Home INTERVIEWS Didem ARAL, Foreign Trade Manager at SYS: “With the quality of our CANiK branded products and our correct marketing strategies, we were the third company that saw biggest export increases in 2021 in all sectors in Turkey.”

Didem ARAL, Foreign Trade Manager at SYS: “With the quality of our CANiK branded products and our correct marketing strategies, we were the third company that saw biggest export increases in 2021 in all sectors in Turkey.”

by Şafak Kaan Oğraş

Alper ÇALIK / a.calik@milscint.com

Samsun Yurt Savunma (SYS), a company that has been on the headlines with its export successes, continued its performance in 2021 as well. The company added 6 more countries to its export portfolio in 2021 and enjoyed an export revenue of $103 million in the same year. These numbers made the company the third by biggest increases in export revenues in all sectors according to the data from Turkish Exporters’ Assembly (TİM). SYS also delivered its CANiK M2 QCB heavy machine gun to its clients abroad for the first time last year. Didem Aral, Foreign Trade Manager at SYS shared the export successes of the company in 2021 and details of its international marketing efforts in this interview.

MSI TDR: Mrs. Aral, what did SYS do in 2021 regarding exports? Can you give us a summary?

Didem ARAL: Even though 2021 was a year under the effects of pandemic that started in 2020, we never stopped our export efforts. We even took the opportunities this situation created. We exported to 32 countries, with 6 of them being completely new to us. Brazil was among them too, a tough market we have been trying to get into for years. In addition, we added 8 foreign state organisations to our client portfolio. We sold 327,000 pistols in 2021, while enjoying $103 million of export revenue.

MSI TDR: When you compare these numbers with last year, what do you see?

Didem ARAL: I can gladly say we increased our exports compared to the last year. As you know, COVID-19 pandemic impacted every sector negatively. However, small arms sector in the United States was different. Both the political situation and increased security concerns encouraged the populace to buy weapons. Many among them were first time firearms users. Of course, we had no ability to predict what could happen in the pandemic conditions. However, our production potential reaching 450,000 per year in 2020-2021 gave us a chance to easily meet the increased demand. In addition, we made a forecast that the American market would shrink towards the end of 2021, and as we have our finger on the pulse of our users, we were not wrong in our forecast. We were able to successfully utilise this situation for our benefit as well.

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CANiK M2 is a weapon that is also used as a part of various platforms, and as such, we are talking with our clients on integration projects. As you know, Unidef, one of our subsidiaries, provides important weapon integration services. We are able to offer both the weapon and projects aimed at integrating the weapon on land, sea or air platforms at the same time, giving us an advantage.

Export Success Advanced Beyond Defence Sector

MSI TDR: How do you evaluate your export numbers when you consider them in the framework of Turkish defence and aerospace sector?

Didem ARAL: We are exporting 80 percent of all Turkish pistols that do get exported. We have been a leader in this field for a long time. However, we also achieved an important milestone in 2021. With the quality of our CANiK branded products and our correct marketing strategies, we were the third company that saw biggest export increases in 2021 in all sectors. The surveys that proved these numbers were done by Turkish Exporters’ Assembly (TİM), and according to their data, we advanced our export successes beyond defence sector. Of course, this was not a surprise for us, as we execute all our activities as a part of a great vision. We expected this success. In the same report, we jumped 600 ranks in one year in the top 1000 exporters list, reaching 386th place.

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CANiK SFx RIVAL

MSI TDR: Could you share some details on your vision for our readers?

Didem ARAL: Ever since we were founded, we have been an export-oriented company. As everyone knows, a company cannot sustain itself just with the internal market in our sector. As such, we create 5-year projections, with many people contributing to them, from Members of our Executive Board to consultants that are experts in their field. We prepare all our R&D, design, production, and marketing strategies based on these projections. We then follow our strategies consistently and closely. Our staff members come into play at this stage. The upper management determines the vision and strategy, however, without a staff to follow them, they are of no use. As such, we created various departments with very talented people. Our departments work harmoniously, and no one gets in each other’s way. With this vision, we were able to become a company that has 75 percent of all its revenue from exports and a company that exports 80 percent of all Turkish pistols that do get exported.

All our efforts are a part of this vision. None is based on luck, be it a lucky bid or a fortunate project. We were able to learn from the bids we did not win, for example, to be in our current position.



