Interview with Tunc Hepguler
We had a special interview with Tunc Hepguler, the Executive Vice President of acclaimed Turkish menswear company SARAR, to talk about how SARAR managed to establish itself as a well-known fashion brand in the U.S. market and how it continues its success. Hepguler also told us about SARAR’s goals and objectives, as well as what awaits the fashion retail business and SARAR in the future. SARAR recently opened a new store at Sunset Plaza in West Hollywood and will open a new store at Wall Street in August.
Sarar started off as a small workshop in Eskisehir and over a short period of time has evolved into an international manufacturer of fashionable menswear. What do you think are the factors behind the brand’s success?
I believe the fact that Cemalettin Sarar, the chairman of the company, is a visionary and that has always had high goals, played a significant role in making Sarar a global success. Besides Mr. SARAR and his brothers, the Sarar staff who has been working diligently also helped us achieve these goals. Other factors underlying Sarar’s success as a brand include:
1. Sarar Group’s emphasis on team work and innovation
2. Our Turkish tailors’ dedication and their quality workmanship
3. A modern and experienced Design & Development team that closely follows European trends
4. 68 years of experience since its foundation in 1944.
How did Tunc Hepguler and SararGroup cross paths?
As I have family connections with Sarar’s Chairman of the Board, Cemalettin Sarar I basically grew up in this business. He encouraged me to go to Germany to study clothing engineering and fashion design after finishing high school, in order for me to work at the company in the future.. While studying there, I was interacting frequently with the firm to assist them as well as to practice what I’d been learning. After completing my education in Germany, I worked for well-known companies, such as Hugo Boss, Joop, Daniel Hecter, for approximately 7 years and then I moved to U.S. to initiate Sarar’s retail operations in America.
While working together with a huge company like Hugo Boss as a manufacturer, Sarar parted ways with this joint work and opted for establishing its own brand name. What were the reasons behind this decision?
That took place just when I was working for Hugo Boss Company. Sarar’s fast-growing success and steps towards branding, especially in the 1990s, began to bother Hugo Boss. They said that if we start retail operations in Europe this could disrupt our production sharing agreement that we’ve had for 15 years. In this case, we thought that having our own brand was more important for the company’s future and that merely manufacturing for other firms was not very forward-looking. So we ended our business with Hugo Boss. In parallel with that, we intensified our branding operations in Europe and we took the first steps to going into retail globally.
In 1990, Sarar got into the European market for the first time. Second expansion was into the American market that is significantly different from both European and Turkish markets. What made you go into this market?
The collection that we are currently producing, as Sarar, is in a global scale and is being worn by certain clientele all over the world. Since the U.S. is a country that has global importance, the advantage of being here is the easiness to open up to international markets and this is an important part of becoming a brand. This is a market where you can find an international customer mass especially in both the business and the tourism sectors.
Sarar opened its first Manhattan store at Madison Ave (at 46th Street/Midtown) and in September it is opening the second Manhattan store in the heart of New York’s financial district, the Wall Street area. Regarding these store locations, would it be correct to say that your brand’s targeted group is working professionals?
When we pick the locations for our stores we take into account the distribution of our customer group.
How was the adaptation process of Sarar into the U.S. market? What were the changes in the collection or in the marketing strategy implemented in this process?
Entering into a big, competitive market as a foreign brand and making that brand known needs devotion, patience and most importantly needs time. As a result of that, we did a detailed market research, and created a strategy with respect to these analyses. We are customizing our marketing strategies and our collections according to the research and tweaking them to meet the expectations of our target audience.
What marketing strategies were implemented to introduce Sarar into the American market?
We introduce ourselves by going into retail; with each store we open, the brand name we’re building gets stronger. The other important factor for us is customer satisfaction. Our most important marketing strategy is making our customer leave our store fully satisfied with our service. We also advertise locally, depending on the season. For example, we place Sarar ads on billboards in New York and New Jersey, as well as on New York buses. At the same time, we are also working with some of men focused online shopping sites and big companies. When their customers shop from Sarar on their websites, they get shopping awards. We have also some arrangements with 7 big airline companies. Our customers earn more mile points as they do more shopping from us. However, the most important thing for us is our customer’s satisfaction with Sarar.
To what extent do you focus on online retailing?
We see online shopping additional to creating sales as a tool for advertising. People see our collections on our website, they lern our brand name and they also find store locations there. Furthermore, we have some loyal customers shopping online by Sarar’s websites as they are familiar with our size and fit.
What can you say about the American textile industry and its future?
In Turkey, young generations have creativity and quality vision, and as long as we keep giving them responsibilities, Turkey will continue to be one of the best apparel and fashion centers in the world. For U.S., as a result of having the global and economic power, they will lead the fashion and also service/retail sectors.
Today, Sarar is a well-known company outside the Turkish market and the brand has proven to fulfill its quality standards successfully. As executive vice president, what are your designated goals for the brand’s future?
With a population of over 311 million plus incoming tourists, the U.S. is a huge market and we, as Sarar, have a lot to do in this ever-growing market. Our primary goal is to increase the number of branches we have. We opened new store in June at Sunset Plaza in West Hollywood and as you said before, our store in Wall Street will be open to business this coming August, followed by its grand opening in September. Also for 2013, we’ve already signed leases for 3 additional locations which will be:
- Toronto (the first branch in Canada)
- Washington DC/Downtown
- Chicago/Rosemont (near O’Hare airport)
Although we are opening new branches in U.S. and Europe, Sarar is also considering opening new branches in Far East, China.
What are your suggestions for Turkish brands that are trying to enter the U.S. market?
The U.S. market isn't as intimidating as it is perceived to be. The important thing for the companies is to have a strong infrastructure and to plan everything to the smallest detail every step of the way. I believe that it is safer to start small and gain experience.
Is there anything you would like to say to TACCI members?
As a Turkish community in the U.S., I believe we need to support each other more in order to boost the image of our country, just as other successful communities have done. For instance, we proudly express to all our clients that we are a Turkish company. The majority of our employees consist of Turks as well. At the same time, we also pick other Turkish companies to do business with in order to provide them with employment opportunities. Our New York clientele is mostly made up of Americans in suits. Aside from that, the percentage of our Turkish clientele in New York is less than 1%, which is quite low. We, as Sarar, hope that the Turkish community that lives here together will support each other more and wear Sarar proudly since it is a Turkish company.
Interview by Tuba Erbil - firstname.lastname@example.org