'Business as usual' expo delights delegates
"This is perhaps the biggest gathering we have had since the pandemic started.”
“It is very special to see such a crowd in this unique year.”
Such opening remarks were common at the ongoing China International Import Expo, as corporate executives and foreign delegates launched new products, gave cloud interviews or held press conferences, noticeably relieved to see the crowds.
Both exhibitors and traders had imagined the worst amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, with many foreign executives unable to travel to the fair. Would there be enough traders? Would there be eye-catching new products? Would it be fun and fruitful like the first two years?
Jerry Zhang, whose company represents two Norwegian and an American brands at the expo, found it much better than anticipated.
“There are so many people today, and we have already got quite a few orders,” Zhang, in charge of sales for Norwegian schoolbag brand GMT for Kids, told Shanghai Daily on Friday afternoon, the first day when traders could enter, even as his colleagues continued to negotiate with incoming traders.
“Our foreign partners and we had been looking forward to the fair since it was announced that it would go ahead, a sign of confidence in this special year, though we weren’t sure what to expect. Our foreign partners had been preparing to attend until it was really impossible. It’s a pity they can’t introduce the products in person, but fortunately we have been working with the brands in China for a long time, and more luckily, it seems to be business as usual.”
For many companies, it may well be business unusual, as they look forward to increasing demand in second- and third-tier Chinese cities.
“China is speeding up its new development structure dubbed ‘dual circulation,’ which isn’t simply domestic circulation, but means a higher-level opening-up. It will provide a good business environment for foreign companies, like LEGO, in the Chinese market,” said Paul Huang, senior vice president of LEGO Group and general manager of LEGO China.
“The new development structure also means a bigger domestic market. Many second- and third-tier Chinese cities, with rapid economic development, have fast-growing middle-income groups, which will bring more opportunities for us.”
The company maintained double-digit growth in China in the first six months, despite temporarily closing some shops until reopening them in late March due to the coronavirus outbreak. It also opened 80 new retail shops as scheduled this year and expects to see the number of retailers on the Chinese mainland to reach 220 by the year-end.
“Our overall business in third- and fourth-tier cities is very good, a reflection of how local kids there love our brand. So we will increase our investment in this aspect.”
Like many exhibitors, LEGO has taken advantage of the import expo to launch new products. It unveiled four new sets celebrating classic Chinese culture and legends.
New product launch at the CIIE is an attractive factor for many traders, like Miranda Zhan from east China’s Shandong Province. Zhan works for a trade procurement company serving clients in six Chinese provinces.
Anticipating large crowds of traders, she left her hotel three hours in advance to get to the fair.
“It’s my third year attending the import expo. Last year, I found a new packaging machine for a client in Shanxi Province, which has boosted the efficiency in their factory by 50 percent, so I’m all geared up to discover new products.”
She added that her clients, mostly factory owners in third- and fourth-tier cities in east China, are noticeably more demanding in terms of quality, compared with before when their top request was for the cheapest of all products or equipment.
Demands for better quality haven’t gone unnoticed by companies exploring more potential in the Chinese market. Global water and housing products manufacturer LIXIL Group, a newcomer to the CIIE, is eying hospital, school, elderly care and residential scenarios in China, in anticipation of upgraded demand for hygiene and sanitation solutions in the post-pandemic era.
“The import expo provides us with the perfect opportunity to demonstrate our brand matrix, and we can avail this platform to approach more domestic clients,” said Adele Tao, chief executive officer of LIXIL Water Technology China.
“We have seen China’s determination to promote global development with openness and a mutual win-win spirit. In this dynamic era, we hope to strengthen our partnership with China as it is a strategic region for LIXIL globally. We will continue to drive product development to meet the needs of Chinese consumers. Consumer demand for purchasing smart products and improving their living environment is expected to surge, which will continue to drive the development of the industry.”
The company is among firms attending the fair for the first time, while up to 70 percent of the world’s top 500 companies that participated in the last two have returned. Many have already registered for the next one, some for the next three years.
As night fell, trader Zhan exited the expo to find eight packed but orderly queues outside the Metro station.
“That just looks like last year, and the year before, except there are fewer foreigners and everyone is wearing a mask,” she said. “I wish the queues were shorter because I’m exhausted. But I’m also excited because I found five interesting products today, maybe I will discuss with my clients while waiting in the queue.”
See more related story: 'Dual circulation' a catchphrase at import expo