The spring 2012 Canton Fair

I just returned from the Canton Fair.  Everyone seemed to think business was really down from a year ago.  And with the exception of the second day of the fair which was extremely busy, my impression as well was that things at the show were very slow.  You could walk down some of the aisles at the rear of the halls – where most of the small vendors are located –  and the gloom was palpable. The stories in the news these days about slow growth in China seem to be true ( though the slow growth is mainly in the domestic market).

One thing I am frequently asked is why I attend the Canton Fair and not the Hong Kong sourcing fair which is held at the same time. The answer is size and cost. The Canton Fair is far larger in scale than the Hong Kong fair and, needless to say, there is a greater likelihood of finding what you are looking for if there are more vendors, even though you have to weed through many undesirable vendors. At the same time you have to take into account that there are bad vendors in at the Hong Kong show as well. I have worked with some.

The second reason I prefer the Canton Fair to the Hong Kong fair is cost. I talked to one Australian lady I have run into several times at the Canton Fair and asked her about Canton vis-à-vis Hong Kong since she regularly attends both fairs. She replied that she often sees the same items in Hong Kong that she sees in Canton but at a much higher cost. She elaborated that the Canton Fair is definitely “down and dirty” compared with Hong Kong but that there are good vendors to be met. For her business – gifts – she needs to source at Canton to keep her margins. She goes to Hong Kong for design.

In fact, I asked several overseas buyers I know who attend both the Canton and the Hong Kong fairs to share their thoughts with me. The consensus was that Hong Kong has more design driven and innovative product than Canton and that it is a more professional fair ( all vendors have catalogs whereas at Canton many do not ) but unless you are selling direct to the end consumer it is hard to absorb the cost markups. For wholesalers the Canton Fair is essential.  When I asked if they could only go to one fair which it would be, everyone unhesitatingly replied Canton.

One interesting aside on this blog post:  The Australian lady mentioned above told me that more and more Australian companies are attending the Canton fair so her market back home is becoming increasingly competitive.  Austrailia after all is a relatively small market. She sees the need going forward to start attending other fairs in Asia in order to stay one step ahead of her competition.

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