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Sourcing Products at the Canton Fair



The China Import and Export Fair (also known as the Canton Fair), one of the largest trade fairs in the world, will soon be here once again. This is one of the best ways to source products for your business or residential project and gives you the opportunity to see thousands of products, meet hundreds of suppliers and make important business contacts. We are pleased to bring you this Sourcing Guide that we hope will help you navigate the Fair and strike that perfect deal to help your business thrive!


Canton Fair Overview


The China Import and Export Fair (CIEF), also known as the Canton Fair, is held in the city of Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton) in the PRC, in Autumn (October-November) and Spring (April-May), each year.


Held in three phases, each session of the Fair is a fast-paced week of searching for, meeting, and talking products and services with, suppliers. As a buyer attending one or more of these sessions, you’ll want to be well prepared before you start your sourcing efforts.


The exhibition center covers a floor area of 118 hectares (1.18 million square meters). There are more than 60,000 booths on display during each Session and registered representatives from some 25,000 businesses from around China. Each Fair usually sees upwards of 190,000 visitors come through its doors. The 2018 Spring Fair saw over 200,000 registered visitors in attendance, a 5% increase from the year before.


The Fair is held in three phases or stages and for the upcoming Autumn Session, the dates are:

Phase I October 15-19, Phase II October 23-27 and Phase III October 31- November 04


Why source products at the Canton Fair?


If you haven’t been to a Canton Fair yet, get ready to be awed by the thousands of suppliers on display in the huge exhibition halls of the Guangzhou International Convention and Exhibition Center in Guangzhou’s Pazhou district. Each day you’ll be rubbing shoulders with tens of thousands retailers, wholesalers and other professional buyers from around the world, each there to source products for their project or business.


But why source products at the Canton Fair?


There are many good reasons why, as an astute buyer, you’ll want to attend the Fair and source there. Despite the rising profile of other manufacturing hubs throughout Asia, China is still one of the best places to find quality products at an extremely competitive price. In many product categories, China’s production and value of exports far exceeds that of its neighbors because businesses around the world know that they can get what want in China. Here are 5 good reasons to source at the Canton Fair.


5 things to consider


See products live

Attending the Fair means that you get to see products in person. While online portals are a great way to look through many products at one time, seeing the products in person does give buyers a good idea of what the product is like and what the supplier is able to do. They are often able to provide samples or arrange to have samples, sent to the buyers hotel.


Speak to suppliers

While the internet does give buyers access to quality buyers from wherever they are, there are times when face-to-face communication helps. Meeting a supplier in person allows both sides to get a better idea of each other, it can avoid misunderstandings and build trust. Including a factory visit during the trip can give the buyer a good idea of the supplier’s business which can help when making decisions about products and ordering.



For buyers, sourcing at the Fair occurs in the opposite way to sourcing online. When sourcing online, a potential buyer may search through many profiles, shortlists the suppliers he or she is interested in and contacts them. The process can take time and at the end of this, the buyer is still not sure what the product quality is like and whether it will be a good investment financially. At the Fair, sourcing works the other way. Buyers browse through the exhibition halls and only stop at suppliers that have the products they like, potentially avoid the effort needed to review their 20-30 vendors, and instead shortlist and select suppliers in a very short period of time. They can talk to many suppliers at one, get a sense of who they are and even make a deal straight away.


Get a great deal

Attending the fair can give you the opportunity to negotiate a better deal because you meeting the supplier in person. He or she may feel more comfortable because he can see who he is doing business with and can negotiate on the spot. This may result a better price.


Factory visits

Visiting Guangzhou for the Fair also gives buyers an opportunity to visit a supplier’s factory to see and see how the products are made. They can check a factory’s production processes, certificates and quality systems in place



Useful tips


Trading companies vs suppliers

A majority of the Fair exhibitors are suppliers or trading companies: know the difference. Trading companies act more like middle men and their booths will have products from a number of suppliers on display, whereas a supplier will often have extensive samples of one product line.


Be aware of pricing

Trading companies’ prices will be higher because these businesses will add their operating costs and marketing costs onto the price.


Stay on top

It is increasingly popular for buyers to source at wholesale market or sourcing agent so it may be a good to include these activities as part of your sourcing effort, in addition to going to the Fair. Many suppliers will have stores at wholesale markets and they can be a place to find new or unique product ideas that have not been seen by the majority of the market.


