Part 3: Importing from China
Importing from China: Zhejiang Industrial Cities Part 3 - Suppliers in Wenzhou
Wenzhou - China's Capital of Capitalism
99% of the GDP is derived from the private sector. Capital of Capitalism is 1 of around 50 different similar names associated with the extraordinary story of Wenzhou's economic boom.
In this Part 3 of our Zhejiang Industrial cities series, you will learn:
- General information about Wenzhou, Yueqing & Taizhou
- What manufacturing you can expect to find there
Wenzhou - My nightmare first experience!
Before we get down to business, I wanted to share a bit about my first trip to Wenzhou - which was not exactly smooth sailing or flying, but funny to look back on now…just about. I set out from Shanghai Hongqiao Airport with a gentleman on a first time importing from China buying mission. This client had identified a number of factories he wished to visit and discuss about buying samples of products to test in Europe. The second half of our flight was extremely turbulent and involved 2 aborted landings, and a lot of nerve jangling waiting in between. Finally on our 3rd strike, we once again, we backed out and were informed by the Captain that “we have about enough fuel to return to Shanghai”. Let's do that then! I thought. We did, and what followed was a 9-hour bus drive back to Wenzhou which wasn't uneventful either, as this was before the Hangzhou Bay was bridged by road or rail.
Before I get side tracked, the first factory we visited was less than pleasing, what the client expected to be a decent operation was in fact a real backyard factory. It wasn't that these guys weren't making products, they were, but the problem was they were making wind turbines all by hand. It kind of had to be seen to be believed. The happy ending to this story is that we stuck to our task, learned a few things, survived some less than ideal scenarios, and managed to strike some gold on the trip, but not in Wenzhou on that occasion. I'm not sure if there is a moral to this story, but I guess it may interest you to know that I still travel to Wenzhou regularly (normally on the fast train 3 hours), and do lots of business there. Sometimes practice makes perfect, or at least a lot better.
Enough about me let's talk Wenzhou.
Wenzhou Business - From acorns
Renowned for their business acumen and making something (profit) from nothing, Wenzhou business people are scholars of entrepreneurialism. Their rise is not really the typical overnight billionaire story we might be more accustomed to these days, no, their stories are mostly ones of self-made wealth and dragging themselves up by the bootstraps. The terrain around Wenzhou and small cities like Yueqing is very mountainous and always made any type of commercial farming difficult. Instead, the people turned to sea trade and manufacturing to make their fortune, setting up small family run workshops, and through hard work, have improved and expanded those operations.
The Wenzhou ren (people) are loved and loathed for their skills or fruit of those skills in entrepreneurship. There is certainly admiration in the ability to find business opportunities and make profits with seeming ease. On the flip side, there is often bad press for the extravagances that vast wealth allows people to engage in. See wedding example below.
The people are very proud of their very distinctive local dialect which is incomprehensible to Chinese from neighbouring provinces. A lot of importing from China is carried out in English & Mandarin, so either language will still serve you well in Wenzhou.
Wenzhou, Yueqing, Taizhou - The Money Industries
1. Electric Equipment
With respect to other industries in the area, Yueqing, is primarily all about electric gear. Circuit breakers, transformers, voltage stabilizers, thermostats, cables, inverters, switches/sockets, meters, and anything else related to power supply & control are manufactured in Yueqing city. At the Canton Fair you can expect to find 2 massive halls full of Yueqing/Wenzhou area suppliers of electric equipment. It is literally a city industry on tour. Many giants like GE & Schneider have set up joint ventures in Yueqing.
Shoe-making has a long history of around 1,000 years in Wenzhou, and produces a huge capacity accounting for around 12-14% of the world's demand. Most of the produce is mid-low end of the price scale, but there are some factories engaging in higher end, which are just more difficult to locate. On the retail side, you can order tailored shoes from boutique shoemakers in Shanghai, most are made in Wenzhou, and when controlled, the quality is very strong.
3. Plastic Manufacturing
This is a real strength in the Taizhou area, from plastic mold-making to finished plastic products. Next time you pick up a plastic item, there is a reasonable chance it's from Taizhou, Zhejiang. A myriad of plastic products can be sourced from Taizhou from industrial applications, to home ware and food catering disposables. Product quality will vary in this area, but there is no substitue for really understanding the specification of what you need. Often plastic items are priced according to weight and virgin versus recycled material used.
4. Motorcycles & Parts
Zhejiang as a province is famous for producing transport of the 2-wheeled variety, from the humble push bike to the roaring motorbike. In Taizhou, you will find a large number producing the latter and parts for same. It is wise to take it slow when engaging products like motorbikes, as there are a lotthat can go wrong, so be thorough in any testing you perform.
5. Valves & Pumps
Approximately 3,000 valves and pump makers are found in Wenzhou, as it is a very important industry. Applications of products vary, and the exported product is valued at just over 1 billion USD.
6. Clothing & Accessories
Fashion clothing is also a considerable industry in Wenzhou, and is probably best know for manufacturing business suits and ladies leisure wear. Valued around 2 Billion USD, Wenzhou will be familiar to many in the ragtrade, for those wanting to dip their toe in the water for opportunities, then you could do worse than researching suppliers in this area and planning a visit.
7. Others Worth Mentioning
Locks, Eyewear, Leather Products, Cigarette Lighters, Sex Toys (not that you were wondering where they are made), Bathroom ware, Zips & Buttons.
Where is it & How to get there?
Located in south of Zhejiang province, on the coast looking directly across to Taiwan. Wenzhou & Yueqing are serviced by Wenzhou Longwan International Airport, and both have stops for G train services (fast trains) from major hubs like Shanghai.