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Counselor Senior Editor Michele Bell's slanted view of the world.

The Asian Gift Shows: The Good, The Bad & The Skeezy

Filed under: Asia, Fun, Travel

Hi Everyone!

I'm back from Asia, slightly jet-lagged but no worse for wear. For those of you who follow me on Twitter (@ASI_MBell), you probably have a sense of my feelings on the shows I attended (read: Canton Fair = Awful; Hong Kong Gift Show = Awesome). But there are a few thoughts I'd like to convey, lest anyone accuse me of being vague.

First, the Canton Show. This event is held in Guangzhou, China, which is about 2.5 hours outside of Hong Kong. The show is divided into three phases and attracts well over 100,000 attendees from around the globe, with exhibitors showing items like electronics and household goods, hardware and tools, consumer goods, gifts and home decorations, textiles, office supplies and bags, among others. Many of the ad specialty suppliers here in North America attend the show to find new items for their lines; I attended in my capacity as editor of ASI's supplier magazine, Supplier Global Resource, looking for product trends for our upcoming show report.

While I will concede that there were massive amounts of products on display, here are some other tidbits about the show: You know how in movies and literature, hell is portrayed as a sulfurous slog of mind-melting heat and unrelenting torment? That's the Canton Fair, only with a crappier floor plan and a nastier smell. If you've ever had a doubt that we (ASI, PPAI, etc.) do a stellar job at organizing trade shows, I defy you to visit this dystopian mess just once. With a staggering lack of show staff, directional signage, printed materials like booth listings or basic services (the "Press Room" was a metal chair and a Xerox machine),  I had a meltdown of epic proportions -- complete with Homeric yelling -- on Day Two, as I tried to find the area where the shuttle buses were parked. Literally no one could tell me. I finally found the buses on the last day of the show, parked somewhere near Beijing.

And while this may be a cultural thing, I take issue with exhibitors sitting and eating their lunch while attendees are in their booth. I don't know one supplier in North America who would be okay with their booth staff slurping down noodles in front of clients and prospects. There's right, there's wrong and there's just plain rude.

Now, my boss, Rich Fairfield, ASI's executive vice president and publisher who accompanied me to the show and became my de facto "handler," pointed out that many people love this show. Maybe, but I don't know any of them. The people from our North American industry in attendance were hardly avid fans. I think Rich is afraid the Canton show organizers will read this blog and ban me from future shows. I should be so lucky.

By contrast, the Shenzhen Gift Fair was a delight. Run by the fine folks at Reed Exhibitions (the same group who does the fabulous PSI Show in Dusseldorf), this event was cohesive, air-conditioned, easy to follow and had beautiful booths with higher-end products. Next year, when the Canton Fair shuns me, this is where I'll be.

Lastly, the Hong Kong Gifts & Premiums Show is really quite fabulous. It's at this event where I found a ton of cool, new products -- especially in its expansive Hall of Fine Designs -- that knocked my Manolos off. You'll be seeing many of them, I'm sure, coming to a supplier's line near you.

And now, without further ado, scores of fun and weird photos from the shows, starring my favorite industry celebs and new friends too!

More next week from the ASI New York Show, where the saltiness, sassiness and snarkiness I accumulated in China will have dissipated, and I'll be my usual perky, rah-rah, chipper self (she says sarcastically). ; )


