Turkey is going through an exciting phase at the moment. In a period of global economic recession, Turkey has been one of the fastest growing economies in Europe, for two out of the last three years, and is even projected to post a respectable GDP (gross domestic product) growth figure of 4% for 2013. What impact do you think this economic prosperity has had on B’iota Laboratories?
This environment of consistent growth, safety and stability gives us courage to invest. A very good example of this is the Turquality programme, which allows us to in a way invest with more courage. We do not base our investment decisions on Turquality, but it helps us recover some of the funds for reinvesting in the future.
You founded B’iota Laboratories back in 2002 and it has since become a market leader. It is one of the most internationally recognised Turkish brands. Can you tell us a little about this impressive growth?
It is difficult for Turkish brands to go global. We do not have successful examples that we can use in Turkey, which have expanded globally successfully. The second biggest handicap is that we cannot find sufficiently trained human resources. You end up having to learn everything yourself, and this is the greatest challenge. At the onset, I was assisted by a consultant on global expansion, but this consultant was unable to answer most of my questions. Even those who claim to be consultants have very little knowledge. Ultimately I got books from Germany from global marketing, and doing it myself.
Where did the idea to start the company come from and how did the company get so big?
It is a very long story. It started when I was in the military service. A lady just across from my guard post was doing her daily chores in the east of the country, in a relatively poor area. Whenever she spoke with people, she hid her mouth. Every two hours, while I was on guard duty, I watched. First I thought she had an issue with her teeth. One day when she was baking bread, she brought him a loaf, even though she was not supposed to bring anything to a guard on duty. Then I saw that she had a moustache and hair on her chin, so I realised that she did not have a problem with her teeth, but rather a hair problem. I thought this might be a widespread issue, so I decided to find a solution for that. I turned out to be right. As a young guy at the time, I was unaware that women had such a difficult time waxing.
In the meantime, I was always interested in finding solutions to skin problems, like my own acne problem, where I created a concoction of yoghurt and honey, which worked very well. This was after I tried many commercially available products. On my bookshelf at home, I found a book about herbal products. It was a bit of trial and error using the book, and when I put this together with my knowledge of plants (which was really a hobby), with the observation that there was a problem, I started working on a product. Up until I was in the military, I was always interested in plants and herbal solutions. That was the spark that started everything – my knowledge of plants, and the realisation that problems could be resolved with a herbal solution.
I researched the topic for three years after the military service. I did trials with plant extracts and tried them on myself and friends. At first I was doing these trials at home, but then I got kicked out by my wife, because I was messing up the kitchen! So I moved to the basement.
B’iota is a genuine case study of Turkish business excellence, which is exactly what we are trying to showcase to our UK audience. What advice would you give to other Turkish entrepreneurs who want to have the same level of success as you have?
Courage. I read that before you reach 18, you will hear the word ‘no’ 150,000 times. This is even more valid for the Turkish culture. It is difficult to do things that you will not be able to achieve. It is very much implanted in people’s minds. Once everybody is able to pass that threshold of fear and act with courage, you will find that you have an incredible capacity within. Often you cannot even express ideas or solutions that you have. One of the advantages was that I did not go to university, so I was never told what I could not do. I did not have preconceptions and I had a much wider perspective. I believe that you do not really need capital to do business. You can even use other people’s ideas to do business. You need belief and courage, and you must not give up. Things are always difficult at first and do not seem to work, so you need perseverance as well. When I was doing my research over the first three years, my mum and dad thought I was crazy and told me to get a job and not to do this, but I did not listen. I did what I thought was right. I might have been unsuccessful, but ultimately I managed to reap the benefits of my insistence and perseverance.
I got a call from my wife one day at 4 am – I had not realised what time it was. That is how involved I was in my work. But it was important that I researched and learnt about the ancient Egyptians and what they did. I went very deep into the studying of hair removal both historically and culturally. It was 50% study and 50% dedication. It is not possible if you do not learn, research and get educated.
What did you discover about hair?
