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One of the Canton Fair exhibition halls

Imagine a space the size of about 180 large football fields filled with humans from all corners of the globe scurrying about on foot, golf buggy and travelator while talking on their smartphones and tapping away on their handheld calculators… Welcome to the greatest show on earth! No, I’m not talking about a futuristic Moscow circus; rather, I’m referring to the Canton Import and Export Fair.

I spent a good part of 2011 researching my next project. Dabbling in creative bits and bobs, I had a couple of ideas swimming around in my head but I needed more inspiration – and a big injection of it too. So where better place to start than one of the longest running, comprehensive trade shows on earth?! The Canton Fair is held biannually in Guangzhou, China. If she were human, the Canton Fair would be old enough to be my mother, having first opened in 1957. Of all the trade fairs that I attended last year, Canton Fair was by far the most busy and well-rounded. With an  exhibition area of an overwhelming 1.16 million square metres, we were definitely not in Kansas anymore, although if I had wanted a pair of ruby shoes to transport me home, I’m sure I would have found it amongst the 23,000 plus Chinese and foreign exhibitors at the Fair. In fact, the range of products and services on show was so large that the Fair was divided into three phases; each phase lasting about 5 days and covering different categories of products/services; anything from tractors, to apple cider crisps, to rubber soles…if it has been invented, chances are, you’ll be able to find it at the Canton Fair.

Buggies and travelators transport people between exhibition halls

The logistics were incredible and impeccable. Registration was possible online; interpreters were available (and you could interview them before landing in China), mobile phone SIM cards were sold on site, and most hotels in Guangzhou and the surrounding areas had shuttle buses to transport guests to and from the Fair. Or course, the locals who were not involved directly inside the Fair did not miss the opportunity to partake in the business extravaganza either. There were many budding entrepreneurs lined up along the pathways outside the Fair offering services such as photocopying and half hour turn-around business card printing (I chuckle when I recall the problem I had simply trying to find a pencil at a trade show in Paris!); there were even people selling bamboo flutes (why not?) and the iPhone 5!

23,000+ foreign and domestic exhibitors show at the Canton Fair

The downside of a fair of this size is that most exhibitors trade in medium to large-scale volumes only. But of course, being the greatest show on earth, if you can’t find it at the Canton Fair, then you are bound to meet someone whose uncle’s third cousin knows someone who can point you in the right direction.

The next session of the Canton Fair will commence on 15 April 2012. For any budding entrepreneurs in need of ideas or business  sourcing, I highly recommend checking it out.

Have you ever set up a business? How did you source your products/services? What’s the most interesting trade show you’ve ever attended? I’d love to hear from you! Please talk to me by clicking on ‘Comments’ above.

bisous, mon ami