Chapter 15 – Essential Tools for Your Trade Fair Visit

This is a very important chapter. By studying it carefully and implementing my suggestions for your Trade Fair visit, it will help you to achieve better results, save time and money, and most importantly it will keep your body in better physical shape.

I call it essential tools because without them you will have much more work to do either during the Trade Fair or afterwards. What to bring on your Trade Fair visit:

Business Cards

The importance of business cards in the Chinese business culture cannot be over stated. They are not heavy and since you can also use them afterwards, there is no excuse not having a sufficient amount with you. Everybody expects you to give them at least one business card and if you have a meeting with several people, you may need half a dozen or more at one time.

Sometimes manufacturers are reluctant to provide detailed information to somebody who “is naked” meaning “being without business cards”.

If you really run out of them, you can use the print shops at the exhibition centers to print them for you in only a couple of hours.

Make sure to hand over and receive business cards in the typical Chinese manner, which is with both hands. If you are sitting around the table, it is a good idea not to put them in one of your suit pockets after they are handed  to you. This is extremely impolite and indicates that you don’t care for the person who gave you his/her business card. It is much better to study them first (pretending to do so is OK) and place them in hierarchical order on the table in front of you.

How will you know who is the highest ranking person during a meeting? It is usually the first person introduced to you and this person is not necessarily capable of speaking English.

Exchange your business card with that person first, which gives him the face he deserves and only after that with the other people. This applies even if a sales manager is the person you will be in contact with most of the time.

It is a good idea to write the persons title on the business card if it is not already on the card because it will be impossible to remember later.

A person’s title printed on the business card is sometimes a little vague, so you better ask to get it right. Also, you will not be able to distinguish whether it is a male or female name simply because you cannot read the Chinese characters. You may be surprised to learn that even Chinese people will not immediately know, whether the name on the business card was from a woman or a man. There are too many different areas in China with special local names, which Chinese from other provinces may not be able to differentiate between. Therefore, add Mr. or Mrs. to the name on the card to make sure that it won’t be forgotten.

You should also know that a person with the name YUEN Kai Shun is not Mr. Shun but Mr. Yuen because the family name is always the first of the traditional three Chinese names shown on any business card. In Hong Kong, people adjusted during the 150 years of colonial rule by England and mostly mention their Christian name first and then their Chinese family names, for instance Peter Kwok.

Bring Your Own Stapler

Take your own small stapler with you to staple the supplier’s business card to any notes you take. Usually the suppliers have one at their booth but sometimes they run out of staples, or are broken.

Don’t Use Your Golden Dupont Pen for Writing

I don’t want to point my finger at anybody but it would be a good idea not to use your most expensive writing tool during your Trade Fair visit. Although it may be a status symbol for some and could impress your suppliers, but how can it be a status symbol if you lose it?

Cell Phones

Please check with your provider at home to see if your cell phone will work in Hong Kong and China. Give your cell phone number to any business partner that attends the fair with you and get theirs in return. Do the same with any suppliers that you prearrange to meet. It may be very difficult to locate somebody during the fair or at the factory without going through their operator, but using their cell phone number will usually do the trick.

The call charges to Mainland China are very high and many visitors buy a SIM card from a China Mobile retail outlet upon arrival in order to reduce phone costs.

The call charges in Hong Kong are cheaper but you can also buy a SIM card from one of the many local service providers.

The obvious disadvantage is that your business partners don’t have the new number yet and cannot reach you after you have changed to a SIM card.

Depending on how many calls you have to make, it might be better to keep the SIM card from your home country, or do what many local people do, use a second cell phone with your Hong Kong or China SIM card. In that way you can be reached by the staff at your office and suppliers at any time.

Digital Camera

A digital camera is one of the most important tools you will need during your meetings at the Trade Fair or at any outside meetings.

You will have many opportunities to shoot photos including close-up photos of details that cannot be seen in a catalogue.

You can and should take photos of the unique new products that some of the suppliers will present to you in secret. It may only be a mock-up but in just a few weeks the tooling will be complete and plastic injection can start. As always, remember that you want to sell products to customers back home and feeding them this important information might make a big sale.

Another way a digital camera comes in handy: Chinese people love to take photos and love if photos are taken of them alone or with their customers. Also, if you have photos from the people you have met during the Trade Fair it will help you remember who they are and what they were selling.

Believe me, after four days at the Exhibition Centre you cannot possibly remember the faces of all people you’ve met, along with their names. However, they will easily remember that you are Mr. Smith from Arkansas because for some reason the Chinese seem to have a better memory than Westerners do.

Don’t forget to bring a spare battery with you because you won’t have a chance to recharge your battery at the exhibition centre. You may also need another memory card if you do not already have one of those 2-5 GB cards in your digital camera. Another way is to upload your photos to your notebook computer on daily basis. In that case one memory card will probably be sufficient.

