Thursday, Jul 19, 2018
Europe | Turkey

Turkish Ceramics

8,000 years of heritage backed by the latest technology

3 years ago

Bahadir Kayan, Chairman of Turkish Ceramics
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Bahadir Kayan

Chairman of Turkish Ceramics

Turkish ceramics companies are among the most competitive in Europe in their sector.  Bahadir Kayan, Chairman of the Turkish Ceramics Promotion Group, explains how product innovation mixed with promotional innovation is proving to be a recipe for success. 

Turkey has largely been one of the success stories of the global economy this century, but growth has slowed to below desired levels in recent years, and progress towards the goal of $500 billion of exports by 2023 has stalled somewhat.  In your opinion, what can be done to help the country reach its ambitious economic and exports 2023 targets?

I was part of the Vision 2023 planning, but the geopolitical climate then was very different to what it is now. Almost all of the industries related to the construction business have been affected by the Russia-Ukraine situation, on the one hand, and the situation in Iraq on the other. Russia is heavily dependent on the pricing of energy resources.

If they fall below a certain level it makes a huge difference in everybody´s plans. Even countries like Saudi Arabia are heavily affected. If the price of oil falls below $60 per barrel, many countries are not able to meet their production costs.

If it falls below $50 there is a big mess. Countries have five- and 10-year plans based on $80 per barrel, so when it drops below $60 it becomes unsustainable.

If you want to run a marathon, you have to pace yourself. Sometimes you have to pause. I think this applies to economics. In exports, you have to differentiate yourself with your product portfolio and this gives Turkish companies an advantage thanks to our investments in new technologies.

You also have to adapt business process innovations, as we have done in London by targeting architects. We were not promoting our ceramics to the architectural communities until two years ago, when we identified that this area makes up one third of the market.

The architectural project business is huge and we need to claim our share. London is key because London-based architecture firms serve the whole world. There´s always a chance to create new business areas.

Export markets can alter so fast. The US is now doing better, and the London market is doing fantastic, which is positive for us. I think it´s important to revise your plans in short intervals, in a holistic sense, with inputs from all stakeholders.

I see two options. One is that each sector has an individualistic approach, as if being a single company, such as all the ceramics companies joining together. The other option is that all sectors come together and decide on their goals in terms of markets.

This is why I always meet with export colleagues from other sectors. What I think Turkey should do is to concentrate on tightly defined markets and have a 360-degree game plan for each market.

Which markets in particular is the ceramics sector focusing on in 2015, and can you provide us with more details on the campaigns you are running and the support you have on the ground in these markets?

We make constant and continuous efforts to define and target the most suitable markets. We try to focus on the United States, which is a huge market for tiles, and the UK and Germany. These three markets are currently in the top five export destinations for Turkish manufactures in general.

We are heavily targeting the architecture project business in London, which gives us a global reach as the global project business is centered in London.

We want to repeat this effort in the Gulf, which is very critical for the Middle East and African markets, because many of the projects are being consulted and commissioned through Dubai, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and also Beirut to a certain extent. 

What do you think is the perception of Turkish ceramics in your target markets, and how have your activities helped to shape perceptions?

People are now quite aware of Turkish ceramics, thanks in part to our efforts. Now we are getting enquiries from people who are curious and also a little bit shocked about the quality of the material and the international ranking of Turkish ceramics.

Our next phase is to integrate more and more people into the promotion group so that they are part of it, as sub groups and sub committees, advisors, and so on. It allows us to share ideas and we have strong support from Ankara. Each step should be communicated with all members and stakeholders.

The Turkish ceramics industry is backed by 8,000 years of history, but you also have modern production facilities all over the country. On the international stage you are competing with cheaper ceramics from China. How do you positively differentiate your products from those from the Far East?

Turkey is not new in ceramics exports and no one doubts our quality. But if you go to a British household, people would not necessarily be aware of the origins of their tiles.

People might change their bathroom tiles every 10 or 15 years, so unless you are an interior designer, tiles are probably not at the forefront of your mind.

Promotion is very critical in this sense. Last year in Erbil, Iraq, we delivered 50,000 catalogues door to door. But this can only be done in a market like Iraq, not the UK. In sophisticated markets you don’t just need innovative products, you also need innovative promotion techniques.

Again, this is why we focused on project architects in London. You have to stay ahead of the competition but the competition are like mushrooms, you can eat them up but more will grow…

One of the major priorities of the Turkish G20 Presidency is SMEs and their access to global value chains and markets. As the Ceramics Promotion Group, you are helping SMEs in your sector access global markets every day. To what extent can the promotion group model serve as an example for other countries wishing to grow their SMEs and export volumes?

The Turkish model is positive in the sense that the sector is harmonised and we all stand to benefit from our promotional work. The government has put in place robust legislation and support mechanisms to help us grow.

We have close relationships across different organisations and we are able to go to markets with a well-planned, unified vision of how to approach them.

In a sense, Turkey is at an advantage because the promotion groups are organised by the individual companies. As a team, we share details and experiences on different markets. I think this connected world of different parties is the right approach.

Despite the different perspectives, decisions largely flow without obstacles. But it only works if you remain focused and do not try to spread your efforts across 100 things.  You must always bear in mind the need for planning and finance.

So the work of a promotion group should be optimized within tightly defined parameters: finance, participants, consultation, and markets – these should all be planned well in advance.

This is the reason why I, for instance, insist that the London architectural project should be supported at least 5 years. This will allow us to perfect our approach. In Rome, you act like Romans; so it's also good to get further local ideas if needed.

In light of the fact that your main market is the UK, and you are trusted to represent more than 30 member companies, what is your overarching message to our UK readers about Turkish ceramics?

We have a long ceramics history but also very advanced production techniques. It’s not only about the materials but also about how they are used and the link between contractors and materials manufacturers.

You can go all around the region and find construction being done by Turks. There is a big potential for Turkish materials manufacturers, architects and contractors to help each other gain business around the wider region through extended networks. 

Working in Middle Eastern countries is very easy for us but more difficult for European companies. Our history, heritage and cultural insights mean we can work in London or we can work in Erbil and we can feel at ease in both places. Culturally, we are able to do it both ways.





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