Addicted To Innovation
Terry Town’s Sy Ereren engineers product solutions that solve his customers’ challenges
The Turkish people are known worldwide for their warm hospitality as well as their high-quality cotton. So what better business for Turkish native Sy Ereren to start than Terry Town, a company that supplies towels, blankets, robes, and spa and resort gift items to the promotional products industry? Nothing promotes warm memories more than soft towels that remind us of summertime at the beach, and cozy robes help us relax and unwind.
Raised in Istanbul, Ereren earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering from Bosporus University in Istanbul. He then earned a master’s degree in biomedical engineering from Northwestern University before starting Terry Town in 1988. He moved Terry Town from Anaheim, California, to San Diego in 1996. His wife, Sebnem, whom he met at his sister’s wedding reception, also works at the company in merchandising. Their son, Alp, who is studying international conflict resolution at San Diego State University, works at Terry Town part time as a sales executive. Beril, his daughter, is the only family member not working at Terry Town; she earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from UC Santa Cruz and works at Genentech.
While Terry Town didn’t start out in the promotional products industry, the industry proved to be a perfect fit for the company once Ereren discovered the marketing power of promotional products and figured out how the industry worked. Given his engineering background, Ereren is able to bring new techniques and products to fruition, all in the name of helping his customer’s clients market their businesses.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
I enjoy playing tennis and reading. I am a member of the San Diego Tennis and Racquetball Club and compete in the men’s doubles. I like reading fiction. The last book I read was All the Light We Cannot See by Antony Doerr. It is an epic war novel about lives torn apart during World War II.
Who or what has had the greatest influence on your career and why?
Chip Harlow, my college buddy from Northwestern University, has helped me every step of the way while making Terry Town the best towel, robe and blanket supplier in the promotional products industry. Chip had already started and sold a very successful intensive care unit monitoring manufacturing company and retired at a rather young age. He offered his unwavering support and mentoring without expecting any compensation or favors. I guess the tuition I paid for studying at Northwestern was a very good investment!
What do you enjoy most about your work?
The exceptional company culture we collectively created at Terry Town. I take great pleasure in working with courteous coworkers who thrive on providing best quality products and customer service to our distributor partners. It was never Terry Town’s goal to become the largest towel, robe and blanket supplier in our industry. We just focus on being the best.
What was your first job, and what lessons did you learn?
My first job was working for a company that performed fuel efficiency testing for car manufacturers and oil companies in Anaheim. I worked on designing fuel economy measurement instrumentation and evaluating emission measurement instrumentation for the EPA. While performing my duties, I had the opportunity to interface and work with many diverse groups of people, from auto mechanics to oil and automotive company executives, and I participated in establishing ASTM procedures for fuel economy testing. I learned people skills that enabled me to interface with people of diverse backgrounds.
What was your first job in promotional products and how did it come about?
Before Terry Town, I started another textile company with a partner. While supplying robes and towels to department stores, we were having challenges in finding quality towel mills. Therefore, we decided to start a towel mill in Turkey that enabled us to gain vast experience in towels and the textile industry. When my partner and I had differing ideas on our company’s growth plan, I decided to start Terry Town. In the early 1990s Terry Town was a robe and towel supplier to major retailers such as Lord & Taylor, JCPenney, Nordstrom and Costco. Our first introduction to the promotional products industry was exhibiting at the PPAI Expo in 1998. Since we were used to generating majority of sales at trade shows, we were very surprised when our sales people came back from the PPAI show without any orders. However, we quickly discovered how great the promotional products industry is and made it our primary focus.
What motivates you in business and in life?
I think I am an innovation addict. I continuously try to improve the quality of our existing products and look for innovative ways to embellish for better branding because every innovative product or embellishment process Terry Town comes up with brings a solution to our customer’s problem or challenge. Terry Town pioneered edge-to-edge sublimation printing on towels and blankets in our industry. Our sweatshirt hoodie robes, sweatshirt beach bags and sherpa-lined sublimated faux mink blankets are few of the new items that are unique to Terry Town.
What is your greatest professional accomplishment?
Bringing together a fine group of professionals who are dedicated to quality, customer service, and making a difference in our industry with innovative products and embellishment techniques.
What advice would you give to an industry newcomer?
Learn as much as you can early in your career in this industry. Work hard and learn from the mentors around you—learn from their experiences, successes and failures. This will help you get farther faster, and don’t forget to always take care of your customers. Both distributors and suppliers want to work with partners that they can trust.
Julie Richie is associate editor for PPB.