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What You Need to Know About Exhibiting in China

I’m not going to start with a history lesson about global trade. We all know the world has been trading between countries and continents for centuries. But with new emerging markets with a high potential client base, more and more companies are willing to take a shot at those markets. Many companies would love to expand their market to China and sell their products there. I have done several shows in China over the years with my clients and what I have learned is that exhibiting in China is totally different from every other country you might have exhibited in before. If you are planning to exhibit in China, be prepared and consider these tips I’m going to give you. Hopefully you will be ahead of the learning curve.

Map of China

Have a Local Partner

Yes, you might have done a ton of shows in your career but the language and customs in China are different. If possible and for your greatest benefit, I would strongly suggest that you have an office or an agent already in China and involve them in the planning. Just understanding the multitudes of holidays and making sure nothing is lost in translation is a huge challenge. My experience taught me that if I would not have been in contact with our Shanghai office during my shows and planning, I would have had many angry and frustrated customers and a negative outcome.

If you do not have a local partner, finding one would be a good idea.  Most show organizers will refer you to your contractor for many tasks that show services would normally handle in the United States. Have you ever had to rent your own scissor lift without crew before? If you are going to handle it on your own, I would strongly suggest to write full sentences without abbreviations, and when asking questions, do it one line at the time. I’m almost certain most of the people on the other end are using google translator and you do not want them to misunderstand you.

Plan Way Ahead

Now, I’m going to assume you have been following our trade show tips and reading other blogs and you are an expert in trade shows. You know that show book front to back and all of your deadlines by heart. Knowing those dates will help you a lot, but my professional and personal advice is to be ready 2 months before the stated deadlines. I’ve personally experienced 10 business days of back-and-forth just to get the answer to a simple question. So when I say plan ahead, I mean plan way ahead.

Shipping Your Booth

If you are shipping your exhibit internationally you are already probably using an ATA Carnet for your booth. If not, you should look into it to accelerate the process. An ATA Carnet is an international customs and temporary export import document. You might also be forced to deal with the show broker once your exhibit reaches China and they will clear the shipment and ship it to the convention center. You will need to verify in your show book that you do not have charges that were not expected when your exhibit gets there.

Dealing with Show Organizers

Dealing with show organizers can be long and frustrating and one of the many things I’ve learned is that a “yes” doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen. For example, after one of my clients had submitted their design with back lit hanging structures and the design was approved by the show, we received an email two weeks later telling us there was no rigging point above our space. After supplying them with ideas and pressuring them on the fact that they did already approve the design, we finally found a solution for the rigging. A week later another email came in to let us know that there was no electrical coming from the ceiling, even if they had charged us for it, and that the only way to light the hanging signs would be to run the cord from the floor up.

Using hanging signs to save on floor space then running cords from the floor did not help us save on space and it also did not look pretty. The signs ended up not being lit even though the design was entirely approved. This was an international show and even though we did reach out to the organizer in the U.S., there was very little they did or could do to help us with those different issues. Before choosing your space, I advise you to verify with the show hall (not the organizer) that your needs such as lighting, electricity placement, and anything other little details like this will be met. However, from my latest research I did find that almost none of the halls in China offer ceiling electrical drops.

Show Services

As I mentioned before, most show organizers will refer you to your contractor for many tasks that show services would normally handle in the U.S. Always confirm that labor is included with the services your purchase. Just because you ordered electrical, rigging, and carpet from the show, it does not mean that labor will be included and the form will then  direct you to your contractor. Don’t be surprised also when they ask you for the building deposit. That deposit is refundable, but the purpose is to ensure that your exhibit will be dismantled and shipped out at the end of the show. Your show staff and personnel should have a copy of all of your payments and order confirmations for proof, and access to cash. In many of my experiences, show services will request a cash payment at the last minute claiming that a payment had not been made or that they do not take credit cards. Be prepared for this.

In conclusion, I hope I didn’t scare you from exhibiting in China, but it is different from exhibiting elsewhere and I hoped to prepare you for some of the challenges. China is a great market and brings many opportunities to boost your sales. Follow my above tips and definitely get a local partner, and hopefully many of your headaches will be prevented.

intl-exhibitingExhibiting in China is not the only country that can make your process challenging. Read the International Exhibiting Trends & Outlook white paper to learn more about what other international exhibitors have done to be successful in this emerging area of exhibit marketing. Click here for your free copy.


About the Author

Sebastien Robillard joined Skyline Entourage in Montreal, Quebec, as an exhibit consultant in 2009 after spending 15 years establishing international business and marketing strategies for companies. He brings experience in the trade show industry through being both an exhibitor and attendee in tradeshows of different industries worldwide. This dual perspective gives him greater insight helping his clients with their Montreal trade show displays.

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