A first visit to China

My client from Toronto is back from his trip to China. This was his first trip to China, and in fact first ever visit to Asia. It sounded and looked like he had a great time ( from the glow he exuded on our skype call). And although he was less than enthusiastic about the vendor he had gone to see, he nevertheless regarded the trip as a success.

Regarding the vendor, my client said his impression was that this was a very big and a very busy vendor and that they probably regarded my client as a “small fry.” The vendor took my client to lunch twice but there was no official welcoming banquet and the head of the sales dept, who had approached my customer first at the NYC Gift Fair earlier this year, was absent for much of the two days my client was in Ningbo. Anyway, it certainly does not sound like they rolled out the red carpet for this father–son “delegation” who had travelled all the way from Toronto. I told my client that this was not a good sign. And in fact I have never heard of anything like this where a foreign guest was not taken to dinner by their hosts upon their arrival in China. But it may just be a sign of changing times in China where foreign importers are not accorded the same VIP treatment they have become accustomed to over the years. And many Chinese companies have overhead too. It may be that in these tough times extravagent, wastful banquets for customers are on the way out ( let’s hope not !).

Another couple of worrisome signs are that the vendor changed their pricing on my client’s product, telling him the very competitive prices he had given him before were based on a higher MOQ. My client seemed irritated by this but, as I had already warned him that something like this might happen, he seemed to be able to “process” it and move on. And the vendor also lengthened the lead time from 45 to 90 days. This is also very concerning. 90 days is a very long lead time for this product, most of which is automated product.

My client seemed to be at a loss about what to do. So I asked him what his gut feeling was. He said his gut feeling was that he wanted to give them an order. He likes their quality, their facility and they seem responsive and friendly enough. I told him that was fine and that these are definitely good points he does not want to ignore. But a first order should be as small as possible. See how it goes. If the service is good, then look at increasing your order. But he should anticipate that there will not be quick solutions to problems if they arise ( because they are big and he is small) and he should be very careful about the lead time. In China when a vendor gives you a lead time you should always tack on 2-4 weeks because China orders just always seem late for one reason for another. In other words, if he orders product with these guys and they have given him a 90 day lead time it may be 4-5 months before it rolls into his distribution center in the US.

Other interesting observations on his trip.

My client spent much of his career working in London but he said he found Shanghai much bigger and much more intense. He seemed overwhelmed by Shanghai. But having spent seven years there I can understand that. Shanghai is nothing short of overwhelming. I find it much more intense than Tokyo where I have spent the last three years. I would add that whereas the Tokyo energy just wears you down, the Shanghai energy invigorates you.

The train station in Ningbo was chaos. Yes, I believe that. Train Stations in China are very crowded and chaotic. You walk in the door and your heart sinks as you wonder how you are going to manage to buy a ticket. The experience can drain you in minutes. So always book your train tickets in advance ( preferably through a hotel concierge) and arrive at the station early because it may take you some time to find the right queue ( or what is supposed to be a queue).

The jet lag on his return really got to him. He travels a lot to Europe but the Toronto – China trip was just so much longer.

The food in China was wonderful. So true and one of the best things about travelling to China. Chinese food in China is an experience unlike any other. Westernized Chinese cuisine just does not cut it, no matter how “authentic” it is said to be. After eating Chinese food in China, you will return to your own country a Chinese food snob.

Haggling in the local markets was challenging and exhausting but fun. Yes, it is true. But if you go to China you definitely want to leave yourself a day to do this. It may be the highlight of your trip. And, as my client pointed out, the knock off LV bag you buy in China for next to nothing may be better quality than the original !

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4 thoughts on “A first visit to China

  1. I find your post very interesting. I read them every time I get them. We have been doing in Asia for over 3 years, and instead of challenging I find it very amusing the way in China runs. A yes, yes, yes, usually means they don’t want to hurt your feelings. So I always start the conversation by sharing that in the West a YES MEANS YES. AND NO MEANS NO. This way there will not be any room for misunderstanding. Furthermore, I the factory wants my business “The Client is always Right!”. And if they don’t understand this upfront, then Goodbye! Because we don’t belong together. Always be Nice, but Firm. And by the way, my favorite word in China is NO! I wish I could, but NO! Therefore, which part of NO did you not understand.

    • Yes, Orlando, that is it in China and in many things in life: be nice but firm. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Great post! Good tips about tagging a few more weeks to the proposed lead time, and interesting observation of the “sign of changing times.” It would certainly be interesting to follow the stories of your clients over time.

    • Thanks for the comment. Yes, I take great interest when I hear someone is going to China for the first time. My first visit was about 25 years ago and I can still remember how overwhelming it was back then, but what a thrill it was as well. So I get a vicarious thrill now when I hear someone is going for their first visit.

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