By Neena Sandhu, Head of Buying and Merchandising, Bathrooms.com
One of the most crucial elements to successful relationships during a business trip to China is the willingness and flexibility to adapt to local culture and customs. Chinese business people are generally very hospitable and often enjoy engaging foreign business contacts in local delicacies and customs.
It is commonplace for vendors to send a car with their sales agent to collect you from train station or airport and they are very often willing to drop you on to another appointment.
Many Chinese business owners and directors are affluent and successful, however, in contrast to large western organisations, they do not adopt typical corporate mannerisms. For instance, it is rare to see senior Chinese management in suits and ties or creating formal agendas for meetings. Accordingly it is wise to compliment this mentality in your dress code and approach to business meetings. I opt for smart jeans, boots and a blouse for most meetings, effectively a smart casual look which is also practical for touring the factory floors.
The importance of planning ahead
Having at least one or even two months to plan and book your trip, will allow you time to arrange meetings with local contacts and suppliers. It is advisable to try to avoid planning your trip for January or February, as this a peak time for most manufacturers prior to Chinese New Year. During this period most workers will be given up to 6 weeks off work to celebrate with their families, which results in the movement of millions of people across the country.
If you are planning a trip to China, or anywhere abroad, it is really useful to use a worldwide holiday and observances tool like Time and Date, to avoid any public holidays.
One thing to consider prior to travelling to China, particularly if you are sourcing new products, is that different industry sectors are spread across different geographical areas or provinces. Certain provinces of China will be known for certain types of manufacturing for example in textiles, metalwork, and packaging.
To save time and money, my advice would be co-ordinate your vendor and factory visits on a provincial basis as travelling between provinces very often require cross-country train travel or flights.
Here are some aspects to consider when travelling in China:
• Most big cities in China are modern 24/7 hubs, with reliable transport links and Wi-Fi.
• Depending on your products, some factories can be situated in rural areas, which can be prone to limited data connectivity and phone reception.
• Be prepared and have sales materials and pricing structures printed, ready to hand out to business partners, including photos and statistics.
• Don’t rely on techy apps and fancy PowerPoint presentations.