BEIJING — With China’s economy back on track after more than two years of trouble in the manufacturing industry, the country’s textile and apparel makers are gearing up for a busy summer and fall trade-fair season, hoping to showcase their wares to a wider audience.

This story first appeared in the May 19, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Manufacturers say they hope the coming season will bring back buyers from the U.S. and Europe, who all but disappeared during the global economic crisis. Most of the major fairs say exports — and trade-show customers — have picked back up dramatically since last year. Still, American customers in particular do not account for the same customer base or purchases they did a few years ago.

“We still only have a few clients from the U.S. right now, and we would like to have more,” said Simon Yan, a customer service manager for an export-oriented cotton textile manufacturer in Jiangsu province. “Americans were the best customers in the past.”

As companies like Yan’s seek new customers and markets, increasingly moving into the growing Chinese domestic market, trade fairs are taking steps to work with exhibitors and clients in more personalized ways. For instance, Wendy Wen, director of trade fairs for Messe Frankfurt (HK) Ltd., pointed to her company’s “VIP matching program.” Messe Frankfurt has two upcoming shows: the Yarn Expo in Shanghai, Aug. 24 to 26, and China International Trade Fair for Apparel Fabrics and Accessories, Oct. 19 to 22.

“We match their criteria with our exhibitors and arrange networking events as well as special on-site meetings,” said Wen. “This has proven to be a great success, and we have seen our special buyer delegations grow from year to year.”

In addition, some fairs are taking to new platforms. China’s oldest trade show, Canton Fair, says it has seen increasing interest in its nascent “trade matching” program, where prospective buyers can browse manufacturing leads online.

As with other fairs, Canton Fair organizers report numbers are steadily improving but still short of where they were a couple of years ago. In a statement, fair organizers said overall buyer numbers increased in the latest fair session of 2010, but that there were slightly fewer customers from the U.S. and Europe. Hong Kong, India and Malaysia were the top three countries of origin for overseas fair visitors. In all, Canton Fair’s spring round drew 104,169 overseas buyers, up 13.3 percent over the fall round, and export turnover increased by 9.8 percent.

Besides better economic conditions, fair organizers and manufacturers hope a buzzing business and tourist climate in China will boost business this year.

Shanghai will host several big fairs through the summer and fall, with organizers hoping that the World Expo will help draw traffic. Unlike the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, when stricter visa rules kept visitors out, the six-month-long expo could draw tourists and retailers, analysts have said. The expo, which opened May 1, will run through the fall.

“The economy has improved this year, and also with the expo, we estimate that 5,000 overseas customers will come to see the show this year, compared with 3,000 last year,” said Wang Gang, an organizer with the company putting on the China International Textiles, Fabrics & Accessories Exhibition, running June 8 to 10 in Shanghai.

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