Top 4 Reasons to Look for Direct Sourcing Alternatives Besides the Canton Fair

By Cory Checketts | China Demystified

Mar 15

The Canton Fair

If you are new to selling online and sourcing your goods from Chinese sources, you may not know what the Canton Fair is.

The Canton Fair is a trade fair held in the spring and autumn seasons each year. The first trade fair was in the Spring of 1957 in Guangzhou, China. It is the most well-known trade fair in China to most Amazon PL (Private Label) sellers. Like many people, I source a good amount of my goods from Chinese manufacturers and suppliers. I see many people go to the Canton Fair and come back in most cases with only a couple of new products. I also thought—similarly to the big US vendor shows—it may be hard to get any real business done other than a few key meetings.

This is when I started asking my mentors, who are in the tens of million a year in sales of all PL products on Amazon, and who wholesale at trade shows across the US, about going to Canton.


The resounding answer I received was “it is nice but I do not go anymore,” or “you should go once to check it out, but I do not go anymore.” This made me wonder why??

Why Sellers Stop Going to the Canton Fair

I started asking other sellers questions. And the number one reason why sellers stopped going to the Canton Fair was because of the lack of variety. What?! My mentors, the people who were years ahead of me, who’s businesses made my own 5-million-dollar-a-year business look small, told me they shop in other places. Now, I needed to know where and how this was possible. So, I asked if I could tag along on a trip and they agreed.

Quick note: I learned that they buy in January to sell in spring. AKA…these guys are buying ahead of the seasons just like big box stores (great lesson learned there). But I also learned why these guys shop in other major selling cities in China as well (and why we now go to other countries like Thailand for example). I take their advice to heart now for my own business and my clients’ businesses. Here are the top 4 things I learned from them:

4 Reasons to Look for Direct Sourcing Alternatives Besides the Canton Fair

  1. It’s super crowded: The fair, during peak runs, is overloaded with people. This means that getting any meaningful business done for them, with a manufacturer at the fair, is too slow for people like my mentors.

  2. There are smaller varieties: Even though the fair is large, it will have a lot of the newest goods being launched (much like CES in the US) but the entire product sets are smaller.

  3. The COGS are higher: Apparently, there is a premium at the fair and you will pay more there than anywhere else. Also, you have more competition there and less time to negotiate.

  4. The cost to attend: Like anywhere else, the cost of plane tickets not purchased way in advance, hotels, and everything else associated with travel will be more expensive. It’s really just basic supply and demand.

Final Takeaway

In closing, Canton is a great show and should be attended by serious private label sellers at least once. With that being said, there are other, possibly even better alternatives for your business to source a good amount of products, in a bigger, better, faster and cheaper way.

About the Author: Alan Basinger

Alan Basinger is CEO of GDW Inc and a 15-year e-commerce veteran. As well as a serial entrepreneur, sought after mentor, coach, and speaker, Alan is also is a serial giver. He’s on a quest to help 1,000 people become financially free through starting and running their own profitable e-commerce businesses.

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Learn more about Alan’s Asia Sourcing Trips here

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About the Author

Cory is the content manager at Seller Labs. He has five years of experience doing strategic communications and professional writing. When he’s not typing you can usually find him getting dropped off the back of amateur cycling pelotons on the roads of Georgia.

  • Mark Stuart Brown

    Hey Alan, though I disagree with your opinion (I think the Canton Fair is great), I’m curious why you didn’t offer any alternatives in your article. Every trade show has a built in premium, I don’t think anyone should make a purchase at the show (even lunch!). There is no better show for such a broad array of products. The Canton Fair is the best place to 1) generate ideas on new products and 2) get contacts and quotes from an array of suppliers, to negotiate with and follow up with after the show.

    As far as travel costs go – honestly that’s a sunk cost, and it’s no higher than a trip to any other show. If anything else Guangzhou hotels / food etc are substantially cheaper than HK / NYC / etc.

    One category that was a bit lacking was toys/games, at the last show. But if you’re 100% toys and games you’d be at the HK toy fair in January. Sure the specialty shows will dial in niches a bit better than the Canton Fair but for anyone that plays in a few different niches, or is looking for the next product, you can’t beat the Canton Fair.

    But, hey not looking to start an argument as I’m sure you can defend lots of what you write, I just wish you’d included examples of alternatives.

    • Kami

      He wants you to contact him. Then he’s going to sell you on taking you on a trip where he will show you where to buy. You will pay him 9k or more to scam you.

  • Kami

    I heard this gut Alan is a total scam artist. He’s trying to take you to China, but basically he just takes your money! And he’s not as successful as he might lead you to believe. BEWARE. He has hurt a lot of people.