Export Performance for SYS’ in 2021

Export revenue: $103 million 
Total number of countries exported to: 32
First time countries exported to: 6
First time countries:
       -Brazil
       -Guyana
       -Mali
       -Papua New Ginea
       -Serbia
       -Togo

Governmental organisations added to clientele: 8
Total weapons exported: 327.000
Prominent products in 2021:
       -CANiK M2 QCB heavy machine gun
       -CANiK SFx RIVAL competition pistol
       -CANiK METE SFx service pistol
       -CANiK METE SFT service pistol
       -MECANIK brand accessories
       -MECANIK brand tactical textile products
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CANiK METE SFT

MSI TDR: Could you please give us an example on learning from the bids you did not win?

Didem ARAL: Of course, CANiK TP9 METE is one the best examples I can give you. Our METE model that won the Turkey’s Authentic Domestic Pistol Project by the Presidency of Defence Industries (SSV) came about after a bid we competed by Danish Police, years before Turkey’s Indigenous Handgun Development Project was a reality. We were the runner up in that Danish bid, but we did not come back empty handed. This bid gave us a very significant vision. As such, when Turkey’s Indigenous Handgun Development Project was commenced, we quickly finished our preparations and came up with a prototype. Furthermore, with our vision, we even guided the end-user, and many modern features in our METE pistol were included in the project requirements. We of course take part in the bids in order to win them, but it is not required by law to win them all. The important thing is learning the right lessons. A famous quote by Nelson Mandela says, “I never lose. I either win or I learn.” We, as SYS, always advance with this in mind.

Our most prominent products were the SFx RIVAL competition pistol and models from our new service pistol family, METE, SFx and SFT to be precise, in this regard. We also exported our MECANIK brand accessories and tactical textile products for the first time in 2021. We received very positive feedback on the products I have just mentioned, even though our sales abroad commenced towards the end of the year. They actually gained so much momentum after launching so that we believe 2022 will bring much larger sales volumes for these.

Close to Users

MSI TDR: You mentioned having a finger on the pulse of your users. Can you explain this a bit more?

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CANiK METE SFx

Didem ARAL: The key factor in this is knowing and understanding our target demographics, especially in a sector like ours. Marksmanship hobbyists and pistol users have some similar habits, like enjoying outdoors activities, tactical clothes, quality coffee and meat-based meals. Whether the person in question is a man or a woman, it is like this. The target demographics for CANiK brand pistols and MECANIK products is these very people. We are a part of this community, this culture, and taking the pulse of the market is not difficult for us.

Innovative Strategies for Tough Markets

MSI TDR: You mentioned you were finally able to enter Brazilian market after a very intense struggle. Share some details with us if you can?

Didem ARAL: Yes, this was one of our achievements in 2021 and we are proud of it. We have been trying our best to sell to this country, the home country of one of our biggest rivals, Taurus. We even competed in a large bid by Brazilian Armed Forces, but as I said, Brazil is the birthplace of Taurus and as such, this bid was advancing slowly and painfully for us. In addition, this market is a very different one compared to the rest of the world. As such, we saw we couldn’t be as successful as we wanted by just our product quality. We developed innovative marketing strategies to deal with that. For example, we focused on selling retail first rather than winning a bid by armed forces to enter the market. After all, people purchasing pistols from firearms sellers include military personnel or police members. We discovered we could introduce our quality products to the populace like this. Another difficulty this market provided was our target demographic not speaking English, mostly. This led us to do all our marketing activities in Brazil in Portuguese. At the end, our strategies bore fruit, and we did our first delivery to this country.

MSI TDR: Apart from Brazil, which countries met with your products for the first time in 2021?

Didem ARAL: I can list these five countries as Guyana, Mali, Papua New Guinea, Serbia and Togo. We exported pistols of various models to all these countries. In addition, we will be exporting our CANiK M2 QCB heavy machine gun to Togo, while our efforts continue to open our first CANiK Store abroad, in Serbia to be precise.

MSI TDR: What kind of products gained prominence in your export efforts, if any?

Didem ARAL: Our most prominent products were the SFx RIVAL competition pistol and models from our new service pistol family, METE, SFx and SFT to be precise, in this regard. We also exported our MECANIK brand accessories and tactical textile products for the first time in 2021. We received very positive feedback on the products I have just mentioned, even though our sales abroad commenced towards the end of the year. They actually gained so much momentum after launching so that we believe 2022 will bring much larger sales volumes for these.

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SYS provides maintenance training aimed at the end-user within its CANiK Academy brand. CANiK Academy’s activities support SYS’ export efforts.

Another important development for us was our first deliveries of our .50 Cal. CANiK M2 QCB heavy machine guns to foreign users. As our priority is on our domestic users and their needs, we made deliveries in small volumes of our M2 so far, however, as we get ready to complete the deliveries for our domestic users, we will start delivering for our foreign clients rapidly.

