The first thing Tolga Toprak asked when Atlantic Business Magazine contacted him for an interview was whether he’d be able to cook us a meal of traditional food from Turkey, his home country.
It was an unusual request from a potential interviewee — and one we unfortunately had to turn down, being in a different province — but after talking to him about his career in tourism in Turkey and then in Prince Edward Island, and his vision for his Charlottetown-based business, PEI Car Rental, it made sense.
“We always become friends with our clients,” he says. “We don’t want to be a tool for them, we want to be part of their holiday, we want to be part of their adventure.”
Tolga Toprak and his wife and co-owner, Ozlem Toprak, have turned their office into a welcoming space, where they chat, serve tea and help their clients plan their trips.
“Of course, if they are in a rush, we don’t keep them in the office,” Toprak says.
It’s how they stand out from the big companies like Budget or Avis, he says. And really, as the only local car rental company in town, and with an office right downtown in the Delta Prince Edward by Marriott as opposed to a desk at the airport, Toprak thinks of PEI Car Rental as being in an entirely different lane than the bigger players.
Tourism in Turkey
Toprak was a manager at Avis Car rental before he and Ozlem opened their first business, Akustik Tourism Centre, in Turkey in 1998. The company offers car rentals, travel bookings, adventures and even tours on a wooden yacht. Their second company focused mostly on tourism transportation options and then five years ago, they got into the restaurant business with a share in a fish restaurant.
Toprak says he grew up in Turkey hearing stories about Canada and America and the opportunities therein. “It just became a dream, coming over to America or Canada,” he says. When he and Ozlem had kids — a son and a daughter — he knew he wanted them to be international and to have experience growing up in different countries. So four years ago, he and his family arrive in Vancouver, as tourists. They liked it enough to stay for a year; the kids even went to a local school.
But they hit a snag: getting paperwork processed for residency was a long wait in British Columbia. Looking around at other provinces, they found the wait to be much shorter in Prince Edward Island. They also found something they knew they could work with: a thriving tourism industry.
“We came over … and we found a great location to establish the company,” he says. “And we found a beautiful house, which is only ten minutes away from where we are located right now, and we are happily living for the last two and half years now.”
The Toprak’s companies are still going strong in Turkey. In fact, five months ago, they became shareholders in a fourth Turkish business distributing supplies to hotels.
Being downtown is key
It hasn’t always been easy: being in a completely different country with a completely different culture can be tough, and Toprak says he and Ozlem are still learning every day. But they’re happy and PEI Car Rental is growing.
The fleet began with 18 cars in 2018 and grew to 37 in 2019. Tolga says he’s planning to expand to 60 or 70 cars by the end of this year.
He credits his success both to the experience he and Ozlem create for their clients, but also to their location in the hotel downtown.
Each summer, cruise ships carrying thousands of tourists pull into the Port of Charlottetown, a short walk away from his business. Many come in for a chat and to rent a car, he says. The Delta Prince Edward hosts a lot of corporate conferences, too, he says, and that brings in a lot of business.
“You won’t believe it, but even in the wintertime, we cover our costs,” he says.
In the future, he’d love to have a bigger company or local dealer partner with him or invest in the company. But even if someone comes along and buys the company outright, he and his family would likely stay in P.E.I. at least until his daughter finishes high school.
“We are so happy and the lifestyle is so easy … we are very happy, generally,” he says.