Visit at least once

Visiting the Fair itself is a good idea to get a sense of the size and diversity of manufacturing in China. Even if you decide to source products via other means, serious buyers should go at least once


Be clear about what you can get out of the Fair

Ask yourself are you why you are attending the Fair? The Fair is the place to go to see thousands of products and new product ideas, but may not appeal if all you want is a rock bottom prices. You’ll need to be realistic in your goals and prepared to meet certain supplier conditions.


Build contacts

Note the Fair is a good place to meet new suppliers in person, establishing good relationships or shop for a replacement supplier if you are existing business that has an existing supply line


Know what size business you are

Often exhibitors at the fair may only deal with large established buyers. Be prepared to as you many required to ship substantial volumes in order to meet a supplier’s MOQs.


Everything you need to know about the Canton Fair


Note this primer provides an outline only, of things you’ll need to know ahead of the event. For the latest updates on dates and times & detailed information, especially on applying for visas and registering as a buyer, go to the official Canton Fair website at http://www.cantonfair.org.cn/en/ (English version). Note there is a setting that enables you to change the website language to other languages.



Dates for 124th Canton Fair Schedule - 2018  Autumn


Phase I October 15-19 (Monday - Friday)

Product Categories: Building Materials, Electronics & Household Electrical Appliances, Hardware & Tools, Lighting Equipment

Other: Chemical Products, Machinery, Vehicles & Spare Parts


Phase II Oct 23-27 (Tues - Sat)

Product Categories: Consumer Products, Home Decorations

Other: Gifts


Phase III Oct 31- Nov 04 (Wed - Sun)

Other: Cases & Bags, Medical Devices and Health Products, Office Supplies, Recreation Products, Shoes, Textiles & Garments


Location: China Import and Export Fair Complex

Address: 382 Yuejiang Zhong Road, Pazhou, Guangzhou, China

Opening Hours: 8:30-18:00 / 8:30-16:00(Oct.19, Oct.27) / 8:30-14:00 (Nov.4)


Visas & Invitation Letter:

Go to the official website at www.cantonfair.org.cn to find out how to apply for the Invitation Letter you’ll need to attend the Fair



Details on how to register as a buyer can be found on the official website at www.cantonfair.org.cn


How to get there



Arrive at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, fly to Shenzhen International Airport or fly to Hong Kong International Airport and transfer to a train or ferry. (Long distance buses are available from these airports but the commute is quite long). More information can be found at the airport information desk)



From Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, take the Guangzhou Metro Line 3 to downtown and further directions. If travelling from Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport, take the subway Line 2 to Futian Station in downtown Shenzhen then the Shenzhen to Guangzhou express train to Guangzhou South Station. Here you will need to transfer to the subway system to get to the Fair complex. If travelling from Hong Kong International Airport, there is a long distance bus from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, however the travel time is quite long. Alternatively, take an express train to Kowloon Airport Station then a shuttle bus to Hung Hom. At Hung Hom Station take the East Rail line to Luohu Station, Shenzhen. Change to the high speed train from Shenzhen to Guangzhou East Railway Station. Alternatively take the Hong Kong-to-Guangzhou through train, which also departs from Hung Hom Station.



Hong Kong to Guangzhou ferry services operate from Hong Kong International Airport Ferry Terminal, China Hong Kong City Ferry Terminal (Kowloon), or Hong Kong Macao Ferry Terminal (Hong Kong Island) to Lianhuashan Port or New Nansha Harbor, both in Guangzhou. From there, additional transport will be required.



Where to stay


There is huge selection of accommodation options from 2 & 3-star budget hotels to 5-star luxury hotels in downtown Guangzhou as well as in Pazhou District, where the Convention and Exhibition Center is located.


Accommodation Tip

Some buyers only recommend staying in good hotels with access to English / foreign-language-speaking staff, if possible, shuttle buses and close proximity to the complex. This allows you to get to the fair venue with minimal fuss so you can maximize your time at the Fair.


Registration Tip

When you arrive at the Exhibition complex, the first thing you will see notice is the long queues of buyers that have formed, often from very early in the morning. There will two main queues. One for registering for the show on the spot, before being issued an exhibition pass and another for people who have already registered and have their entry pass. This second queue is not surprisingly, much shorter.


Because of the long queues that always from outside the fair, before the show opens each day, it is much better to pre-register for the show. It may seem obvious but it something that many buyers will forget to do. Pre-registering and printing out your confirmation letter before arriving will save you hours of standing in lines to register for the show before you enter. Then you can start your day off the right way.


You can register for the Fair at the hotel you are staying at. You can check on line to see which hotels are able to issue you with an exhibition pass before you leave and which hotels have a free shuttle bus to the fair. Shuttle buses leave often. While guests staying at the hotel will have priority, you don’t need to be a guest at that hotel to use the bus.



