In the 5th part of our series - Selling Food to China can be Child's Play - we will look at some of the considerations when exhibiting at a food show another of the key engagement pieces of the overall puzzle.
If you have followed our advice on starting with compliance - you are market ready - an exhibition is a good way to shout about your products. It gives you a first-hand look at the market and introduces your range to buyers and consumers.
If you are an experienced exhibitor, it is not our intention to teach you to suck eggs, but we have learned from many years exhibiting in China that it has its own challenges and what might seem like a good idea when you are thinking about it in your UK office - can bite you in reality.What follows is based on the experience of making probably all the mistakes you can make when we started exhibiting in China. Bear in mind that we had 25 years of international experience before we went to our first show and so we were not inexperienced. However we mad quite a few fundamental errors, that became blindingly obvious both during and after the show. You don't need to make these same mistakes !
There's an old saying that failing to plan is planning to fail. This is never truer than in the case of exhibiting in China. You need a complete strategy and having someone on the ground in China makes things much easier than trying to do it from a distance.
If you try to organise things from your home office you meet a number of challenges. Language is always the first one - it's not just about knowing what is said, but more about understanding what is meant. Chinese people will rarely if ever say "no" but that doesn't mean that they mean "yes" In fact "yes" can actually mean "no" - frustrating? - you bet"
Next you have time difference. Typically China is a business day ahead of the UK (7 or 8 hours depending on the season) This means that you often have a narrow window to talk to someone. This is not impossible of course, and, with a few adjustments to your time table, you can talk to people, maybe on Skype, This can be good or you can have serious line problems, often caused by the fact that when you want to talk to someone it is the busiest time for internet use in China. However if you take a cynical view communication problems are worse when you want or need something that is not on offer.
Exhibition organisers will have their own contractors to deal with a variety of services. These are often not that competitive, as exhibitors are seen as rather a captive market. Exhibitor need to complete quite a lot of paperwork, pay deposits for services such as power and internet use. You don't have to use these companies, but how do you find reliable and more competitive contractors?
So where do you start when planning an exhibition in China?
You will want to have some promotional materials. This usually means posters and brochures -remember these should be in Chinese. Keeping a Western appearance is always a good idea because it is seen as a strong brand, but also high quality. There is kudos in buying overseas products. However remember that whilst a lot of Chinese people speak and read English it is much better to use Chinese. This needs to be colloquial and also should be written in a way that is likely to work in China. The business culture is different and the response to marketing messages may not be as effective. Chinese people invariably want a lot more detail than you would expect to provide in the West The days of using traditional Chinese designs are now less important, although you should work towards what is in vogue. So a combination of West meets East works well
The Anderen team can translate your information and can then get things printed locally - this way you won't have to ship paper, making the cost very competitive.
You may decide to send product samples. Everyone likes freebies. This especially applies to China, but care needs to be used if you are at a retail show. The free sample feeding frenzy is something to behold and certainly not for the faint-hearted. If you give samples away you need to decide why you are doing it, and also who you should give samples to. Try to get some feedback if at all possible.
One option for samples is to simply send empty packaging - this easy and will show how the product will look on the shelf. There are no Customs issues and you can probably carry these in your luggage. It is a low cost option but you should consider if trying to cut corners makes real commercial sense. The Chinese are always more interested in working with companies who give the appearance of being committed to the market.Invariably trying to do things on a shoestring rarely works in China and in fairness any company who is serious about the market will need a substantial medium to long term investment
Alternatively, and preferably, you may decide to send real products. There are two options that mean your samples can get into the show legally. This is an important issue because Chinese authorities are getting more robust in policing non-compliant products. Whilst it is unusual, it has been the case that companies have been forced to remove samples from a display. This creates one of the worst things that can happen to you in China - "loss of face"
The first and best way is to have compliant goods. Meaning that you shouldn't have any problems with Customs, your products will be properly labeled and will be market ready. This means that if you meet a serious buyer you will be in a position to take and supply an order.
The other way is to send non-compliant product through an official exemption system. This requires a lot of official documentation and restricts who you can use to handle the product when it arrives in China. You need to plan well ahead to do this as the whole process can take several months to complete It is also expensive. On the other hand if you are serious about the market you will need to go through compliance processes so instead it is worth using the exemption process cost towards the compliance cost. This will mean that you will become market ready quicker. Remember that the cost of exemption is a one off cost that cannot then be used towards formal compliance. Our recommendation is that you go for compliance as soon as you have decided you are serious about China as a market
Once you have chosen the show to go to, options for a booth start with simple shell scheme.These will be familiar with most exporters. The quality is getting better, but they are what they are. There is nothing that makes you immediately stand out from the crowd. But they will pretty well be a fixed cost and so are easy to budget for. As an example in our special entry to market programme we include a 9m shell scheme booth at the FHW show within the cost
You may decide that you will make a bigger impact by having a bespoke booth. In this case you rent raw space and build a booth. There are minimum requirements on space which usually means that you need to have a fairly substantial booth. However this can be much more affective in attracting visitors. Our team of highly experienced stand designers can create a stand for you or build to your specification. We deal with all the documentation administration and utility deposits
Another option which we have found to be the most successful format, especially for SME's, is to be part of a bigger UK pavilion.Here we usually work under the UKTI banner using GREAT branding. The booth is usually one of the biggest in a hall and we always go for maximum height making it easy to spot. The Union Flag is seen in China as a mark of quality and so we use this and the red white and blue colour scheme to create a UK PLC image. Being part of a bigger pavilion gives you a separate reception, much more space and can make a small company look much bigger. In China how you appear is as important as what you do!
