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A Melbourne man's first intrepid trek to Sign China

Paul Coniglio from Conect Enterprises visited Sign China (March 2nd - 4th 2010) for the first time to represent his company and seek out new product opportunities. He relates his first experience of a huge Chinese show.

Sign China is probably one of the biggest trade shows I have attended in terms of the sheer size of the exhibition halls, the amount of people visiting and the amount of people exhibiting.

Before I had even made it to the front door I was being presented with products and catalogues and having business cards sought, I was in China and I knew culturally I had to adjust to how this was going to role.

The Show Entry
My Non Moving Queue
The Queue

Luckily, I had pre registered for the show and figured entry would be a breeze. It was not quite as easy as I had anticipated with what seemed like hundreds, if not thousands of people all making a bee line for the registration area.

I joined a queue for international registrations but soon got frustrated at being in the "slow lane" when the people who hadn't registered where moving very quickly through the line. Upon further investigation I realised the queue next to me was the one for pre registrations and you had to enter from the special queue right at the front and had made the mistake of following the masses when I had first entered the building! It felt bigger than Benhur and I was in China and was enjoying the experience!

I was off and running! I had my VIP entry badge with big text that said "VIP". How did I all of a sudden become a VIP, did this mean I had a special show bag? Did I get priority access to entering the different halls or maybe I was going to get a free beer or cocktail on arrival, I wasn't sure! The first decision was where to start.

Hall 10.1, 8.2, 9.1 - there were all these halls and there seemed no numerical order, but  I soon realised that not only was the exhibition hall very big but there was multiple levels as well.

I decided again that I should follow the masses and began my intrepid trek into the Neon & LED show and it didn't disappoint.

I was struck buy the advancements in LED and the sheer sizes of the screens and was trying to imagine how it might impact the Sign & Print Industries moving forward.

After doing a couple of laps it soon became apparent that with the large amount of people and all the LED screens that the temperature in the building was going to be a sweat fest.

I was soon invited to sit down with a gentleman to find out more about LED (who by the way was trying desperately to wipe the sweat off his own brow - I felt for him) . That's how its done in China, if you want to find out more you come in and sit down and have a chat!

Whilst I was very pleased at having the chance to have nice glass of water and a rest, if I was going to have to sit down at every booth, it was going to be a very long day and I wasn't going to get anywhere!

What surprised me about these shows is how some companies will approach you in the aisles and absolutely insist you must visit their booth. I made the mistake of telling one of the many hard working people that I couldn't come because my friend had to give permission and he was on his phone. I wandered off glad to be free again, only to turn around a couple of minutes later to see the girl chasing my friend all the way down the aisle with great commitment - I had handed him a fate that now seemed so very unfair!

After realising that the LED Show was just too big and a lot of the same types of stuff, I decided to seek out the safety of my traditional markets the Self Adhesive and PVC Banner manufacturers! I was on a deadline, my feet were sore, my nicely ironed work shirt was rapidly becoming a wet tee-shirt competition and to top it off I was getting hungry already.

It was obvious that there was a heap of PVC banner here and it was going to be a challenge to find out who was a manufacturer and who was an agent. To get consistency you really need to deal directly with a manufacturing company to ensure your getting the best quality.

I bumped into my industry friend again and we decided to tour the area together. It didn't take too long for this to get all too hard. Upon visiting my first stand, I was sitting down again enjoying a nice glass of cool water and being shown the entire product offering! This was going to be a real battle, I had to find a way to get the info and still meet my goals - if I didn't come back with the product solutions my staff wanted, I knew facing them when I did get back would be tough!

It was business card time. Armed with my cards one by one I gave them out. Not getting into big detail but targeting the ones who had one I thought I wanted, all the time remembering to give and receive with sincerity and both hands.(its so polite when people give you a card with both hands I think!)  I made a point of only taking catalogues from the companies I was very interested in otherwise my already heavy back pack would have a heck of a time getting onto Qantas without extra charges!

It was time for lunch and hard to believe I'd only been at it for 3.5 hours! I made a point before I left Australia of partaking in Chinese Culture and Chinese food at every possible chance I got. Taking the escalator to the food hall I walked the endless corridor with people every where enjoying a meal with rice but seemingly limited places to actually buy the food - all of which had long queues. My feet were sore and my wet tee-shirt competition wasn't improving so as desperation set in, I saw the Oasis! The Golden Arches! 

Now, im not one of these people that typically eat McDonalds frequently or eats it during travels because its cheap.  I was struggling and this was the only chance I was going to get to eat something quick and easy.

Following the signs, up the escalator, then down the escalator I still had no luck. I stopped to ask one of the friendly Expo girls in the pink shirt, who quickly blushed and pointed me into the direction of someone who knew a bit more English. To my relief I was nearly there, as the crowd separated at the end of the hall, there was a small A board with that recognisable M that was going to get me the nourishment and rest I needed to get through the rest of the day.

As I turned the corner I soon realised this easy fix of quick food was going to be more of a battle than first thought. There were people everywhere, standing up, sitting on the floor, carrying cups of coke in plastic bags (that really is take away!).  Seating was at a premium.

My years of experience in Musical chairs was really going to have to come into play today, it was every man for himself! As I approached the restaurant I took in the sea of people and the biggest McDonalds counter I had ever laid eyes on. There had to be about 25 cash registers and an army of willing workers ploughing through the meal deals and take away drinks with precision and speed. I wanted something quick but something healthy, so I perused the meal deal options on the card and spotted Meal D - Grilled Chicken Meal with a healthy grilled chicken burger, 8 nuggets and a coke (which of course would end up being a Coke Zero.)

In typical traveller style I efficiently pointed to my soon to be meal on the option card and proceeded to the left queue to collect my food. I quickly perused the restaurant for some hope of beating someone in musical chairs but I was beat and I was happy to sit any where and just eat my lunch. So I found a quiet spot on the cold tiled floor, in my previously nice work uniform and ate my lunch quietly reflecting on the morning I'd just had, enjoying my crispy chicken meal that ended up not being the healthy option I had searched for. Thank goodness for the coke zero....

After lunch I completed my touring of the Self Adhesive and Banner section and was pleased to find a very generously sized CNC Routing & Laser engraving Show. I spent the next two hours perusing the wonderful world of machinery and collecting information to read in the hotel later on. Business cards where given in plentiful amounts whilst unbeknown to me the effect this would have on my email inbox  from would be sellers wanting to follow up with me post show. I even had three phone calls from one small exhibitor who I was friendly too and listened to his spiel even thought deep down I knew I really didn't have a need for his products. BIG MISTAKE!

By 4pm, shoulders aching, feet aching, wet tee-shirt semi dried but now realising now pants were unwelcomingly sweaty, I decided I'd had enough and would return to my hotel via taxi.

As you can imagine, the sign may have said "taxi this way" but little did I know about the marathon walk I was about to partake to return to the saviour of my hotel, a shower and the rest I so desperately craved. Tomorrow I was visiting factories all day and then I was heading back to Hong Kong the day after that. I said goodbye to the Pazhou Exhibition Hall knowing I had fulfilled my commitment to come to Sign China and had a life experience in a day that would be truly unforgettable. Deep down I think I enjoyed every minute of it.

Paul Coniglio
Conect Enterprises