When you arrive, try get a local mobile number as soon as possible. A pay -as-you-go mobile number is not expensive and it will ensure you are able to make calls and surf the internet from the very beginning. Internet services in China vary in speed and strength so it is best to discuss what you need and confirm the services and speed being provided with the mobile services staff. Guangzhou and southern China are now migrating to 5G so the service should be more than adequate. Two of the largest local carriers are China Mobile and China Telecom. Prices may be slightly higher than smaller carriers but these two operators have more services centers making it easier to get assistance if needed.


Business Cards

Have your business cards ready. Be aware that some business titles, eg. ‘Director’ are actually not as attractive as ‘Buyer’, to suppliers. Bring plenty of business cards.


Tip: Unfortunately misuse of contact details happens anywhere, resulting in your contact details being passed onto to other companies for marketing purposes. Some buyers will deal with this by having two business cards prepared, one for real business contacts, one for touts who want your card because they are farming contacts.



Sourcing products at the Canton Fair


What you need to do before the Fair 


You’ve booked your tickets and accommodation and you’re ready for the Fair! But before you start your sourcing effort, it is wise to come prepared. Here is a list of things that you should organized to ensure you have a very successful experience.


Prepare a schedule of your activities during your stay


Due to the sheer size of the event and the exhibition venue, it is important to do some research pre-show and shortlist the products and suppliers you are most interested in meeting and then map out your movement among the different halls. This will allow you to ensure you can achieve your key objectives before you get distracted by the myriad stalls, events and people you may encounter once you arrive.


The importance of this cannot be overstated. Have a plan. Arrange this before arriving at the Fair and a list of products and suppliers you might want to meet.


Canton Fair Checklist

Product List

- prepare a list of the products you want to source


Supplier List

- prepare a list of suppliers you want to speak to, if you have selected them from the list of exhibitors on the official website, you will know that they will definitely be in attendance.


Map out where you want to go

- if appropriate, try to map out where the suppliers you want to visit are beforehand. So when you step into the venue you have an idea of where you are going. This will save a lot of time, energy, and potentially money.


Keen buyers may want to plan the exact way they will move around at the complex. Determine:

  • Your arrival location (by gate or metro station)
  • The product category (by zone)
  • Where you want to eat or stop for a rest
  • Where you will leave the venue


Know your prices

- Do some research beforehand, research the market and even try to speak to some suppliers beforehand so you have some basic prices for comparison for the products you want. Knowing your prices is essential before going to an exhibition. Without this upfront knowledge, it is difficult to know if the price the supplier gives you at the booth is realistic or not.



- While it is good to have a place, conversely you do now want to over-plan. Try to leave some space in your schedule that allows you to investigate a new product, supplier, or event. Building in some flexibility gives you the time to pursue unexpected opportunities that are good for your project or business.



- Having a personal interpreter who can also be your guide is a great way to ensure that you have minimal hassles at the Fair. If possible, book an interpreter/guide that has experience in sourcing and is able to communication in English, Cantonese and Mandarin.


Read our blog on the benefits of having your own interpreter at the Fair


We also invite you to check out Lesso Home’s Canton Fair interpreting services package exclusive to members


Get there early

- Register for the Fair at the hotel to avoid the long registration queues at the venue itself. Arrive early and consider travelling by public transport to Pazhou, if you are not taking a hotel shuttle bus. Taxis may be easier to catch in the morning but in the late afternoon when you are leaving the venue, they will be extremely scarce.


At the booth

 You’ve entered a booth that has products you are interested in. This is what you can expect. Plus we have provided some tips to help you extract maximum value out of the stop.



- take photos of the booth, the supplier or suppliers’ representative and of course the products themselves. These can be downloaded or copied to your hard drive later for safe keeping. Send a photo to the supplier as it gives both you and the supplier a reminder of who you are.


If you have a companion, you can alternative speaking with the supplier and taking photos. You can also take photographs of other contacts you make through the Fair.



- if you take a catalog from every booth you visit, you will quickly amass a backpack load of catalogs that you will then need to carry around with you the whole day. Instead ask the supplier to send you an electronic version of the catalog. This will make things easier and you will avoid the risk of having to pay an expensive luggage surcharge on the trip home.


Certificates, Factories & Business

- Every supplier that you are interested in buying product from should be asked if they have the necessary certificates for their products that allows them to be imported to the destination country. If they do not, be prepared to walk away. Ask where their factory is based. If possible, arrange a visit to the factory so you can see their operation first hand. Also ask about their existing client base and business, if they supply to well known brands, it is more likely that will be a reputable business with quality products.