-- M

At each entrance to the Canton Fair in Guangzhou, China, a very somber, perfectly postured Chinese soldier stood in full regalia. By the end of the first day of this hellish show, I was ready to throw myself at his feet and beg to be put out of my misery.
The main entrance to the Canton Show, which draws over 100,000 international attendees during its three phases at the end of each April.
Here’s my boss, Rich Fairfield, ASI’s publisher and executive vice president, with Rob Spector, owner of Spector & Co., one of the largest and most respected suppliers in Canada, at the Canton Show. Poor Rob… Every time he saw me on the show floor, I wailed at him like a crazy woman about how much I loathe that show. He exhibited the patience of Job with me.
The best, and prettiest, booth I saw at the Canton Show, for a supplier of housewares. By decorating their exhibit area with foliage and white lights, it looked like an enchanted forest.
Rich Fairfield, of whom I’m so fond, could eat Chinese noodles and dumplings (from questionable origins, mind you) every day of his life. Me, not so much.
Brace yourselves: While at the aforementioned Canton Show in Guangzhou, I, Rich and Alan Lee, our wonderful colleague based in Hong Kong, had lunch. I am not an adventurous eater at all, and shied away from anything but the basics while in Asia, sticking to white rice. Alan, however, embraces his culture and eats all sorts of exotic fare. When he cracked open this one-year-old (yep) egg, I happened to have a mouthful of rice — which I then promptly spit all over Rich, gagging in the process. I don’t know about your boss, but I thank God that mine is so laid back that he actually laughed til he cried, despite the fact that I hurled on him.
While in Guangzhou, I received a delightful e-mail from PCNA’s enigmatic president, David Nicholson, asking me to join him and his team, who would be going out that evening to celebrate his birthday. Of course, I jumped at the chance. What I didn’t know at the time was that a river of tequila and sombreros would be involved. Here’s the whole group — members of PCNA, PFConcept (the company’s European arm) and its World Source sourcing team. They were such wonderful, fun people I even thought well of them the next morning, when — in the cold, hard light of day — my eyelashes were stuck together and I was begging for a quick and painless death.
Here’s me with PCNA’s president, David Nicholson. I have no idea what we’re looking at off camera, but would hazard a guess that it’s my dignity and restraint.
PCNA’s David Nicholson (left) with Rodolph Garnier, director of sourcing for Polyconcept GBS, based in Shanghai.
(From left): Peter Healy, PCNA’s vice president of product development and sourcing; AJ Dickson, category manager; Diane Gerken, assistant category manager; and Mindy Hoffman, category manager for PCNA. I had never met any of these people before that night, and they were just awesome. Special props to Diane, who was the youngest of the group yet acted infinitely more mature than those of us in an older demographic, and Peter, who had the singular distinction of making me laugh so hard that I snorted vodka through my nose. Good times.
A moment now, about Jeff Brown, PCNA’s senior vice president of sales & marketing: Every time I get to spend time with Jeff, I enjoy him even more — he’s one of the most entertaining conversationalists I’ve come across in the industry. He’s shown here with the lovely and talented Heather Smartt, product category manager for Bullet. While Heather’s last name is perfect for her, Heather Sassy would be equally apropos. ; )
In addition to the multitude of talents David possesses in the business arena, he has one of the steadiest pours I’ve ever seen and kept the tequila flowing during his birthday celebration. That tequila looks innocent enough, doesn’t it? The next morning, though… Hoo Boy. You just want to heave yourself into a coffin and shut the lid.
Here’s the whole group, celebrating David Nicholson’s 42nd birthday at a fun bar in Guangzhou, China. Truly, being with this amazing team was the highlight of this leg of the trip. (Where’s my sombrero, you may ask? Stuffed under my chair, with my willpower…)
Here’s one to make my Mom proud, with a sombrero around my neck, kissing a bottle of Jose Quervo.
Do you know my Joshy Goodelman (left)? Well, you should. He’s the vice president of sales for the NY-based supplier Liqui-Mark Corp., and is the cat’s meow. Here, he’s with his BFF Taylor Tadmor, owner of Tekweld and one of my new favorites (I call him the “Crazy Israeli” — he rocks) and Jacky Chan, who runs Taylor’s China office. “Jacky has a team of four people that go out to the factories that we use to do quality control,” Taylor says.
This is the view of the harbour in Hong Kong, from my room at the W Hotel. Once I got to Hong Kong, my mood improved dramatically.
The welcome display at the main entrance of the Hong Kong Gifts & Premiums Show.
When I asked Rich Fairfield to go stand next to this plush QR code mascot for the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, he looked at me with such disdain it was as though I asked to drain his marrow. “I don’t like fuzzy walking mascots… they freak me out.” This from the man who’ll eat skeezy dumplings from vendors in the streets of China.
