How to Pick A Supplier At Chinese Fairs and Expositions

Going to fairs in China can be quite overwhelming. There are literally thousands of suppliers and sorting through them without a system will be a nightmare.

The very first time I attended a fair for my eCommerce business was the Global Sources Expo in Hong Kong last year in October. I wanted to launch an iPhone case after seeing the sheer volume of demand (and ignoring the sheer volume of competition) on

After going through thousands of suppliers, I found one supplier that I thought would fit the bill. I placed an order at the stall for 2,000 iPhone cases. I paid the 30% deposit upfront, all cash (they didn’t accept card payment). Unfortunately close to 30% of the initial order fell apart after a week or two of usage and I had to refund a good deal of customers. The good news though was that the design was killer and it sold out within a few weeks of arriving at the warehouses. I just had to make sure that the quality was as good as the design!

After this experience, I’d like to think that I’ve become savvier at picking cases and looking for tell tale signs of a poorly made product. I went again to the expo in Hong Kong again in April 2015. This time around, the first thing I’d do was just touch the case. Within a few seconds, I could filter out the very crappy cases where the supplier obviously didn’t care at all. The prices would typically match (something like $0.30 per case). I wouldn’t bother with these. The next tier up would be suppliers that made okay cases with leather or PU at the outset but they would take shortcuts with the holders or somewhere else on the case. Sometimes you can see glue falling out or threading coming apart. These suppliers take a bit longer to suss out but I wouldn’t bother speaking with them.

It’s the next tier that I would get interested in. These are suppliers that actually pay attention to quality and their products can stand up to close scrutiny. If they have good designs, that’s a huge bonus. If not, that’s okay as well since most will manufacture according to your own designs. After they pass these tests, I will start grilling them. I look out for a few things:

Price — their products can’t be a rip off

Communication — most of my employees don’t speak Chinese so having relatively good English is important

Honesty — this can be tough to figure out, especially if you’re new. There are agents pretending to be factories and if you ask them whether they’re an agent, they’ll usually say no. Once you’ve been in the business and you understand the process, then you’ll be able to ask ‘insider’ questions which will give you the greatest insight about them

Other Things To Ask:

  • How many employees?
  • Where is the factory?
  • How many clients do they have?
  • What countries do they export to?

After speaking to what felt like a thousand suppliers, I found 3 suppliers that held up in terms of their products and their answers to my questions. I got samples from all of them and started using their products to make sure that it can actually stand up to normal day to day usage.

All of them did hold up but one of them was very slow in their responses.

I placed an order with the other two supplier.

Figuring out the contract…

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