Step-by-Step walk through


To give you a clear understanding of what to expect when dealing with a supplier, we present a step-by-step visit to a booth run by a real supplier.


Our sample company supplies copper plumbing products to the building industry. Having established its name in China, the company is now focusing heavily on overseas markets, especially Singapore and Australia, and now has the Middle East, Africa and South East Asian markets in its sights. It already enjoys a good reputation among Australian builders and has a healthy roster of building companies as clients. Our supplier’s representative is Ivy who has extensive experience serving overseas buyers.



When you first arrive at the booth, Ivy will show you her product catalog which shows you the main product range, in this case, the standard sizes they have available.


The Booth

The booth itself has samples of some of the companies products but for a full list of products available, Ivy will send you an electronic copy, normally a PDF, by email.


Asking for samples

Do not expect the supplier to be able to give you sample on site that you can take away that day. They will likely not have what you need. In our case, Ivy is keen to do business with new customers and will be happy to mail samples to you, if practical, the next day.


Ordering: Ask for a quote, provide product details

You have found some products you like and are thinking about placing an order. But first you’ll want to get a quote. Our supplier will want you to have all relevant details about the product you are buying, ready to hand over, when you arrive.


If it is pipe work, Ivy will want the length, thickness (gauge), diameter, material and quantities of each type of pipe being ordered. In this case, your plumbing specialist has already prepared a complete list of pipes for you to give to Ivy.



If, like most buyers, you are importing to a foreign country, you will need to make sure the products have the certificates required to bring them into the country. You ask Ivy this and as a reputable supplier, she can confirm that they the certificates necessary for importing into your country. You are pleased that she can confirm this and you way you want copies to be sent to you later for checking, before you commit to an order.


The products

In your case, you are looking to buy a range of pipe fittings for air conditioning systems. You look for the dimensions for the products in the catalog Ivy gives you and they are printed in both imperial and metric, in the catalog, as they should be.


Ivy confirms that standard US & UK pipe products are stocked but you want your pipes cut to a specific length. You go through the thickness, length, diameter of the pipe, cut lengths and quantities with her.


The quote

Ivy takes your information and half an hour later, she is able to return with a quote*.

At this point, if you like what you see, you can now move on to discussing more details about the potential order including, production time, delivery and shipping and importantly, price. You believe you can accept the price quoted.


*Many suppliers suggest buyers contact them before the fair and, if possible, send the details of the products so that a quote can be prepared and be ready to be discussed when you arrive at the booth.


The invoice

At this point, after exchanging details, taking some key information and some photographs, you can leave the booth. Two days later, you receive an email with a proforma invoice, confirming the price and key details about the order.


The deposit

If the invoice is acceptable, our supplier wants a 20% deposit paid up front. The deposit is normally paid by electronic funds transfer to the nominated account. If the order is large or if required, it also accepts a bank Letter of Credit.


Production, Balance of payment & Shipping

After this, production begins. When the shipment is ready, the balance of the payment is due after the goods are shipped, that is, before they leave the port in China.


Once the balance has been received, Ivy will send you the original bill of landing that, along with your other completed paperwork, allows you to pick up the shipment when it arrives at your destination port. Ivy suggests you allow 4 weeks under normal conditions for your shipment to arrive.





You have come prepared for the Fair, have everything on your checklist ready including your list of suppliers you want to visit and you’ve seen what happens in a typical interaction with a supplier. You’re ready to do a deal!


Here now are the key guidelines on negotiating with a supplier


If you’re ready to talk business, a negotiation with a supplier will usually involve 3 or 4 people. You, the buyer, your own interpreter / sourcing agent if you have come prepared with one, and the supplier or supplier’s representative.


The first price

The key to negotiating is to negotiate. Very rarely is the first price a buyer is given the best price that can be gotten. Say nothing, and you’ll risk spending more than you have to. But speak up, and there is a chance you can make a significant saving on the purchase.


Negotiate but not too hard

On the flip side of this, is the danger of trying to squeeze the supplier’s margins too close to the production cost. Going too hard on price can have a negative impact in the form of quality issues and unanswered phone calls. Not doing adequate research beforehand can leave any buyer wondering whether they are paying more than they could be or, with fair minded buyers, less than they should be.


Finding the right price

What is the right middle ground on this? It may seem like common sense but as with any good negotiation, it should be a win-win situation, where both sides to the contract get something out of the deal. That is, as the buyer you should be getting the right quality products and at a fair price, while the supplier is able to make money out of the deal, including enough to pay his expenses and keep his or her business running.


