Eyüp Sabri Tuncer
Eyüp Sabri was born in 1898 in Banja Luka, now the capital of Republika Srpska, one of the autonomous constituent entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. When the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed Bosnia in 1908, his father Süleyman Agha and the rest of the family moved first to İstanbul, and then to İnegöl in the province of Bursa. For a while, Süleyman Agha tried his hand at agriculture, but his efforts did not pay off; in 1913 he opened a grocery below his residence, but this time his health worsened and he died shortly thereafter. Young Eyüp Sabri now had the full weight of his family on his shoulders; following the advice of their neighbor Hilmi Bey, he apprenticed himself to the chain of drapers Abranosyan. What he learned of commerce there and at his father’s store opened up new horizons for him. In 1916, he established a little drapery store in İnegöl’s covered bazaar, but when Bursa was occupied in World War I, he joined the army. The valor he showed as a private during the War of Independence earned him the İstiklâl Madalyası (Medal of Independence) in 1926.
The war was now over and life continued as before. Back in İnegöl, Eyüp Sabri Bey once again went into business in 1923. On 29 October that same year, his son Sabahattin was born. Both his family and his business were growing, and this seemed like an opportune moment to turn a new page. He sold the family home and moved to Ankara, the up and coming capital of the new Republic of Turkey. Taking advantage of the rapidly urbanizing and growing city, in 1927 he opened a new retail store of the kind known at the time as bonmarşe (from the French bon marché), i.e. a department store. It was situated at No. 46, Anafartalar Avenue, in a building named Sakarya Apartmanı that had been completed in 1923 and was owned by Nuri (Conker) Bey, a childhood friend and comrade-in-arms of Mustafa Kemal Pasha. Although one was a private and the other a commanding officer, Eyüp Sabri Bey and Nuri Bey remained close friends for many years.
The store carried the name of Eyüp Sabri Bey and offered a wide selection of items for domestic use. In addition to custom-made shirts, its primary line of business, the store sold hats, scarves, handkerchiefs, socks, leather suitcases, handbags, umbrellas, and other wares. It was best known for its shirts, however, so that the commercial yearbook Annuaire Oriental mentions it as a chemiserie on Adliye Sarayı Avenue. Next to ready-towear garments, Eyüp Sabri also sold perfumes, so that his shop was listed among perfume stores until 1930.
The “hat reform” of 1925, promulgated during the early years of the Republic, provided merchants with a new business opportunity, and the shelves at Eyüp Sabri overflowed with hats for both ladies and gentlemen. During a trip to İstanbul, however, our entrepreneur learned how to make eau de Cologne from a local perfumer and that changed his life and his family’s for ever. Sugar factories, at the time the mainstay of the Republic’s industry, had begun to produce alcohol as a by-product, and this paved the way for a new line of business. Eyüp Sabri Bey decided to go into the production of Cologne, a venture that would bring him great fame. Using imported essential oils, he began to produce and sell Cologne in 1933. His only competitor at the time was Ömer Nail in Ankara’s district of Ulus. Eyüp Sabri Bey’s products quickly gained a following, and queues began to form in front of his store. Bottles sent to the Presidential Mansion at Çankaya were offered to Atatürk’s guests, including Reza Shah Pahlavi who took a great liking to Eyüp Sabri Bey’s Cologne. An order for six bottles came from Çankaya; the bottles were meticulously packed and were soon off to the Palace of the Shah of Iran.
Eyüp Sabri also added vitality to Ankara’s commercial scene during the 1930s. Using unconventional promotional campaigns, he brought renown to his store as well as making his products into household names. His most important venture in this respect was a product catalogue. Printed as a brochure, the catalogue was left at doorsteps and mailboxes in order to popularize Cologne as a consumer item. Each catalogue contained a coupon for free Cologne, and customers were allowed to redeem them by choosing any one of twelve or thirteen kinds of Cologne. For many families, this experience made Cologne into an indispensable household item. The offer of free Cologne soon pushed demand for it above all other products sold at the store. A catalogue apparently printed in 1936 lists the business owners as the “Brothers Eyüp Sabri, Muharrem, and Mehmet Tuncer.” It lists hats, caps, shirts, neckties, collars, scarves, socks, pajamas, sweaters, gloves, bags, umbrellas, slippers, light footwear called şason (from the French chausson), and perfumes. The illustrations in the catalogue were all drawn by Eyüp Sabri Bey himself, who also designed a motto for each product. Thus, the catalogue ingenuously declared that “We aim to sell products with which our customers will be satisfied.”
