SOME businesses have been trading with China for years, others have just started, but either way most are still daunted by the plethora of issues and cultural differences the country poses.
Richard Bridge, creative director of Midland business communications agency, Top Banana, encountered many of the challenges when it came to organising the Gucci Group’s biennial conference in Beijing.
“Working in China was a great experience but we faced incredible challenges and have learnt many lessons,” he said.
“The biggest barriers were the language and culture. Previously when we’ve worked abroad we’ve been able to get by, but whether written or spoken the Chinese language has no relation to English whatsoever, so we had to rely heavily on a team of translators.”
Culture was a particular obstacle.
Mr Bridge said: “It’s the Chinese nature to be very friendly and helpful. A little unexpectedly this caused real confusion.
“If, for example, they didn’t understand something they would stay silent so as not to offend us.
“But the result would be that they provided the wrong thing or nothing at all. Once we were aware of this we could make allowances, but there were some interesting hiccups along the way.
“To us health and safety is fundamental. However, in China the quality and safety levels are nowhere near as high as those in the UK. We made sure every part passed our own health and safety processes, spending a lot of time with suppliers to ensure every element was checked from the quality of products used right through to the quality of service at every stage.”
With a population of over 17 million, Beijing is crowded and congested, so getting from A to B also takes a while. Top Banana’s team had to factor this into its plans although it needed the help of the Beijing police to finally overcome this as they supplied a series of police escorts.
Paperwork also proved a headache.
“Visas and other documentation were a real problem, “added Mr Bridge. “In total we needed 63 approval stamps from the Chinese government. Without Pacific World (a destination management company) to steer us through we would still be drowning.
“Working in China for the first time meant we had to rely on suppliers we had not used before. To make sure we chose the best for each aspect of the job we spent a fair bit of time getting to know them.
“After sampling all sorts of food and viewing a complete range of entertainment etc, we chose a team and set up weekly teleconference calls to maintain continuous communication. This close contact with our suppliers meant that, while we were running things from the UK, we still remained in full control.”