„Our focus is on research & development, on branding and on design”

Ali Kahyaoğlu. Foto: IMIB

Istanbul Mineral Exporters’ Associations (IMIB) is Turkey’s nation-wide trade organization for natural stone. 2333 companies ranging from producers to manufacturers and traders are its members. Membership is mandatory. In 2014, Ali Kahyaoğlu, founder and chairman of Naturelmar Mining stone company, was elected as new president of IMIB. Stone-Ideas.com’s Peter Becker spoke with him. The first question refers to our report about the decline in Turkish exports in 2014.

Stone-Ideas.com: How do you judge the current situation for the Turkish stone sector?

Ali Kahyaoğlu: Looking at the world economy we see uncertainty: fluctuations of the oil price, the crisis in Russia and the unrest in some of Middle East countries are the most important aspects for stone exportation. Yet I hope that in 2015 we will maintain our export volume. This can be achieved by an increase in exports of processed stone to the USA. On a positive note regarding China, the Government has reopened credits for exports of processed stone. And with respect to India, our second most important market in Asia, the stone import quota has increased from 600.000 to 800.000 tons.

Stone-Ideas.com: Is there a long-term target that the Turkish stone sector should aim for, maybe for the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic in 2023?

Ali Kahyaoğlu: Initially, we had declared as our target for 2023 that stone exports would reach 15 billion US-dollars. Later, this number had been raised to 23 billion US-dollars. Under the present circumstances this may seem a little difficult to reach, but we will continue our efforts. To mention a few measures: IMIB will establish Turkish Trade Centers (TTM) abroad in markets identified by the Turkish Exporters Assembly. The focus of these centers is on marble, and the first one will be opened in China, the second in Los Angeles and the third in Dubai or Qatar. This will be done in 2015 and will strengthen our companies working on those markets.

Stone-Ideas.com: Is there also some action planned for companies which are starters in exportation?

Ali Kahyaoğlu: We are affixing our signature to a new project which will make it easier for our members to enter new markets. With the „Natural Stone Power Unification project targeting 2023” a limited number of companies will undergo staff training in marketing activities like research in foreign markets, fairs, sector trade missions and buying missions etc.

Stone-Ideas.com: How can government better support the sector in reaching these goals?

Ali Kahyaoğlu: The Turkish government should stop bureaucratic restrictions and tax burdens. Improved coordination would also be very helpful because, until now, we have been obliged to deal with three different ministries for mining licenses. I believe that our sector, which has a deep influence on all aspects of life, requires one single ministry for all its topics. Furthermore, all the government’s authorities should support those who are willing to build factories and expand production and thus achieve added value to our natural resources.

Stone-Ideas.com: And Turkish stone companies themselves – where must they improve?

Ali Kahyaoğlu: More emphasis should be placed on research & development, where added value can be achieved. We should actively support companies, which are not strong enough to entertain their own R&D.

Stone-Ideas.com: Let’s come back to exportation. What are the main target-countries, at the moment? Where do you see new chances?

Ali Kahyaoğlu: At the moment, China takes the first place, USA, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and India follow in this ranking. This year we are expecting a revival of the Qatar market. We also place high expectations in the Indian market which may become a second China for us, so to speak. As I mentioned before, Turkish Trade Centers (TTM) will be a great opportunity. As commodities will be stocked there, we can serve our customers ahead of our competitors.

Stone-Ideas.com: Value added has already been mentioned. What about design for natural stone?

Ali Kahyaoğlu: Design, R&D, innovation and branding are central topics for us. Turkey is rich in natural resources but in the past we marketed our goods under value. In order to overcome this, IMIB pays great attention to our Natural Stone Design Contest, which will be held this year for the 4th time. In this context we’re also striving to integrate young creative people into our sector. This is why our pecuniary value of our prizes is high. Recently we have also established two-year-grants for studies abroad, sponsored by our Ministry of Economy. And finally, we will create institutions improve connectivity of designers to our stone companies.

Stone-Ideas.com: Finally: How should Turkey deal with its rich resources of marble and travertine?

Ali Kahyaoğlu: Our mines are not our heritage from; they are our customers’ commodities and stand under our auspices. Therefore, I pay great attention to Environmentally Friendly Mining which means that mines must stand in a symbiotic relationship to the environment. That also means that we have to benefit from the smallest piece of stone by processing it and by creating the best value out of the material. If we are successful in improving our stone products, currently being exported to 175 countries worldwide, exports will increase even further in the years to come.

IMIB/Turkish Stones (1, 2)

(19.05.2015, USA: 05.19.2015)