Eyüp Sabri Bey went to great lengths to publicize his Cologne. These were unprecedented methods at the time. Not only would Cologne be sprinkled at cinemas and theaters and free samples offered, but he would personally carry barrels of the product to the Atatürk Forest Farm where he would address the public at the train station, describe his product, and offer free samples.
While Cologne was the product that set Eyüp Sabri apart from his competitors, the shortage of foreign currency during World War II led to limitations on the importation of foreign fragrances. This deprived Cologne producers of one of the most important ingredients, and Eyüp Sabri Bey’s store lost its main point of attraction.
Under these prevailing conditions, the enterprise turned its attention during the 1940s to garments such as pajamas, which could be produced with the help of family members. Commercial records once again mentioned Eyüp Sabri Tuncer as a seller of drapery, perfumes, hats, and garments. While the store’s street number changed a number of times, its actual location on Anafartalar Avenue —also known as Çocuksarayı and Adliye Avenue— remained the same. The most popular among the products marketed during the 1940s and 50s were custom shirts and pajamas. A fire damaged the store in 1942, but the dedicated efforts of family members, along with the popularity of Eyüp Sabri’s products, allowed the business the weather this adversity.
Eyüp Sabri Bey’s son Sabahattin Tuncer graduated from high school around this time, after which he attended the Faculty of Agriculture for three years. He then gave in to his father’s wishes, however, and took over the management of the firm under his father’s supervision. Foremost on his mind, as had been on his father’s many years earlier, was the production of Cologne. The business climate had changed and the postwar boom brought the family new prosperity. It is under these conditions that Sabahattin Tuncer began his own quest. While seeking to learn the subtleties of the trade, he met the chemist Vahe Karayan; he conducted some business with him, but what really opened his eyes was a book he found in Karayan’s library: Félix Cola’s Le Livre Du Parfumeur (1931). In it he found not only the formulae he needed but also the names of the foremost fragrance producers in Europe.
Sabahattin Bey wrote to foreign producers and asked for information about their products. After a long wait, he only received one reply, from the firm L. Givaudan. After alleviating his father’s concerns, he ordered a small shipment of fragrance and produced the first batch of lemon Cologne fairly inexpensively. This low cost allowed the brand Eyüp Sabri Tuncer to increase its value significantly. Low prices attracted customers, and the queue for Cologne grew once again.
Run by its founder and his two sons, the business was incorporated in 1961 as the unlimited liability company “Eyüp Sabri Tuncer & Sons.” The next task was to produce the fragrances locally. Sabahattin Bey traveled abroad to learn more on the subject, and in 1967 developed a new formula for his own lemon Cologne. In 1970 he converted a building on Işıklar Avenue in the district of Ulus into a factory where fragrances and Cologne were produced domestically. Sabahattin Bey took over the business in 1972 and decided, given that there were multiple partners, to convert Eyüp Sabri Tuncer into a joint stock company and go public.
Eyüp Sabri Tuncer has been a symbol of the city of Ankara. When Savaş Sönmez of the newspaper Cumhuriyet wrote down conditions for being a genuine Ankaralı (Ankara dweller), he mentioned “filling up with Cologne at Eyüp Sabri Tuncer.” Directions in Ankara are often given with respect to the Eyüp Sabri Tuncer store, to which reference is made as “Ankara’s Cologne seller.” Among the many fans of Sabahattin Bey’s ever-present Cologne was the popular singer Zeki Müren.
By the 1980s, Eyüp Sabri Tuncer’s eau de Cologne had become universally known throughout Turkey, one of the first brands that came to mind when mention was made of fragrances. What was left from the little store opened in the 1920s was not only a family legacy but also a business ethic. Everything was to be on record, taxes would be paid in full, customers’ rights would be respected, their satisfaction would be guaranteed, and it would never be forgotten that the store’s silent partner was the Republic of Turkey. These principles must have found favor with the state, for when the value-added tax was launched in 1985, one of the pilot establishments selected by the government was Eyüp Sabri Tuncer.
In 1994, Engin Tuncer took over management of the business from his father. The company stock, mostly held by family members, was consolidated. Like his father, Engin Tuncer had dreams; in particular, he wished to make the national brand international while at the same time preserving its classical products. Thus, the company has made inroads into both domestic and international markets with organic scents and self-care products such as EST 1923 and Perfume Jewels. With a century of experience, the name Eyüp Sabri Tuncer is a source of pride for both family members and the country.
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