By  on May 8, 2009

The history of international beauty brands in Turkey is relatively short. It was only around 25 years ago — when today’s savvier beauty consumer was still in cloth diapers — that foreign brands were allowed in during the economically liberal 80s that followed the dark days of a military coup. But Turks are learning fast. When even the sultry male performers of the country’s myriad pop channels won’t get out of bed without a smudge of black eyeliner and mascara, you know the beauty industry must be onto a good thing.

According to Euromonitor International, the cosmetics and toiletries industry in Turkey reached sales of $1.4 billion in 2009, up from $1.36 billion in 2008 and $1.29 billion in 2007, an average increase of about 5 percent per year.

That still leaves a tiny market for a country with a population of more than 70 million.

“When we opened here, interest exceeded expectations,” says Beyhan Figen, general manager of Sephora, which entered the Turkish market in 2007. “But in terms of usage, we’re still way behind Greece, so the market is nowhere near saturated. That makes the potential for growth enormous.”

“The market will grow steadily, we believe,” says Nergiz Oney, store coordinator at MAC. “I don’t think there will be a sudden jump, more a consistent growth that sometimes goes up into double-digit growth.”

With potential comes problems. Issues such as political volatility and widespread financial corruption mean that Turkey has yet to join the ranks of First World economic powers. Despite the modern metropolitan look of cities such as Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, much of the country is rural and poor, with an average gross domestic product of $10,400.

On the positive side, Turkey’s population is young — with about 24 million females in the 15-20 age group. This partly explains why, in recent years, the U.S.-based market analyst firm Kline has successively singled out the country as one of the key global developing markets for cosmetics and toiletries.

“In countries such as France, the United Kingdom and Germany, the comparable figure is about 19 million females,” says Ron Griffiths, general manager of Avon in Turkey.

“The [Turkish] market is growing much faster than Western Europe — that is in the low-single digits and is an intensely competitive market,” continues Griffiths. “Also, in Europe the average spend per capita is $140, whereas here it is still very low, at $22.”

Generally, as women become better educated, spending figures rise — and in Turkey, the education
level for women is low but growing. “So you have two attractive propositions, a much larger, younger, increasingly affluent and better educated female population,” says Griffiths.

No wonder there’s been an influx of foreign brands into the country. Largely benefiting from the massive expansion in mid-to-luxe shopping markets, especially in Istanbul, retailers have clamored to open stores here. Perfumerie Douglas and Harvey Nichols entered the market in 2005, Debenhams and Watsons in 2006 and Sephora and Lush in 2007.

In terms of brands, the market leader is Procter & Gamble with 20 percent market share, followed by Avon with 14 percent, L’Oréal with 11 percent, Beiersdorf with 8.5 percent and Unilever with 7.4 percent, according to Euromonitor.

Turkish brands such as Arko Nem have also been trying to capitalize on the new interest. While Turks for years relied on small pharmacy-type outlets or local grocers for their beauty products, the expansion of supermarkets and hypermarkets, with their large shelf spaces, has taken supply to a whole new level.

“An improved retail infrastructure means that the products are more widely available throughout Turkey, and they also triggered competition among cosmetics manufacturers to capture better shelf space, have better shelf designs and widen the variety of products available,” Euromonitor stated about the country’s industry.

“Moreover, the opening of new grocery outlets in smaller cities, especially in Anatolia, enhanced the introduction of products into areas such as those where they had previously been unknown,” according to the report. “An increased number of such distribution channels led to a larger number of consumers and greater opportunities for consumers to reach products and track the latest launches.”

Few brands have become as widely available as Avon, which claims it is able to reach the most remote parts of this sprawling country with is direct-selling approach.

“We have 60 percent market penetration, which means that when people see our brochure there is a 90 percent chance that they will buy….So we make sure they see our brochure,” says Griffiths. “We deliver to the smallest village, and we make sure that we go to these villages at least twice a week.”

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