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

Asia’s Spring Shows: Can a Quarter Million People Be Wrong?

Filed under: Asia, Editorial, Travel

Well, hey there friends, cohorts, revelers and raconteurs!

Am I the only one beside myself with giddiness that summer is almost here after a dark, dismal, Game of Thrones-esque (all hail the Kingslayer!) long winter?

One marker I always use for the start of summer is my return from Asia’s premier spring shows – the Canton Fair and the Hong Kong Gifts & Premium Show – which are the largest promo showcases in the world.

In the past, I have – and I don’t think this is too strong a word – eviscerated the Canton Show as The. Worst. Show. EVER. (in case I was vague) and the city in which it’s held, Guangzhou, as the 10th Circle of Hell. Except Hell isn’t as hot, smells better and has nicer architecture. Well, I’m here to say that in the two years since I’ve been, the show and the city have gotten noticeably better. Let’s call it hell-ish. In China – unencumbered by construction permits, pesky public protests and journalistic oversight – buildings and transportation infrastructure are created at a rapid pace – what would take 10 years to build in the States is done in six months in China. Consequently, the landscape of Guangzhou, for example, is constantly undergoing growth and upgrade. And yes, it’s better – prettier, more hopeful and optimistic; not so gray and oppressive.

The Canton Show, now in its 115th session, is still an awful show from an organizational standpoint (should you need help from a member of the show staff, don’t hold your breath – they are sparse and barely speak English) but it, too, is getting better. Consider that at this session alone, held from April 23rd-27th, 188,119 buyers from 214 countries and regions attended; at the immeasurably better and more enjoyable Hong Kong Gift & Premium Fair, 65,000 buyers from 151 countries and regions attended from April 27th-May 1st. If you want to experience truly international events, these are the places to be. Suppliers from our North American promo industry flock to these events each year to purchase the latest and greatest items from Asian vendors, many of which distributors will see in their lines within the next six months. Is it worth the torturous 16-hour-each-way flights, the circadian-rhythm shocking jetlag and the skeezy food (read: pigeon hot dogs and fish-eye soup)? Yes. Because if you want the opportunity to witness, first-hand, product trends being born and to build a robust web of global business contacts, this is where you want to be. Even if I did throw a toddler-like temper tantrum during the exhausting and laborious process of crossing the border from China into Hong Kong. (Customs officer: “Do you have anything to declare?” Me: “Yeah. Guangzhou sucks.” As Rich Fairfield, ASI’s chief revenue officer and publisher, rolled his eyes and attempted to pull me along.)

Read on for some fun photos and a glimpse into what ASI’s Powers That Be – President/CEO Tim Andrews and Rich Fairfield – really talk about when they’re together. Hint: It made me COL (Cackle Out Loud).

Emulating a sparkly winter wonderland, here’s the booth of an LED light exhibitor at this year’s Canton Fair in Guangzhou, China. The best thing about being in Guangzhou this year? Getting to have dinner with one of my favorite people ever, Polyconcept board member Philippe Varnier. His charm and wit are only exceeded by his tres Francaise ability to pick fabulous wine.
The welcome display at the entrance of this year’s Hong Kong Gifts & Premium Show. Chinese manufacturers often give their companies names that are unintentionally funny or “D’uh” in their obviousness. For example, this company — which makes bongs and hookah pipes — is named “Inhale International.” One exhibitor at the Canton Show was named, “Newish Products.” Nothing like managing expectations.
Interested in seeing exhibitors from specific countries? The Hong Kong Show conveniently separates them into areas throughout the show floor. While in Hong Kong, ASI held a cocktail reception for North American suppliers in attendance, sponsored by its SGR (Supplier Global Resource) magazine.
ASI’s president/CEO, Tim Andrews, welcoming guests to ASI’s second annual cocktail reception in Hong Kong for North American supplier members. (From left): My pal Dan Jellinek and Bob Martin, both with Magnet, and Chris Hodge, president of CleggPromo.
Rich Fairfield (left), ASI’s Chief Revenue Officer, and Tim Andrews, at the SGR cocktail reception. If you ever see these two deep in conversation and wondered what kinds of industry strategies they’re cooking up, let me end the suspense — their level of discourse may be less elevated than you think. Case in point: One morning at breakfast, Rich invited us to contemplate that a Neanderthal man — what with his active, fight-or-flight lifestyle, low-carb/high-protein diet and piston-like heart function — could annihilate a male from today’s society in hand-to-hand combat. “They spent their lives running from predatory animals and huge primates … Neanderthals were fierce,” Rich reasoned. Tim, however, had a counter argument: “Today’s man, though, has evolved to where we’re able to reason, innovate and create defenses. That said, I have no problem believing that a monkey could beat me up.” [Me: Laugh-snort oolong tea through my nose.] “How do you think we’d fare against space aliens?,” Rich then asked… See what I mean? Less elevated (and way more funny) than you’d expect. Here’s me and one of the most HIL-ARIOUS people EVER: TekWeld’s Taylor Tadmor, or, as I call him, “The Crazy Israeli.” Taylor, a prototypical New Yorker in speech and attitude (think DiCaprio’s fast-talking Jordon Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, without the rampant degenerate behavior) commandeered a cab — yes, you read that right — in mainland China because he thought the very young driver, clearly new to the art of aggressive, defensive driving — was “too timid.” Those words will never be used to describe Taylor.
Here’s Rich, Tim and me, with our good friends Bert Prevoo and Bryan Peach, the awesome guys who run South Africa’s promotional products association, PPPSA (Promotional Product Professionals of South Africa). Click here for more info: www.pppsa.co.za. So gracious are these guys that they brought me a STUNNING hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind, artisanal necklace from South Africa. Every time I wear it, I’ll think of my fun friends Bert & Bryan.
My good friends Conor O’Donovan (left) and Allon Todres from ODM Asia Ltd., shown here with Tim Andrews. Interested in importing the coolest new products from Asia? Start with these guys: www.theodmgroup.com. The vibrant, electrifying and mesmerizing Hong Kong skyline at dusk.
At an exhibitor’s booth at the Canton Show, a very talented female sax player serenades attendees. While I’m pretty liberal and libertine in most areas of my life, food isn’t one of them — I’m a very conservative eater, and not the least bit adventurous. Consequently, for the duration of my stay at the Canton Show, I ate — much to Rich Fairfield’s amusement — these kooky, cake-like white-cheese-on-white-bread sandwiches served at the Guangzhou convention center. I nicknamed them “jailhouse sandwiches.” My other options? Year-old eggs (considered delicacies in China), fish-based dumplings or pigeon hotdogs. Um, NO.
The view of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour from my hotel room. A sign in one exhibitor’s booth at the Hong Kong Show, a sentiment I took to heart that evening.
Melar Wang, Tim Andrews and Tammy Jing, basking in the Hong Kong skyline at dusk, on the rooftop of the Tamarind Pan-Asian Restaurant & Bar, one of the best Indian restaurants at which I’ve ever eaten. Here’s me with the lovely Melar Wang (left) and Tammy Jing, who sell ads in Asia for SGR, with me at our last group dinner in Hong Kong before I left the next day. Truly, you can’t beat that view.