Accept that the supplier has to make something out of the deal

Asking a supplier who is already working on tight margins because of the competition for orders, to give a 10 or 20% reduction on his already low price, it not realistic.

If it is a high value order, negotiating a 3 to 5% discount is more realistic and achievable and is not large enough to encourage the supplier to start cutting corners in production which will lead to poor quality products


Don’t haggle too much

Be aware that if you haggle too much, the best case is that the supplier tells you to go somewhere else. The worst case is they agree to the price then deliver poor quality goods that are unusable, which will be a waste of your money.


Price affects quality and service

Remember, products can be made to different levels of quality. For example, a kitchen cabinet with many components can be made with poor quality materials just as easily as it can with good quality materials. This can include weak core material, laminates that stain easily or adhesives that do adhere properly. So instead of getting a great cabinet at a low price, you could be paying a premium price for a poor quality one. You will also get less attention from the supplier as they focus on buyers that they are making more income from.


If you put yourself in the Supplier’s position, it can help. Already under pressure to trim margins and pay staff salaries, an embattled supplier may take drastic measures to make money out of the deal, leading the aforementioned risk to quality. It is far better to be reasonable in negotiating and aim for a good discount that will ensure you get low defect rates and better service from your Supplier.


Negotiate at the right time

Negotiating should be done before any prototypes have been made and before there has been any significant outlay. At that point money and time will have been invested in producing the prototype, and possibly drawings and other input, and you may not be in a position to walk away from the supplier. The key is to negotiate the price at the beginning when you are not committed. This freedom gives you more power to negotiate.


Be prepared to walk about from the Supplier if something seems wrong.


A less-than-upfront supplier may suddenly raise the price for any number of reasons, just before you are about to sign on the dotted line. It may be higher labour costs, material costs, costs to ensure you get your products to you ‘on time’. If any of these occur it is much safer to walk away from the deal, even if it means starting back at square one. If the supplier applies pressure, now, it is very possible that there will more attempts later on.


Do your research & be clear about quality requirements

Knowing how much the materials and components, that make up your product, cost is the best way to ensure you can negotiate with strength, and know whether you are getting a good deal or not. Seek assistance if needed, to find out how much the key parts of your product cost.


Since the same product can be made with different materials and components, it is essential that you have all the specifications confirmed for your product. If the level of quality you should be getting is not clear, you will be unable to determine whether you paid the right price for your goods. Also if you are not clear about the different aspects of your products, and know how much they cost in the marketplace, you will not be able to negotiate properly.


Finalizing a deal

You’ve come armed with knowledge, seen the products and negotiated well. Congratulations! It’s time to confirm the quote with the supplier and wait for the paper work to arrive. You have more products to source, so it’s time to move on to your next supplier. Good luck!


A Final Word


For any growing business, the opportunity to come the Canton Fair isn’t just about sourcing great products, See this is as one tour of duty that you want to be as successful as possible that is also it’s also part of a long term investment in your business. So at the fair you should be gathering information about suppliers that you may not want to source this year or for this project, but may want to do so for the next season, or the next grand design.


You are also building up a collection of professional contacts, sourcing experts and translator. Information and experience that will make your next Canton Fair even better!



Canton Fair - A Short History


The China Import and Export Fair (CIEF), also known as the Canton Fair, is held in the city of Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton) in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, in Spring and Autumn each year.


First organized in 1957, its aim has been to develop trade between China and the rest of the world, build wealth on both sides of the equation and serve as a showcase for the latest Chinese-made products. Interestingly, a look through the history of products sold at the Fair also paints a clear picture of the evolution of trade in China.


The Fair attracts product buyers and wholesalers locally and from around the world. From neighboring Asian economies to buyers from as far away as Africa and South America. Currently, US, India, South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Australia are amongst the top 10 regions for attendees at the event. Electrical and Electronic Goods and Home Decorations are the top and third highest categories respectively in terms of interest.


Since its launch, over the many sessions that have been held, the Fair has gone from strength to strength. It is still one of the largest trade fairs of its kind in the world in terms of the number of products on offer, the size of attendance and most importantly, the value of business conducted. In the 2017 Spring session, over USD$30 billion worth of business was done during the Fair’s three week run.


Lesso Home will be at the upcoming Canton Fair!


You will find Lesso Home at Booth T19-20. We invite you to come visit us at our booth and speak with one of our sourcing experts who will be more than happy to discuss your sourcing needs.

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