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Established in 1994, Blackjack Wines is a small business run by two families initially producing wine for the domestic market. The company produces two wines: Cabernet Merlot and Shiraz. In 2004 and 2005 they produced large vintages, however lacked the resources to move the wine.

Ken Pollock spoke of his initial decision to visit Singapore as research for a potential market, however discovered that it was quite saturated, with every retailer already having an importing license. As a result, Ken saw potential opportunities in China to provide the means of moving large volumes of wine quickly. China is now Australia’s third largest importer of wine, following America and England. Ken noted that the point of difference in the market however, is that the Chinese are very aspirational, with a strong desire for good products.

As an introduction to the China market, Ken went on a series of state government trade missions to China. The benefits of doing this include being provided with high levels of support and expertise, gaining access to local people on the ground and introductions to a considerable mass of participants on the trade missions as well as potential clients. However, a possible drawback of participating in a trade mission is its very fast schedule and time constraints.

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Ken discovered that in China you must have a flexible attitude as things can take slightly more time to get off the ground. At the same time, from Ken’s experience, arrangements and pricing can be very fluid so an open mind-set is essential. Ken additionally highlighted the need to understand pricing and recommended that you obtain deposit on orders and get full payment before shipment. Also emphasised the need to be careful of exclusivity agreements, and perhaps limit such agreements to specific cities. He cited his own mistake in making a verbal contract for 5 years with one company, only to be offered deals by several other companies soon after.

In terms of advice, his first consideration was the factor of language. Ken noted that interpreters may be required particularly in dealings with people over the age of 35, while the majority of younger individuals he met had very good English.

The second aspect to consider was the importance of cultural awareness and respect. Ken recommended two books to assist anybody travelling to China: When China Rules the World and Cuckoo China.

The third point Ken stressed is the importance of protecting your trademark, not only in English but also in Chinese. The need for cultural education and awareness is evident in the necessity to have Chinese business cards and brochures, even simply as measure of respect.

As with many experiences throughout rural Victoria, relationships in China are paramount and Ken stressed the importance of taking the time to build relationships in business.

Ken concluded with two main points, first reaffirming the benefit of state government trade missions as a good introduction to trade in China, and second, stating the benefits of the second-tier cities in China as the real big market opportunity as opposed to larger cities such as Shanghai, where the market is already saturated.