USPS Out to Take Medium-Size Companies to China

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NEW YORK - In a follow-up to the February China Direct conference in Shanghai USPS is holding a series of meetings in major US cities for medium-sized firms interested in selling into the Chinese market.

The postal service's International Business Unit (IBU) dropped 50,000 invitations in three cities - Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York - to companies within the Asian communities and to the general population.

"In each of these locations we found significant interest in tapping into the Chinese market," Marc Solnik, Asia-Pacific director for IBU, said.

People who came to the conferences last month "were unaware of the rapidity of change in China in terms of consumer interest and buying potential as well as in terms of the available infrastructure for doing business."

Most frequently asked questions, Solnik said, focused on whether Chinese consumers could afford "to buy my product." The answer: China's middle class is expected to reach 200 to 250 million within ten years.

Ways of finding consumers ranked next. "Through our cooperation with China Post we now have 90,000 to 100,000 names from Guanghzou, Shanghai and Beijing who responded to flyers and newspaper ads asking them if they would like to receive a US catalog.

"That really impressed our audiences because they know that these are consumers who are interested in receiving catalogs from American companies," Solnik said.

The fact that AT&T is running a service and call center in Shanghai to handle orders and other requests added a welcome familiarity to the strange China scene, he added.

"AT&T provides instant credibility. People may have felt that they had never worked with China Post and had to take our word for how good they were. But they know AT&T. It is a company with a track record."

Companies interested in the China market who attended the IBU meetings ranged across the business spectrum with the common denominator of selling unique products not available in China.

One attendee hoped to sell jewelry based on African art, another produced African style clothing, while a third thought he could sell 14 carat gold jewelry.

"We had a clothing company. Health care products are in demand - vitamins, supplements and skin care items." Solnik noted that Los Angeles stores that catered to Chinese visitors sold a lot of such goods.

Finally, "publishing is becoming an area that is drawing more attention. People want to know how to get periodicals into China. We're working with China Post to see how to get publications into the country."

That, however, may prove dicey once publications move away from technical and trade magazines which the Chinese want to buy. Beijing remains wary of foreign periodicals with political or cultural content it may hold to be subversive.

Although turnouts in the three cities were not overwhelming Solnik said he was encouraged enough to look into organizing similar conferences in other US cities, perhaps later this spring.

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