So What’s The Gameplan?

As much as I despise trade shows, I also understand there is unlimited opportunity for those with talent to ‘work the room’ to build rapport and open accounts – an art I endeavor to someday master. If I were to guess, I would say north of 90% of trade show attendees gain nothing from their time spent there, sauntering around aimlessly in search of a new face to exchange business cards with. People tend to think that by simply putting themselves in a networking environment like a trade show, new business will effortlessly find its way into their coffers. That is equivalent to one thinking he is ready for the pro leagues just because he shows up for practice. A popular and welcomed school of thought, but flawed nevertheless.

It is easy to pick out those who are not serious, folks hellbent on wasting your time. Generally, they come over-dressed, clad in their finest suits. They are quick to shake your hand and offer ‘samples’ of their wares, but quickly crumble under the pressure of any reasonable questioning. They keep dialogue conservative, opting to avoid backlash from their superiors rather than embracing the opportunity to explore different deals. Unquestionably, dealmaking is an art and there is no one correct approach, but that is precisely what makes this format so inefficient.

The 2-day JETRO business-matching event we attended was a trade show created with the intent of matching Japanese companies with local Thai buyers. The Japanese side were the exhibitors, and the visitors were the Thai companies. Despite having a Japanese partner, we participated as buyers – a plan I wasn’t aware of until the day prior.

The thing about my Japanese partner, K, is that probing information out of him is like peeling an onion, uncovering  bits and pieces layers at a time. His stories are aggrandized and exaggerated, almost to the point of fabrication, which only provokes more questions and ultimately creates distrust when the reality is inevitably revealed. Unequivocally, this will create communication problems between us in the future, but I am well positioned to protect my downside, a plan I will discuss in another post.

Back to JETRO.

Here’s a quick rundown of what we do. K’s family has roots in the seafood trade in Hokkaido. They tried to sell their products in Thailand in the past, and I was facilitating the deals back then. That was about 3 years ago. Those deals fell apart due to ‘lack of importer’. The details of that are complicated, but just understand that even if a deal is agreed upon, the actuation of the transaction cannot be completed without an ‘importer’ supervising the importing process. That typically involves a license. We didn’t have one at the time, so the deals fell apart.

K saw opportunity in this and over the past few years has acquired ‘importer’ status, allowing him to import on behalf of other Japanese sellers as well. To do this, he needed a Thai partner, which he now has. Unfortunately for K, the deal was made on unpropitious terms, to say the least, and finds himself now in a bit of a predicament. I was brought back in to help out.

The purpose of attending this event was to source new suppliers from Japan, looking to enter the Thai market. This may sound counter-intuitive, since we are a seafood supplier ourselves and are effectively looking for competitors to help out. In fact it is, but using our newfound importer status we can either import new products to push through our existing clientele, or can facilitate transactions on their behalf of those who already have customers but cannot import. Sounds good in theory, but we have neither the capacity to buy, nor have able clients on standby.

“We’re going to make a killing!”

That was K’s response to my question regarding the gameplan for the event. To him, everyone in the room was going to go ape shit for what he had to offer. He would stride around the room unchallenged, like a king in the presence of his harem, announcing his capability of helping these plebeians import their goods. Needless to say, it didn’t quite go as well as planned, and the ‘killing’ was never made.

On to plan B.