31 Jan 2019
China Suppliers Look for Complementary Role in Turkish Manufacturing
With the country's consumers seemingly ever-more keen to buy domestically produced items, China-based businesses are increasingly looking to trade in raw materials with their Turkish counterparts rather than wholly finished products.
Impressively, there were seemingly hundreds of Chinese businesses showcasing their products across the six main sections of Istanbul's fifth China Homelife Exhibition – textiles and garments, building materials, lighting, household goods, machinery and home electronics. Indeed, everything from seeds to cosmetic kits and from thermometers to dehydrated vegetables was on display as vendors sought to tempt the massed buyers from across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Understandably keen to emphasise the importance of Turkey for east-west trade, Exhibition Organiser Binu Pillai said: "Turkey is an important destination for Chinese businesses, a country where currently they enjoy a 22% market share. On top of that, of course, Turkey is also a key gateway to Europe and the Middle East.
"This is the fifth year we have staged the event and it marks something of an upturn. In 2015 and 2016, we didn't grow very much, but this year we have 726 exhibitors – a 35% increase on 2017."
Despite such upbeat sentiment, the Turkish market still presents challenges for Chinese exporters, with local consumers having a distinct preference for domestically produced goods. Acknowledging this, but maintaining there remains considerable opportunities, Pillai said: "The domestic demand for Turkish products is huge, but the raw-material base is not so strong. Chinese entrepreneurs, therefore, can help fill the gaps by supplying yarn, garment accessories and electronic components. In this way, we are complementing what the local marketplace already offers rather than trying to compete head-on."
Pillai was also keen to dismiss the notion that many Turkish consumers still have a dim view of mainland-produced goods. Maintaining this was something of an historic misunderstanding, he said: "In many cases, it was an unfair perception. It basically stemmed from something like a Turkish businessman coming to China, buying a product for US$5 and selling it on in Turkey for $10. If it then appeared to be over-priced or sub-standard, people felt ripped off and China's reputation suffered as a result. Nowadays, though, there is no information imbalance and the days of the 100% margin are long gone."
Pillai also believes that many of the mainland's smaller, more artisanal businesses may find a particular niche in Turkey. As a prime example of this he cited the success of the Fuzhou Premiere Crafts Company, which was proving to be one of the event's most well-received exhibitors.
Founded in 1989 by Ye Jian, a local businessman, the company specialises in grow-your-own herb, spice and plant kits, with one of its most popular items being a sunflower starter kit in a container smaller than a soft-drink can. The company focuses solely on the export markets and now employs 10 people.
Explaining the thinking behind his company's presence at the event, Ye said: "Essentially, I'm looking for a local wholesaler. We already sell into the UK, Germany and Holland and we'd like to add Turkey to the list. Over the next two weeks, we're going to be in Poland and Mexico, where I'm hoping to put similar arrangements in place."
Despite the clear demand for such handcrafted items, arguably the true star of the show relied far more on high-tech replicability, with Lifeng Machinery's GZB-600 automated high-speed paper-cup making machine attracting considerable interest. Introducing the system, Vera Lia, Regional Manager of the Zhejiang-based company, said: "As it can produce up to 130 cups a minute, we have already had a lot of interest from attendees."
Another popular draw at the event was the Hoco Technology mobile telephone accessory stand. Established in 2009, the Shenzhen-based business now has 250 employees and was in Istanbul to promote its Hoco brand of phone cases, cables, speakers, wireless chargers, headphones, selfie sticks and power banks. It currently has agents in place in 50 overseas territories.
Explaining the company's strategy for building its presence locally, General Manager Gavin Ou said: "The Turkish market is very price-oriented. While domestically produced accessories tend to be cheap, our products are better quality. We are also big on style, bright colours and innovative designs, all of which have a particular appeal to younger buyers."
If there was an award for the Quirkiest Exhibitor, the Ningbo Hookah Artware Company would certainly have been a contender. Launched in 2003 on China's east coast, the company owes its success to its contemporary reinvention of a classic leisure accessory – the shisha pipe.
Detailing the company's reinvention of this venerable smoking aid, Chief Executive Jacky Zhang said: "While staying true to centuries-old principles, we have opted for a more modern design and have made innovative use of stainless steel, zinc and glass. We have reviewed the range of domestically made hookahs currently on the market and genuinely believe that we offer a better-quality product. As a result, we have high hopes that our China Hookah brand will do very well here."
Similarly quirky was the path that led one Chinese entrepreneur – Cavy Lee – to his current line of business. Back in 2012, he set up as a manufacturer of novelty plastic party masks that appeared to be made from metal. In 2017, though, after a moment of revelation, he set up a new business – Ningbo Zhanbang Medical Technology Company – producing a range of elderly-oriented medical aids, including walking sticks, wheelchairs and hospital beds.
Explaining his sudden change of direction, he said: "It just struck me that China's population, as is the case in other parts of the world, is living longer. Inevitably, then, the need for medical aids will continue to grow. I am also hoping to capitalise on the same trend in Turkey and beyond."
As ever with any delegation from the mainland business community, apparel manufacturers were well represented. At the event, two in particular – Guangzhou-based handbag-maker Ruhao and Shengzhou's Yuelong Tie and Apparel Company – seemed to have especially busy stands.
According to Sales Executive Karva Li, Ruhao's particular appeal lay in its short runs and fast turnaround time. Expanding upon this, she said: "Our minimum order is just 500 handbags and our turnaround time is typically less than a month. We have 25 designers and can produce bespoke items upon request. While we mainly work with synthetic materials, we are also very experienced in working with genuine leather."
With more than 1,000 employees, the Yuelong Tie and Apparel Company claims to be the largest neckwear manufacturer in China and the only one with its own printing mill. Keen to emphasise both the company's flexibility and its international credentials, Sales Manager Daniel Li said: "Our products are mainly silk, but if you want polyester or a polyester mix we can turn our hands to that. Our minimum order is 1,000 pieces and we usually complete orders within 30 days. All but 5% of our business is export-oriented, with our international clients including Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and Michael Cross."
Tellingly sceptical about the provenance of certain items on sale in Turkey, he said: "Although many products are labelled as 'Made in Turkey', it's quite clear to me that most of them actually originated in China."
The 2018 China Homelife Exhibition took place at the Istanbul Expo Centre.
George Dearsley, Special Correspondent, Istanbul