My boys!!! [Insert teenybopper squeal here] Oh, let me count the ways that I adore Polyconcept’s Yann Leca (left) and Michael Bernstein. A large part of the reason why I made the trek (a 16-hour flight each way) to Asia was to spend time with them. So gleefully giddy was I to be with them, that Rich is considering paying them just to travel with us to keep my bitchiness at bay.
I just love who you randomly run into when traveling overseas. While at an Italian restaurant with my Polyconcept pals, I spotted Bill and Sharon Miller, distributors from BCG Creations in Canada, who I had met at a dinner last year at the ASI Dallas Show. They are quite the fun characters…
Here’s PCNA’s Jeff Brown (left) and Rodolphe Normandin, director of marketing and product development for PFConcept, Polyconcept’s European arm.
Meet Rob Brandegee (left) of too-cool-for-school company, Littlearth, and Patrick Tornqvist, president of OneSource IML (learn more about them here: www.osiml.com). These two are at the top of my “get to know better and party with more” list, as the look on Patrick’s face leads me to believe he’s got quite a few fabulous stories to tell.
Polyconcept CEO Michael Bernstein (left), Steve Kaufman, the president of Creative Design & Marketing Inc., (is it me, or does he look like a young Albert Brooks?) and Rob Brandegee, who’s been friends with Michael for years. The CEO of Littlearth, Rob’s company is a licensee for the NFL, NHL, MLB, NBA and collegiate teams (check out his site here: www.littlearth.com). Rob was rocking a hoop earring, lots of Keith Richards-esque bracelets and a Jim Morrison slithery-come-hithery vibe, so I anointed him with the nickname “The Sexy Pirate,” which is how I shall refer to him henceforth.
Me, with my brother-from-another-mother, Michael Bernstein. One of the first people I met in the industry nearly 15 years ago, my affection for him knows no bounds. So comfortable am I with him, that he has the distinction of being one of three people in the industry who’s seen me barefoot (no stilettos!) and without makeup. Eeesh.
Here’s me and my beloved Yann Leca, or “Shakira,” as I call him. Why? If you ever saw him dance, you’d know. His hips don’t lie.
One of my favorite couples ever, Philippe and Martine Varnier. So gracious and charming are they, that they had me to their home in Paris for dinner a few months back, and it was one of the most enjoyable meals I’ve had in quite some time. Monsieur Varnier, who recently stepped down as Polyconcept’s CEO, has a special place in my heart and is so charismatic, his aura has an aura.
Meet my friend Allon Todres (right), shown here with his business partner, Conor O’ Donovan, who run a sourcing company and they are awesome! Click here for more information: www.theODMGroup.com.
One of my great regrets at this year’s Hong Kong Show is that everyone’s schedule was so busy, I didn’t have a chance to cocktail with the fabulous and hilarious Bryan Peach (left) and Bert Prevoo, who run the Corporate Gifts Association of South Africa (www.cgasa.com). They are men after my own liver, and I look forward to hanging out with them and embracing our inner-libertines together the next time we’re all in the same city. Cheers, Guys!
Michael Freter, managing director of the PSI Show, which is held every January in Düsseldorf, Germany.
If you’ve never met the Tangle Man (aka Richie Zawitz), you’re really missing out. Here he is (right) with his son, Nick, in their fun and phantasmagorical booth at the Hong Kong Show. Richie is the creator of the famous Tangle toy (www.tangletoys.com) and is one of the most unique characters I’ve ever come across. A true San Francisco-based hippie, he also says “groovy” more than anyone I know.
A view of Hong Kong from the ferry to Kowloon.
Two of my favorites! Gene Geiger and Jo-an Lantz, who were in Hong Kong for their annual WAGE (World Advertising Gift Exchange) meeting, graciously made some time to have drinks with Rich and me. The WAGE group is really cool because there’s one distributor who gets voted into the group from more than 15 countries across the globe. Geiger has been the designated US member for years, and this year, Jo-an is president of the group. You go, Girl!
Here’s the always-awesome Steve Levschuk, president of Toronto-based Talbot Marketing and WAGE’s Canadian member, and Tatiana Zaragoza, whose company is the WAGE member from Spain.
Oh my Lord, it’s Randy Chen, who — at 6’2″, 220 lbs — is the other Great Wall of China! The loquacious Mr. Chen, the straw that stirs the industry cocktail, acted as tour guide and translator for Brett Hersh, who visited the Asian shows for the first time. Truly, he couldn’t have been in better hands and Randy knows everyone in China through his importing company, Impex, which does product sourcing, warehousing and safety testing for suppliers. Love, love, love these boys.
Liqui-Mark’s Joshy Goodelman (left) and ASI’s Rich Fairfield, relaxing at the Grand Hyatt after the Hong Kong Show.
Rich Fairfield and Brad Gnesin, who handles sourcing for Counselor Top 40 supplier Logomark, at dinner at Tango!, an Argentinean steakhouse in Hong Kong.
Here’s Maggie Wheeler, vice president of new product development for Logomark, with the one and only Trevor Gnesin, owner/president of Logomark, and me. Never one to suppress his opinions, the only thing in rarer form than him that evening was my filet. If the industry were a movie and we were casting “crazy CEO with a big heart and bigger mouth,” Trev-ah would get a callback.


