Alaa Cık’s journey began in the coastal city of Latakia, Syria, his hometown. He had many happy years running a chain of children’s shops with his family, but the escalating war spurred thoughts of a new beginning abroad. He found himself drawn to Izmir, Türkiye, a city with a similar climate and coastal location to his beloved Latakia. He made the decision to permanently relocate to Izmir alone in 2016 and open his company Ittihad Foreign Trade LTD, while his family kept business operations running in Latakia.
Alaa used his savings to begin importing goods from China and Korea. He confronted difficulties in running a business in Türkiye, however. The customs rules were challenging to navigate and he was hit with financial losses. Instead of giving up though, he made a strategic pivot from importing to exporting furniture, which ultimately led to the success of his business. He was able to adapt and find new opportunities.
Alaa’s entrepreneurial spirit and resourcefulness were on full display when he welcomed his first customer at his new store in Izmir. Despite having limited resources, he used his creativity and communication skills to make a lasting impression and secure an advance payment that helped him start collecting products from the market and grow his business.
“I only had 20 Turkish liras (<$2 USD) left in my wallet when I welcomed my customer at the office. I bought biscuits and tea for him that day. I was so scared because I didn’t have any money to pay my rent or for essentials.”
Alaa explained what he could do for this customer and he was convinced. Today, Alaa is proud to serve a diverse range of clients in 14 countries. Ittihad Foreign Trade, has grown to export furniture, ceramics and marble, and has ambitious plans for the future.
One of the challenges Alaa faces in Izmir is the lack of a local network of Syrian business people, but through Building Markets he has made new connections at networking events and learned how to attract the right audience with marketing training and mentorship.
“That’s why I got in contact with Building Markets. With their guidance, we can come together and achieve greater success.”
Alaa also exemplifies how cross-cultural partnerships, both professional and personal, have a big impact on success. Alaa’s in-laws, who are Turkish, have embraced him wholeheartedly and Alaa advises others to stay positive and not to believe the false notion that Syrians are not welcome in Turkish society. With support from both cultures, he hopes to be one of top exporter and construction suppliers in the region.
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