China: My Business Trip Journal

Ace, Myself and a Hat Supplier/Manufacturer

Ace, Myself and a Hat Supplier/Manufacturer

April 29 — Flight to Guangzhou, China >>

Today marks my third trip to China. My first was 2 years ago when I took a three and a half week tour to learn about Chinese history and business. It was the final 3 credits of my college career and was my first experience with the culture that would soon become a large piece of my life. I had my eyes set on the trip for a year. Because I was working on creating my own company in the textile world, I decided that this school trip would be a great way to potentially meet some manufacturers for Swayy. Well, I went on the trip and the manufacturers that I had hoped to meet never actually came to fruition.

My second trip to China was out of dire necessity as I had sold about $18,000 in preorders for the Swayy Premus and Eira. Our US manufacture had rendered completely hopeless, and so I decided to take a risk and accept the invitations that I had received from several factories interested in manufacturing for Swayy. It was a wonderful trip. I learned the power of a face-to-face meeting and its ability to solidify relationships, in business and otherwise.

This time I headed to China with a twofold mission: to visit the largest trade show in the world, the Canton Fair in Guangzhou, China. I arrived with the intent on coming away with new inspiration for several products that we are wanting to create at Swayy and to open my networks to the eastern parts of the world.

This blog post is going to be a bit different. I am going to give you my raw and relatively unfiltered experiences from China in the form of a journal. Each day I will log my initial thought progressions, interactions, and reflections on how it pertains to Swayy’s future. Each time I have gone to China in the past I have come back with a plethora of ideas and inspiration, and I expect no less this time. Buckle up and enjoy!

April 30 — Arrival to Guangzhou, China >>

I got into Guangzhou around 1:00 am due to a delayed flight and didn’t get to bed until about 3:45am.W While driving to the hotel I felt hungry, but couldn’t tell if that was totally onset by the lack of sleep or if I was actually hungry. That may not make a lot of sense, but sometimes you have to travel for 27 hours straight to understand the true disruptive power your mind can play on your stomach when your circadian rhythm is amuck. Once I arrived at the hotel I shaved, took a shower, read my devotions, and pretty much tried to settle in bed, then I woke up at 7:11 am. So much for sleep.

May 1 — Canton Fair in Guangzhou, China >>

It’s about 8:00 am now. Breakfast ends at about 9:30 am down in the lobby and I am not sure if I should go now by myself or wait for Ace to wake and go with him. I will probably wait on him, this guy has done so much for me. There is WiFi is available, but I can’t find the password anywhere in the room. Luckily Ace sleeps pretty deeply — I know I would have been woken up by all the noise I made rummaging around the room looking for the password by now if I were him. Also, I really need that WiFi as I have some potential customers emailing me asking about availability in Australia!

Found the WiFi, it was written on a sticker under the TV.

Side note: This past week we were lucky to have the Australian TV Show “Hot or Not?!” showcase a Swayy hammock. Right now our website traffic levels are about 60/40 (US/AU), and we have sold several so far!

Time for Breakfast…

Breakfast was pretty much the usual. Some cheap white bread with a few eggs and lots of other random noodles, and oh, don’t forget the pasty white steamed bread! But indeed, there was enough to find sustenance to make it through the day!

Man, what a day. We walked the show floor for about 6 hours total. We put over 22,000 steps and 7 miles into the day. I had a few really neat interactions, and one of them was very bizarre. I was walking along the booths (literally thousands of them, the scale here is MASSIVE!) and came across another hammock supplier. The man, whose name I cannot pronounce, asked me what I did and requested a name card, which is what the Chinese call a business card. I gave him one of my “temporary” cards as it has a secondary email I created for this trip. If I were to give out my own personal email, that could spell disaster. Never the less, I handed my name card over to this man and he quickly smiled and said, “Oh! I know your website well. I have been following your progress. I reached out to you on LinkedIn about 2 months ago! Nice to meet you!” So, there you have it. This just goes to show that 1) you never know how far your influence may reach and 2) I am betting he isn’t the only one watching…While we have had some sites claiming to sell our goods, It’s only a matter of time before fake “Swayy’s” start popping up. Anyways, I like to think of this a flattery.

We stopped and talked to another factory that makes some very nice lightweight and water-resistant backpacks. The idea is to possibly take the below design and incorporate it into our hammocks, transforming them into systems that allow you to pack everything in one place. Thoughts on this idea? Let me know in the comments!

Concept Art: Caleb Cook

Concept Art: Caleb Cook

Moving on I found a heavy canvas fabric mill. A buddy of mine has been scaling up a small business that needs industrial grade canvas and so I was glad to be able to help connect him with what he needs. I think we will save him at least 60% on material costs per meter. It always feels great to help out a friend!

After reviewing many, many booths, I decided to check out some of the other halls. There are 5 total halls and each is spread apart by about .5km or so. There are little golf-cart trolleys that shuttle us around, so that is nice. After the trolley ride to hall A, we took a walk into the foods section of the hall. I love tasting different food, so I decided a small detour would be a good idea. I came across some awesome tofu and a giant sculpture of a transformer toy made entirely out of gummy candy… I was pretty amazed.

Ace and I riding the golf-cart trolley

Ace and I riding the golf-cart trolley

Most of the day came to an end by 7:00 pm when we arrived back at the hotel. Ace insisted that we get some food at a local bar and afterward he treated me to a 2-hour Thai massage. I have never had a massage last for more than an hour before, and wow does time fly when you’re being massaged! It was amazing. It started with a foot cleaning and massage, then we were given some very breezy “shorts” and were asked to remove our clothes to put on the garb. Well, Ace said we should take it all off… I was hesitant for good reason as it was basically see-through. Ace put his on and then quickly changed his mind saying “maybe it is better to keep our undergarments on”, I agreed with relief! But other than the sketchy tissue paper shorts, I had never been more relaxed and relieved of physical stress. Not to mention, this massage only cost $50 for two hours. As I said, I have never been to a massage parlor in the US, but I hear they are more like $200 per hour!