Many of our competitors around the world deliver the weapons and leave in their export projects. On the other hand, we also consider long term needs of our users even in business development stage. For example, which kinds of spare parts will be needed, which gauging tools can be offered to ease their maintenance processes, what kind of maintenance training will increase their efficiency in this regard, are some of the questions we ask ourselves.

CANiK M2 Will Lead to Integration Projects

MSI TDR: How did CANiK M2 effected on your export efforts?

Didem ARAL: This weapon opens many new horizons for us, but it is not only caused by a widened product gamut or us expanding to a new market. Pistols and machine guns, however different they are or aimed at different users, support each other. For example, we enter some markets with our pistols, and the user then wants to try our machine guns, or vice versa, some of our first contacts happen because of our heavy machine gun, then we are able to sell pistols too. Of course, CANiK M2 has pretty important advantages too. For example, it doesn’t contain any parts subject to the USA’s ITAR regulations, and as such, it can be easily exported to foreign markets. As we started the mass production of the weapon, we are now in a position to deliver very quickly after receiving orders.

CANiK M2 is a weapon that is also used as a part of various platforms, and as such, we are talking with our clients on integration projects. As you know, Unidef, one of our subsidiaries, provides important weapon integration services. We are able to offer both the weapon and projects aimed at integrating the weapon on land, sea or air platforms at the same time, giving us an advantage.

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Continued Relations a Must for Exports

MSI TDR: How did the pandemic affect your export efforts in markets other than the USA?

Didem ARAL: COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected our export efforts in all markets, except the American market. However, we used this time as an opportunity to strengthen relations with our local representatives in other countries and get to know them better, as we consider them as a part of our family. Relations in the export markets are built on trust, they are rather sensitive markets. As such, even though our project in relevant countries grinded down to a halt we continued our regular meetings. We were able to sow the seeds of many new projects in these countries and I believe we will enjoy the fruits of this particular labour in the near future. For example, we were doing our best to meet the needs of various organisations in Bangladesh for about 12 years. Our efforts paid off with the work of our local partners. As you know, CANiK is the national pistol for Bangladeshi Land Forces. We standardised this a few years ago. With a bid we won in March 2022 regarding 8 thousand pistols, we also entered the inventory of Bangladesh Police.

SYS has set up an integrated logistics department in its organisation and considers the maintenance needs of its users, producing spare parts and maintenance kits in line with said needs. The photographs present the company’s M2 Maintenance Kit (left) and gauging kit (right), able to be used on all M2 heavy machine guns around the world, not just the company’s own.

Integrated Logistics Support for Small Arms

MSI TDR: SYS is a company that also focuses on spare parts and training. Does this contribute to your exports?

Didem ARAL: Many users around the world suffer from not being able to find spare parts, being unable to reach relevant contacts or not being able to get training on the weapons they purchased from abroad. Many of our competitors around the world deliver the weapons and leave in their export projects. On the other hand, we also consider long term needs of our users even in business development stage. For example, which kinds of spare parts will be needed, which gauging tools can be offered to ease their maintenance processes, what kind of maintenance training will increase their efficiency in this regard, are some of the questions we ask ourselves. Our CANiK Academy brand, focusing on training, came about after a vision similar to this. We also set up an Integrated Logistics Department in our organisation, and we are the first Turkish small arms company to do so. I am sure our rivals around the world with a vision like ours are limited.

Export Target for 2023: $200 Million

MSI TDR: Can you give us some idea of export goals of SYS in 2022 and 2023?

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SYS managed to export MECANIK brand accessories such as MO1 (left) and MO2 (right) optical sights in 2021.

Didem ARAL: In 2022, our subsidiary in the United States of America, CANiK USA will have a new production facility operational. This facility will deal with production of models we would not be able to export to the USA, but we will be supplying some of the pistol parts even then. Our most important goal with this facility is producing without compromising on our famous CANiK quality. After we are sure the production quality is up to par, we will commence mass production.

As of March, the American market has been cooling down, and we are focusing our energy to other markets instead. We will be attending many international fairs around the world for this reason. Of course, our efforts will not be limited to just attending fairs in these countries.

In addition, the testing and acceptance processes of the projects we completed sales agreements for will continue in 2022 as well. As with 2021, the acceptance tests will include CANiK M2 QCB. We think the experience we gained in the pistol bids in these countries will give us an edge. We will also have a small surprise in the second half of 2022, regarding new products.

Numbers-wise, we will be growing our exports in 2022 and we aim to export more than $150 million again in this year. However, our great leap forward will come in 2023 as we predict pandemic conditions will fully cease. Our export target for 2023 is $200 million.

We would like to thank Didem Aral, Foreign Trade Manager at SYS for taking the time to answer our questions, and for providing us with such valuable information.

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