Complex role for fair matchmaker
Trade shows are a gathering of many companies from many nations and industries. As buyers and merchandisers view samples, negotiate and strike deals, exhibiting suppliers also take the opportunity to assess their competitors.
Behind the scenes, and after months of preparation, organisers marry the demands of buyers and suppliers, supported by an extensive workforce.
The number of exhibiting companies from Hong Kong and overseas has grown from 18,220 in 1996 to 41,599 in 2005, an increase of more than 120 per cent in nine years, according to Hong Kong Exhibition & Convention Industry Association.
Global Sources, one of the business-to-business media companies and a primary facilitator of two-way trade with Greater China, held the Spring China Sourcing Fairs for Electronics & Components and Fashion Accessories and its inaugural Underwear and Swimwear fair at AsiaWorld-Expo last month. Both events attracted more than 43,000 buyers between April 12 and 15, according to the organiser.
'We had buyers from over 152 countries visiting the three fairs, and some were big names such as NEC, RadioShack, Louis Vuitton, Triumph International, Speedo, and so on. We are quite pleased with the result,' said Camellia So, Global Sources general manager of corporate affairs.
Jeric Ma, vice-president and general manager of Circuit City Global Sourcing, said: 'Being the head of operations for a US-based electronic company which produces over 1,000 electronic-related products, I go to all kinds of electronic trade shows to source the most cost effective and quality materials, as well as to find reputable suppliers who can work as business partners for our multiple lines of products.'
Organising trade shows is not easy, despite the smooth running that makes it appear to be so. A responsible trade show organiser has an obligation to protect the best interests of buyers and the reputation of brands.
Organisers have to find reliable companies that offer relevant and genuine products, and have experience in international trading.
'Prior to confirming the interested party for the trade show, it is our job to qualify these suppliers by visiting their companies several times to make sure they have the right products to offer and their product does not infringe any copyright,' said Sarah Benecke, director of Global Sources.
'Equally important, they should also have import and export experience, as buyers come from all over the world.'
Suppliers who participate in Hong Kong trade shows mainly operate their own manufacturing plants in the mainland. But due to the extent of counterfeit goods, trade show organisers must be diligent.
Suppliers at the trade show are provided with a booklet summarising the rules and regulations set out by IPR (intellectual property rights) policies. The Hong Kong Brands Protection Alliance has been invited to help promote IPR awareness and enforcement, together with the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department.
For some buyers at big companies, price is not as much of a consideration as product innovation and quality.
Wolfgang Busch, of AIS Rechtsanwalte, said: 'I have always managed to find sophisticated and quality electronic gadgets in trade shows with suppliers from mainland China, Taiwan and [South] Korea.
'My customers back in Germany always have a great thirst for electronic products that are innovative,' said Mr Busch, who came to the Global Sources electronic trade show seeking a personal tracking device attached to a cellphone, and found what he wanted.
An exhibition venue's layout and facilities are also a key consideration for buyers and merchandisers. An ideal exhibition venue should have no pillars and enough space to accommodate at least 200 booths at any given pavilion. Facilities should include dining services, a comprehensive business centre and courier services.
Ms Benecke said: 'Hong Kong is an excellent place for hosting trade shows because quality hotels, transport services, shops and so on are all in proximity of one another.'
While no exhibiting company knows how much sales can be derived from participating in trade shows, the organiser's huge budget expenditure on advertising and promotion can at least help drive up opportunities.
Thomas Bettan, general manager of fashion jewellery company Hammerhead Shark, said that about 10 per cent of his company's sales came from trade fairs. 'We participate in six to seven trade shows a year and we find that the number of visitors normally meets our expectations,' Mr Bettan said.