Our goal is that you should just need to turn up to the exhibition hall and everything is ready.
Next we come to interpreters - All the world speaks English! Well actually no - in China whilst many people do speak English, often this is not of a standard that is good enough for a formal business meeting. This means you will almost certainly need an interpreter. This is where companies often try to cut corners.
You have made a significant investment in a show, so it is important to your business to fully understand what is being said.Once a meeting is over you need to have a complete breakdown of what has happened. This sounds an odd thing to say, but the writer has been to many meetings in China over many years where this has been a potential mine field. The chances are you will look at meeting notes some time after a show and it is all too easy to forget who you were talking to and what you talked about, this still applies if you take your own notes.
Your interpreter is a key member of your team who needs to create a great impression. It goes to say that anyone working on your booth will reflect the professionalism of your company and also that you need to accurately understand what is being said - equally visitors to your booth also need the same. Language is not the only skill needed - Interpreters must present themselves in a business like way. Why would you take the risk of employing a low cost student who may not have all the right skills and who has no buy in to your success. Our first experience of using an interpreter in China could only be described as a complete disaster. He had limited technical skills, was a really bad time keeper and was certainly not a "people person" As we said earlier we have learned from our early mistakes
Anderen provide highly competent interpreters who are managed by our local Director. We ensure that they have the right personality, the right work ethic and language skills. But then they will be trained to a high level to ensure they know about your product and know the right questions to ask and how to "work the stand" They will provide you with notes at the end of each meeting to ensure you know exactly what happened (this is not as easy as it sounds). We also ensure they are smartly turned out with a corporate uniform
Remember in China a good interpreter will make the difference between success and failure
What happens after the show?
Chinese food exhibitions usually generate a host of enquiries, but that in itself presents another challenge.Many will be because a visitor will be "too polite" to say that they are not actually interested in what you have to sell, but these enquiries all need to be dealt with just in case. However it is amazing how many experienced companies have no strategy to deal with enquiries in a way that will convert them into business.(another of the lessons learned along the way)
An email in English a few weeks after the show is unlikely to get a positive response. Just as you may not remember those you talked to, they will probably not remember you. Serious enquiries need to be dealt with as soon as possible. Chinese people tend to take time to consider before making a decision but it is our experience that they can be impatient when they ask for information and then have to wait. Ideally you need to be able to have someone locally who can follow up these for you on a regular basis and who can maintain a dialogue. This is part of the service we offer
Another big no no - Don't rush to be on the first plane out when the show ends. We this this all the time. A serious buyer is likely to ask you to visit their office and in true Chinese tradition is likely to want to start to get to know you, probably over dinner. If you think about it at any meeting at an exhibition you have a matter of a few minutes to assess a potential buyer (and he has the same time to assess you.) You have traveled half way round the world to get to China so having a few more days to begin to build vital relationships is really helpful. After all you have already covered the cost of the fight which is often one of the bigger parts of your budget. Even if you don't have many meetings, you can still use the time to do some in-market research. Actually visiting stores and distributors first hand is much better than doing desk research. Being available to visit prospective buyers during the following week can make a huge difference to your prospects.
One final point - security. China is generally a safe place to be, however as with exhibitions world wide there will always be rogues around who are looking for opportunities to steal anything that they can. Mobile phones, tablets and lap tops are all targets but so could be your passport. This is where being on a bigger pavilion works really well. We use the reception as a security store. It is always manned and so is not the easy target thieves are looking for. Our reception staff are trained to look out for anyone behaving suspiciously. If "your life" is on your smartphone, what would happen if you lost it. Maybe the biggest disaster is losing your passport. It takes days to sort out and so it is effectively the end of your show!
Getting it right can make a world of difference and prevent real disappointment. Exhibitions in China are a substantial investment and so you need to ensure that you are in the best position to get the best results
When you work with Anderen Ltd both our UK and China offices organise the whole China side of the project for you. You have a local contact in the UK and someone in China who has your business at the heart of their being
Over the years we have developed a very effective system that makes it as easy as child's play to exhibit in China. All you need to do is concentrate on winning business.
If you are serious about selling food to China contract Anderen now
85 Blurton Road
Tel: 01782 326027