Canton Trade Fair – How to start a business in China

Eight years ago I experienced the lowest point of my aerial skiing career. I’d blown out my knee for the 2nd time within a 6 month period. Magnifying the horror of the injury, it just so happened in the semi final of the 2006 Olympics. My hopes and dreams were crushed in an instant. Following that moment, I needed two more surgeries to rebuild my knee and I knew I was in for at least a year of rehabilitation. It wasn’t a fun time.

TorinoInspiration can strike when you least expect it. I was sitting in the cafeteria of the athlete village. A plastic bag of ice balanced on my swollen knee. It was leaking and slipping all over the place. Fed up and frustrated, I picked up the bag and threw it on the ground bitterly spitting out ‘Someone should make a decent fu**ing ice pack’. Light bulb went off. A seed planted. Quietly, I sat there and thought about it. I figured I’ve injured just about every part of my body, I know exactly what I need. I’ll make a decent fu**ing ice pack!

If anyone has experienced ACL surgery or any surgery and injury for that matter, you’ll know how relieving just simple ice is in reducing pain and swelling. The challenge is strapping it onto the injured area and keeping it in place. On the plane ride home from the Torino Olympics in 2006, I drew my designs for my range of ice packs. A range that would target every injured area with ease.  At the time, I didn’t realise I was starting a business. That BodyICE was being born. All I wanted to do was fill a hole in the market. I had struggled over the years to find a decent ice pack to care for my injuries, so I decided to make it myself.

I knew the components I needed. A traditional ice bag coupled with a neoprene support. It seemed simple to me (because it is) and I just needed someone to make it. I got back to Australia and started to source materials with the help go Google. I searched for Australian neoprene suppliers and people that could make ice bags. I investigated a few leads but they weren’t the right fit. I didn’t have much money and the quotes I received weren’t going to make the venture worthwhile, plus no one actually made ice bags in Australia.

I dug deeper into my research and stumbled across a site called Alibaba. There I found thousands of manufacturers specialising in every kind of product you can think of. They were all out of China and Taiwan. I focused my search for the manufacturers I needed and shortlisted the ones I thought were good. I made contact with manufacturers and sent them my designs requesting prototypes and pricing. No problem. It was easy and the responses flowed in quickly.

I booked a trip with my dad and brother to meet with the manufacturers in both Taiwan and China. I saw it as an adventure and I dove into the project. I didn’t ask anyone if it was a good idea. I didn’t go to the bank to ask for a loan. It just felt right. I believed it was right. In my profession, I am used to taking risks. I have never known the security of a salary or 9-5 job. This was no different. Actually I figured it was less risky than launching myself off massive jumps and given what I had gone through, it was a good distraction. It kept my mind occupied and away from the painful thoughts of never being able to return to sport again.

I booked in the meetings with the various manufacturers and then booked my flights on frequent flyer points. One of my manufacturers asked me if I was going to attend the Canton Trade Fair in Guangzhou. I had no idea what it was, but after looking into it, I thought it might be a fun place to visit and it was on at the same time I booked our trip. I organised the visa, registered for the fair and away we went.

I met with the various manufacturers who already had my designs. Some of them already had prototypes to show me. They looked after our party of three and obviously were keen for our business….which at that point was nothing more than a few sketches.

After meeting the various manufacturers we made our way to Guangzhou. The Canton Fair is the largest biannual China trade fair. I cannot describe how massive this fair is. Every type of commodity you can think of was represented there – from electric scooters, building materials, medical devices, electronics, textiles, shoes…..you name it. It was mind blowing. I scoured the medical device section which takes DAYS and found everything I needed and more. I say more,  because I was inspired by all the ideas and variety of products. I also found additional manufacturers that could potentially create my product.

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After the fair, I received all my prototypes, picked the best quality and BodyICE was born within 6 months of conception. I have direct and good relationships with my suppliers and they continue to deliver quality products. You need to be a thorough communicator and make sure every detail of how you want your product is full explained and understood. Don’t leave ANYTHING to interpretation. If you don’t have the confidence in communicating directly, you can source an agent that will do the communicating for you in Chinese.

Eight years later, BodyICE is thriving and growing and everyone is happy.


I visited the Canton Fair again last week to source building materials for our new house and each year it gets even more enormous. They’ve had to split it into three phases and if you visit their site you’ll be able see all phases as well as the exhibitor lists in each phase. If anything, it’s a great place to go for inspiration if you do want to start your own business.

The rest is up to you! Good Luck xxx

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