“Our country is just a four-hour flight from many places. And because our workmanship is of high quality, the world has begun to prefer our bikes,” says Bayram Akgül, owner and founding member of the Turkish bike maker Salcano. In a recent interview with Today's Zaman, the head of Salcano said the company's rapid growth in recent years makes it ideally poised to enter emerging markets in the Far East, where consumers have long preferred bikes and mopeds over cars.
Salcano's new ambitions are a long way away from its humble beginnings in 1976, when Akgül and friends opened a tiny 16-square-meter shed to build and repair bikes. Since then, it has grown into Turkey's most competitive bike manufacturer, producing roughly 1,000 bikes a day from its 140-employee factory in Arnavutköy, İstanbul.
The going may be rocky for the bike manufacturer, however, as it faces stiff competition from Chinese firms, and currently produces only 200,000 bikes per year. In contrast, tens of millions of bikes are sold every year in China alone, where over half a billion own bikes.
But amid the European slowdown, says Akgül, rapid expansion, diversifying the company's reach and selling the brand's high-quality reputation amid increasingly wealthy Asian consumers may be the key to continued success. The goal, says Akgül, is “to direct the company to more profitable markets.”
Emerging markets at home
Another of those markets, adds the company head, may be Turkey itself. “In our country, bicycle culture has just recently begun to spread,” he says, relating that there are only 1.2 million bikes in the country of 71 million. By contrast, in Germany, there are 62 million bikes for roughly 82 million people.
That disparity is a sign of an untapped market among Turkey's ever-wealthier middle class, says Akgül. “Now, people who grew up with bikes as children want to have a bike later in life,” he says, arguing that Turkey's middle-aged buyers will likely be interested in Salcano's higher-quality, durable products. “Today you can find a bike for TL 70, and you can find one for TL 12,500 in Turkey,” he says, adding, “Those who are beginning to take up biking as a hobby prefer to buy more expensive bikes.”
Serious bikes for serious riders, says Akgül, is one reason why the company believes it has room for expansion in Turkey as well as more bike-conscious nations. “There's no reason why Salcano can't grow to take 10 percent of the Turkish market,” he says. That would be a dramatic jump from the company's present share of about 1 percent, a number that reflects Turks' current preference for cheaper imports against Salcano's pricier brand.
One sign that Salcano's bikes are up to the test was a decision by the American Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) in the early 2000s to stock and sell Salcano bikes to troops at American military bases in the Middle East.
The company also created one of the world's first folding company bicycles, a sign that Akgül says indicates that “we're an industry leader. We're open to any design and can make any kind of bike.” The company is even thinking about expanding its current trial line of motorcycles, of which it produces about 10,000 a year. “We're planning on producing about 10,000 annually in the coming years,” Akgül says.