And last but certainly not least is my girl Bonni Sandy, president of Dard Design. Bonni has been attending the Asian shows for years and knows her stuff down cold. She is simply one of the smartest — and sweetest — people I know. Great seeing you, Sista!


  1. Josh Goodelman Says:

    You could not have put the entire experience into better words! Especially the “slurping noodles at the booth” part….I think we need to incorporate that into the ASI Show experience. Love ya Michele!

    Monday May 7, 2012
  2. Michele Bell Says:

    Love you too, Joshy! See you at the Counselor prom! ; )

    Monday May 7, 2012
  3. Bryan Peach Says:

    Hey Michele I look forward to a proper party next time we meet and hopefully that Trevor Gnesin will be there, although he drinks like a girl:)

    Monday May 7, 2012
  4. Lisa Bennett Says:

    Bonni Sandy: Does. Not. Age.

    Monday May 7, 2012
  5. Jeff Solomon Says:

    Michelle…I just love your take on things. Great report!

    Monday May 7, 2012
  6. Sharon Biernat Says:

    Hi Michele, Great photos and reporting!
    Of course no one has more fun then when they are with you! Everyone wants to be with the smart, fun gal! I love the photo of you and Michael Bernstein-HOT!!!!
    Where are the lights? Where is the cheese?
    Have a successful show in NYC.

    Tuesday May 8, 2012
  7. Michele Bell Says:

    Hey there, Sharona! Missed you so much and thought often of our “Absolutley Fabulous” exploits the first time we were in Asia together! Love ya, and see you at the ASI Chicago Show!

    Tuesday May 8, 2012
  8. Bryan McCormick Says:

    Great write-up, Michele! I just discovered your blog, and I’m smitten with your snark. I currently blog for Activate! if you ever want to talk shop.

    Wednesday May 16, 2012
  9. Michele Bell Says:

    Hi Bryan! Great to meet a fellow blogger! Please send me a link to your blog — I’d love to read it! Stay tuned for my posting on the ASI NYC Show, which will be up on Monday. LOTS of fun photos of your pals at Activate! ; ) Cheers! Michele

    Thursday May 17, 2012
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