After the massage, it was nearly 11 and duly time for bed.

May 2 — Canton Fair in Guangzhou, China >>

Today we visited more of the fair, but instead of focusing just on the outdoor textile regions, we wanted to widen our perspective and explored many other parts of the fair. It was a good chance to get ourselves out of the “outdoor” thought process and think a bit more outside the box. We checked out the stationary halls (yes, paper), the medical devices halls, more food, and even some luggage and fashion apparel halls.

One exciting thing that I was quite fond of and excited for is a company we met with that is making base-layer clothing out of graphene fabric. State-of-the-art stuff. Imagine a base layer of clothing that could conduct electricity and even heat with crazy efficiency. Sounds crazy, right? That is what this stuff is promising. We will definitely be working toward some kind of collaboration with them. More to come on that.

To wrap up the day, Ace and I were invited to a dinner with the COO of a large hosiery company. Most of the meeting was “confidential” as this company is working on some big things with certain American companies that rhyme with grApple… Very interesting to see the other side of how products that become internationally used are developed behind just a few closed doors. I had a fun time listening and asking questions, but I think it would have been more exciting if I could speak Chinese!

After our dinner, I asked Ace to drop me off at the hotel for an early evening. It was 9:10 pm by the time I got to bed, and it was glorious.

May 3 — Meetings via video with Premus Factory in Guangzhou, China >>

This morning we had a conference call with Li, the factory manager about all the new changes for the Premus. For those reading this far down the blog, here are a few sneak peeks:

⁃ Integrated Bug Net

⁃ New insulation weights

⁃ New colors

That is all I will say for now, but the meeting went really well, and we aim to have all final prototypes done by late June and production are done by late July. Keep us in your thoughts as we navigate our second go-round of manufacturing! Last year during the months of May — December it was 100% all the time. So, ahead of us now are of detailed emails and conference calls — something I am not particularly great at — but where there are uncomfortable situations there is growth, and that I am looking forward to along with learning more about how to make this yearly process more efficient.

For the remainder of the day, we took time to work. I worked mostly on my laptop, read some and reflected on the day. Soon enough the heavy eyes came upon me and I fell fast asleep.

May 4 — Biyaun Mountain Park in Guangzhou, China for Sabbath >>

Sabbath! For those of you who don’t know, I am a Seventh-Day Adventist. We are a Christian denomination with various different beliefs, but one of those (my favorite) is the observance of the seventh day of the week, “Sabbath”. It’s a day of rest, reflection, and focus on more spiritual things. Often times I will go to church, read, and enjoy time in nature, but this week was a little different, so we decided to go to Biyaun Mountain Park in the old part of Guangzhou city. What a beautiful place Biyaun was. The park is nestled in the foothills of the city, but somehow so completely set apart from the city. Once we walked into the park you can hear streams rushing by, birds singing, and kids laughing and playing. We began our ascent to the tallest point of the park and there was so much to see. About halfway up we heard a local elders choir singing old Chinese “hymns” about love and reflections on life. A few hundred meters further up the path, we came across groups of adults playing a type of hacky-sack with a feather attached to the end of the ball. (Check out my @seth_t_hill Instagram highlight to see it!) When we were almost to the top we came upon an old temple that a monk had retreated to. There were fish ponds, many stairs and lots of impressive architecture.

Temple in Biyaun Mountain Park

Temple in Biyaun Mountain Park

If there is one thing I like about China the most, it has to be the thousands of years of deep history and culture. When walking among these old buildings I am ever more amazing at their detail, which runs deep throughout the culture. Traditionally no nails are used, only wooden dowels — amazing to think about the feat this really is.

We soon reached the top of the mountain and honestly, it wasn’t that impressive. Don’t get me wrong, I think that it was a nice view, but it wasn’t what I had pictured. This got me thinking about my own expectations of business and life.

Often times we aim for a goal. Once we have our sights set on something and we obsess about it, dream about it, and purse that target with everything we have in us. Along the way, we talk ourselves into believing that once we get to the top it will be all worth it and that it will be the greatest thing we have ever experienced. I know that I have done this so many times in so many ways. What is now striking me more now than ever before is that it’s not about the summit and it’s not about the mountain tops, it’s about the journey it takes to get there. The long nights, the stressful anxiety, the bonding you feel between those next to you, that is what it’s all about. Sure, the view from the top may be amazing, but knowing what came before is the true treasure.

Sunday morning came quickly, and after this joinery to the top of Biyaun, I was feeling very reflective.

May 5 — Guangzhou, China > Chattanooga, USA >>

It’s 5:11 am and as I sit in the back of this taxi that traces through the s city streets of Guangzhou, I can’t help but feel entirely blessed. These are the early days of Swayy and we have come so far. Just over a year ago we had no manufacture and little hope of a future, but now our supply chain is ever growing and our influence expanding. It’s a journey that I really wouldn’t give up for anything. Each day, every high and low, molds me further into the type of man I will continue to become and the company Swayy will be. Life is an ever-changing opportunity for life and happiness and I am so thankful to have the opportunities before me that I do. So cheers to the next step in all of our lives that will help us become who we are meant to be. Stand tall, take heart, and know that your life has meaning far greater than you know. 

Encounter more.