Canton Fair I was alone and didn’t have that great of a time. If you can get a buddy to go it makes it much better.
The FBA4U crew throws a good party each Friday of all phases. It’s free. It’s fun. It’s social.
Communication can be an issue while you are in China. Gmail, Facebook, and several other sites are blocked. Therefore, you’ll need to set up a virtual private network or virtual private server to access your accounts.
You can also get a travel plan through your phone company to layer access on top of the local network. Verizon has a decent plan that worked fine and gave me access to everything I needed via my iPhone.
To communicate with your Chinese friends and partners it’s best to use WeChat. Get everyone you deal with on WeChat as soon as possible when you are back home. This is where the Chinese live and you want to be there. Most of my suppliers dislike email and we conduct all business via WeChat except for the occasional invoice or purchase order.
While at the fair you can discuss pricing and do on-the-spot negotiations. If you see something you like to jump in and get the sample ordered. They like it when you take action versus all the tire kickers.
Once you get the sample after the fair you can make tweaks and perfect your product. Getting samples ordered at the fair can give you a leg up on the competition.
There are so many things to see and booths to visit that you likely won’t have time to go back to check products. Be proactive. Get the sample ordered and more on.
Have fun and hit me up if you need any more details.