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The China market opportunity - delivered on a plate

Ellen Cunningham of Cula Ceramics at Liling Ceramics Expo in China

© Invest Northern Ireland

For internationally oriented companies, there is no shortage of opportunities to attend tradeshows, exhibitions, workshops and brokerage events around the world. But whether you can seize such opportunities can depend on your resources.


Larger companies have export plans, budgets for overseas travel and can access funding from local government. Smaller companies, on the other hand, frequently cannot afford to self-finance overseas missions and, due to their size, may fall short of the criteria for local funding.


However, EEN colleagues outside Europe may be able to provide the financial support to attend events.


In July 2018, EEN Northern Ireland received an email from EEN colleagues in Hunan province in China, inviting ceramic companies to exhibit at an international ceramic exhibition - the Liling Ceramics Expo. It was an exciting - and low-risk - opportunity. The previous year’s exhibition had featured 671 exhibitors from more than 25 countries. The Chinese EEN were seeking potential exhibitors from companies producing daily ceramics, artistic ceramics, electronic ceramics as well as new material for ceramics, and ceramic equipment.


Two businesses, Belfast-based Helen Faulkner Ceramics and Newtownards-based Cula Ceramics applied - and were approved - to attend.


A first time visit


There wasn’t much time - as the opportunity appeared not long before the event. Neither company had sold or exhibited outside the UK/Ireland before, so they were provided with detailed pre-visit briefings by EEN.


The only items these companies had to organise were their visa for visiting China and the transport of their goods to the show. EEN colleagues in Hunan province organised and provided 100 per cent financial support for all transport, accommodation and the exhibition stand. They also provided promotional pictures and writings taken from the companies’ websites as background for the stands.


In China, EEN also provided a chaperone service and organised receptions. Both companies were also supplied with student interpreters for the duration of the show on their stand, which they found invaluable.


A great impact


The trip has had a great impact on both companies. They were able to view and make contact with ceramic brands from all over the world, made new business contacts and joined an international business network. They had the opportunity to sell in volume on site and made contact with distributors and purchasers. Their presence also provided them with local media exposure.


And they gained first-hand knowledge about Chinese preferences and tastes in ceramics. One discovery: the Chinese associate terracotta with the clay used for bricks!


Both artisan businesses are developing partnerships with overseas clients and requests have been received for specific samples. And both would return to Liling next year if the financial support is again available, with a view to building on the relationships they have started to make. So one - apparently random - email has become the seed that will enable these two creative businesses to flourish on the international stage.