“Doing business in China is like dog years in comparison to business in Canada,” says Allison Boulton, International Advisor, Small Business BC. “It moves seven times as fast.”
This was the theme of the recent Vancouver International Trade and Investment Summit, “CHINA: Emerging Trends & Opportunities,” where leaders who have done business in China shared their experiences, successes, and failures in entering the Chinese market. Hungry for the newest technology and products, the market presents an array of new opportunities for small to mid-size startups, especially as business and marketing are now increasingly done online.
“You don’t go to China because everyone else is. You go to China because you’ve done your homework, that you can find a competitive niche and start small.”
“The possibilities in China are endless,” says Shirley Wong, a panelist at the conference with 20-plus years working in marketing communications with business in China. “Shanghai alone has 20 to 30 million people, so the possibilities are huge, but focus is so important.”
“You don’t go to China because everyone else is,” she adds. “You go to China because you’ve done your homework and it’s identified as a market that will fit your product, that you can find a competitive niche and start small.”
Going to China involves a combination of resources, innovation, and environment, as instructed by Tommy Yuan, who was able to successfully bring his wine company, Canadian Berries Enterprises, to China, doubling his profits through better implementation of technology to add value to their exports.
“We saw that BC had a huge array of berries and that we were only selling raw materials to China, fresh or frozen berries, oversees,” Yuan says. “In China, people do not like drinking sweet things, including sweet wine. So we innovated and found a way to make wine less sweet and drier to fit their taste. Everything that comes from our products is environmentally friendly, so when we promote our products in China, we like to highlight that it is grown in BC, bottled in BC and 100 percent BC product which really attracts attention.”
Beyond knowing the market, you have to have people on the ground to help you gain access. “No matter what business you do, find your partners, and find the best team to work with, as they will know all the necessary business protocols and be able to help you navigate the intellectual security challenge most international companies face. Start small, but make sure you find the right partners.”
Allison Boulton, International Trade Advisor for Small Business BC, added to the conversation. “You are not going to make a deal from your cozy office in Vancouver,” she says. “You have to get on a plane. You have to keep going back and meet people face to face. It’s all about how you manage the relationship. You’re going to eat a lot of food, and you’re going to eat food you don’t like – suck it up, eat the duck tongue, and be quick to act.”