Notebook Computer

Nowadays, many exhibitors have at least one notebook computer at their booth with an online internet connection. This is essential for them because if they are attending one of the Hong Kong Trade Fairs and move on to the Guangzhou Trade Fair afterwards, they will be out of their office for at least 10 days.

In China being out of the office for 10 days is like an eternity and that’s why they need to communicate regularly with their factory or head office through their notebook computer.

You will have to do the same because your work back home has to be done somehow and it is a good idea to communicate with your home office on a daily basis.

I do not suggest using your notebook computer for all meetings. The main reason is that there is simply not enough space on the small booth tables to operate it conveniently.

You should always bring it along with you because it contains vital information which you may need and it is much easier to carry than 2 or 3 file boxes.

For any meeting at the factory or at your hotel, a notebook computer is an absolute must have. It is also so much more convenient and time saving compared to past methods.

  1. People wrote everything on paper, which was then passed to their secretary for typing after returning from their business trip. Only then could the information be distributed to all the people needing it. You can imagine that it took at least 4 precious weeks from the start of your business trip until everything was completed.
  2. People wrote everything on paper and in the evening dictated the content into a small micro cassette recorder. Their secretary at home would then type it and distribute it to the people that needed it. You can imagine that it took 2-3 precious weeks from the start of your business trip until everything was completed. Alternatively, the micro cassettes could be sent by courier service which saves some time.
  3. Nowadays, people type their vital information in their notebook computer and send it together with the matching photos at the end of each day to the head office. In that way, colleagues at home can interact and ask for additional information if something important was missing. Upon returning home from your business trip, everything should be ready for further processing and decision making.

I suggest a large capacity battery for your notebook computer. One that lasts up to 6 hours. If this battery type is not available for your model, bring another fully charged battery along with you. When you have outside meetings, you will find that there is not always an electric socket nearby to connect your AC adaptor to.

Sometimes suppliers will also pass you data on a memory stick (photos, line drawings, product descriptions etc.) that you can immediately download into your computer.

That is especially important if it is a new development and no samples or catalogues will be available for some time. Remember, the most up to date information is what you want to obtain during your Trade Fair visits.

Briefcase on Wheels

If you are not into weight lifting exercises, you had better bring a large briefcase on wheels.

It is torture trying to carry your heavy briefcase all day long (with your notebook computer, catalogues, notebook etc.). You will see at the Trade Fair that many buyers have already learned their lesson and save their energy by using a briefcase on wheels.

Catalogues collected during your visits to many booths can weigh a lot and you will be exhausted half way through the day from carrying them.

Comfortable Walking Shoes

They are not exactly a tool but comfortable walking shoes will make your life much easier when you walk several kilometers during the Trade Fair days.

Trade Fair Catalog

One of your first actions at the Trade Fair should be to buy a Exhibition Catalog. It is important for planning your other Trade Fair visits and for keeping track of suppliers’ addresses and contact details after you return home. Since you don’t have to carry it, the weight won’t bother you.

Your Company’s Catalog

If you have your own company catalog, bring a few sets along with you for the meetings with key suppliers. You don’t have to carry them all with you but have at least one set to show to your suppliers during your meetings.

From my experience, it makes a good impression and helps to cement the relationship with your supplier if you hand over one set during the most important meetings during or after the fair.

Remember you are your company’s ambassador and want to show your company in the best possible light. I always load them up in the morning before I leave for another day at the fair.

Your Corporate Identity Artwork Concept

As mentioned before, creating your own corporate identity concept is very important. After spending a lot of effort on it at home, it would be a very good idea to bring it along with you and show it to the suppliers during your meetings. It enhances the impression you make and helps suppliers better understand your needs.

Sketches, Drawings, Photos are Perfect Tools for Informing Suppliers

You should also bring along any sketches, drawings, or photos clarifying what you are looking for from your suppliers. Do not forget that you are at the Trade Fair to see something new and collect a lot of information.

Sometimes suppliers will tell you where you can find products and help save you a lot of time.

Also, bring ads from newspapers and magazines showing a product that is already being distributed by somebody else. Hand over color chips of a specially selected color to suppliers. You can ask them to prepare samples for you, saving the time and cost of sending it after you return home. A supplier may also have a question about the color and you can discuss the details face to face.

Your Specifications

In Chapter 7, I suggested you prepare your specifications for the trip.

During your meetings at the Trade Fair and elsewhere is the right time to provide all relevant suppliers with your company’s specifications.

Since you expect them to quote you realistic prices, they need to be informed about your requirements in order to avoid lengthy communications by e-mail later.

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