How Chinese New Year can impact your import business

In 2008, I learned in-person just how seriously China takes its New Year festivities. For one entire week (non-stop) there were fireworks and firecrackers going off across Shanghai, the city I lived and worked at the time. You haven’t lived until fireworks go off right next to your apartment building, so closely that you have to close your windows. The loud noises of burning fireworks is thought to drive away evil spirits.

I worked in China for nearly two years, and saw first-hand how Chinese New Year (CNY) has a major impact on business operations in the country, and with any international firms counting on it for their own operations. Now as an entrepreneur in Toronto within a startup that has a manufacturing facility in China, these lessons are so important I wanted to share them with you.

Starting Feb. 19 to 26, many major manufacturing and logistics companies in China will be closed for Chinese New Year.

If your products are made in China, shipped through China or are sold in China, this will inevitably impact your business.

CNY is one of the few mandatory holidays all local citizens observe in China and Hong Kong. Also known as Spring Festival and Lunar New Year, CNY is best known by westerners for its animal zodiac, which for 2015 chimes in the year of the ram.

It was estimated that 3.6 billions trips were made in 2014 by migrant workers flocking out of the big cities and industrial parks to visit their families for CNY. It has even been touted as “the world’s largest human migration.”

CNY originated in the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600 BC-c. 1100 BC) with  a series of traditional festivities to prepare for and ring in the new year. Most importantly culturally, it serves as a time for families to reunite over good conversation and good food. Much like Christmas in North America. You can follow along this year’s celebrations on Mashable here.

What is the relevance of this “foreign” holiday to your SMB  doing business in China?  Well, you’d better be prepared.

Sorry, we’re closed

During CNY, many parts of China are essentially closed for business. For the seven to 14 days surrounding the holiday, many local companies come to a complete halt. Corporations, factories, agents, banks, assemblers, robots and logistics, completely shut down.

In many cases, they close shop even earlier to accommodate for staff who have to travel across China to be with their families for when the holiday officially starts – this year CNY lands on Feb. 19, 2015.

Ready or not

A few days may not seem like a long time until you realize you’ve forgotten about something. Any “out of stock” components or unshipped shipments will have to wait until after the holiday. Quite literally.

Do you have everything you need to continue business as per normal between Feb. 19 to 26? It may be the perfect time to do that overdue stock count.

Yes, there’s always going to be that agent, factory or business touting that they’re open, but it will surely cost you.

The fresh start

Some of the most important traditions during CNY involve a fresh start. It’s not uncommon for people to get a haircut, clean out their home and buy a new wardrobe. This fresh start also impacts your company.

Businesses are expected to pay off all the outstanding debts before the new year eve. This is an unspoken rule, but it is seen as very bad luck to go into the new year with any negative start.

If you care more about your own year-end bookkeeping milestones, don’t be surprised if the auspiciousness of this tradition has serious repercussions on your business, including future pricing and manufacturing times. By wiping even the smallest of debt, you’re signaling for a positive start to the new year together.

Embrace the unknown

If anything, better understanding the traditions can help your business during CNY and the people you do business with there.  By making it a priority for your local staff to make it to their families on time, giving small gifts of appreciation and paying off debts, are all signals of a strong and positive future working relationship.

In China, holidays aren’t a dime a dozen like here in North American. Every month or so here we have a long weekend or day off during the week. We take time off to celebrate all types of things. Canadians in particular participate in statutory holidays like New Year’s Day, Easter, Canada Day, Labour Day, Christmas, Family Day, not to mention provincial holidays.

It’s easy to understand why CNY is such an important tradition in China and neighboring Asian Pacific countries, and how important it should be for your company to consider when doing business in or with China then.


Ashley Huffman
Ashley Huffman
Startup, technology and girls in tech evangelist. Can be found behind the scenes at Nano Magnetics Ltd getting things done. Professional @Nanodots builder and Guinness World Record holder. Fan of life hacks, Scrum and WOW, in no particular order. Self proclaimed Twitter addict.

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