As we were researching hair removal, we realised that some plants actually had the opposite effect, and increased hair growth. Sometimes the same plant had different effects on different parts of the body, so if you used it on the legs, it reduced the amount of hair, but increased hair growth on the head. There are some plants that act like a hormone. Plants are fascinating.
What elements do you use?
The R&D was based very much on the fact that these 59 elements are so important for the human body, and that they are available in plants and in soil. The way we use them in our products has to be in harmony with our body. In cosmetics in particular, it is important that the active ingredients are not rejected by the body. You can have allergic reactions, or it can have no effect. We incorporated the importance of these 59 elements in our company logo. That is really what is driving the R&D. The R&D department is in this building.
B’iota is a brand that is already synonymous with quality and excellence. How are you working to strengthen this brand even further?
The most important and most difficult thing is to try and see how the brand is perceived in the eyes of the consumer. We are trying to look at it from the consumers’ point of view, and trying to understand what is important for them, and making sure that we deliver on those aspects. Even when I did not know what the 4Ps of marketing were, I always had someone taking care of the PR side of things. I am aware that advertising says that you are a good brand, but so do news articles. PR has always played a very big role in consumer communication, and it still does. We are also doing all the regular facets of marketing and communication. Marketing is really focused on the concepts.
I think that is your strongest point.
One of the challenges is to maintain a balance between a company that is R&D driven, marketing driven and distribution driven.
Do you have brands that are positioned differently or are all your brands positioned in a similar way in the market? Deciding where to put your price points and where to position yourself is very tricky I imagine at the beginning.
We made a lot of mistakes at first. We thought that all we needed to do was produce it, advertise it and everyone would buy it. Then we realised that there were market segments, and every market segment needed different a communication strategy. The positioning strategies developed later as the needs for them became apparent, and this was reflected in everything from product artwork, all the way to communication and PR activities. The biggest mistake that a marketer can make is to be detached from his consumer, and we are trying to avoid this. We do not want marketing to sit in an ivory tower. It is very important to have personal experiences.
Who is the consumer in your opinion? Who is your customer?
Depending on the products of course, the hair loss products are different to the new Bio-baby product range. When you look at the overall target market for hair loss, obviously it is men and women who are losing hair, but within that, the perception and the need are felt across all social categories. It is quite a wide range within each product brand. One big advantage we have in targeting consumers is that there are a lot of people that have used products and who are not satisfied with them. Just to give you an example, we are getting a lot of reviews for our products, and there was one review from a 50 year old woman who said that she has tried everything under the sun, and nothing worked, but she is very thankful that she was able to come across this product. Hair loss is very emotional, and when people find something that works, they really hang onto it. Our customers are very loyal.
The fact that we are solving problems is a big advantage that we have. We can really make a difference in people’s lives. When the company was still very small, I had the time to read every letter that came in. Some of the letters would almost have you in tears – people would tell you that they were very thankful when a solution was found to their problems.
Dermocosmetics is a multimillion-dollar industry in the UK. You have already voiced your intentions of entering the UK market. How important do you think the UK market is, especially with regard to building your global brand even further?
The UK is very important for us. We do not necessarily have to make a quantitative assessment. We know that if you are successful in the UK, it will help us to be successful on a much wider scale, such as in Europe. The importance of the UK is a multiplier in a way, because of the UK’s relations with the Commonwealth in particular, and the movement of people and exchange of goods. This will open up a lot of doors in India, Australia and many Commonwealth countries.
Similarly, there are many people who try to penetrate the Middle East via Turkey, and Brazil and South America. We know that in the UK, people are very open to herbal solutions. We are just waiting for the right opportunity.
You are single-handedly making Turkey more internationally known through your forward-thinking, innovative products as well as your trendsetting entrepreneurship. Do you feel a responsibility to the Turkish people and economy?
Of course I feel a responsibility, like everyone should. Part of this responsibility is to be an example for future generations of entrepreneurs who would be able to follow our footsteps. As Turkey’s image abroad becomes stronger, it makes our job easier.
What final message would you like to send to the readers about B’iota Laboratories or even about Turkey as a whole?
Think global whether it is products or services, as it is one of the best ways to learn things.