Earlier this year, Joinwell and FXB, two of the most well-established and longest standing furniture companies in Malta, signed a historic merger agreement. As part of the agreement, Sebastian de Giorgio, Joinwell’s current CEO, and Joseph Borg, Managing Director of FXB, will join forces as Joint Executive Directors of the planned merged entities.
Starting our chat with a brief introduction to the pair, we learn that Sebastian’s background is in finance and FMCG. “I started working in my uncle’s business, Good Earth, doing the accounts at age 18, whilst studying for my ACCA,” he explains, recalling how the company would go on to open Brown and Rye, a boutique outside catering company called Fifth Flavour, and invested in a manufacturing company called Da Vinci, which produces traditional Maltese biscuits and frozen foods.
He moved away from the catering industry before COVID and was mainly focused on manufacturing and logistics at Good Earth and Da Vinci before taking over at Joinwell. “My arrival at Joinwell heralded the launch of a major restructuring which will see third generation shareholders take over and continue to grow the Joinwell legacy based on sustainability, innovation, and unparalleled service, which will include a number of partnerships starting with this merger with FXB.”
Joseph, meanwhile, has been working in the furniture sector since 1984, making next year his 40th in the industry. “It has been a period which has seen a lot of transformation,” he maintains. Having originally studied philosophy followed by management studies, Joseph has also served as director on the boards of the Malta Development Corporation (now Malta Enterprise), BOV and the Gozo Channel Company Limited (Chairman) over the years.
As can be expected, FXB’s Managing Director feels particularly close to the Gozitan business community and has represented them on the Federation of Industries (before it merged with The Malta Chamber) and as Secretary, Vice-President, and President of the Gozo Business Chamber. He is presently President of INSULEUR, the association which groups the Chambers of Commerce and Industry of the islands of the European Union.
Delving into the histories of the legacy companies going into the merger, Sebastian begins by describing Joinwell Group as one of the oldest furniture makers in Malta. “Established in 1947 amidst critical contracts requiring the repair of war damaged doors and apertures, it was founded by George Galea and his brothers Louis and Joseph, growing from a small joinery shop to an industrial set-up manufacturing both contract and licensed furniture, from the likes of G-Plan in the ‘60s to, more recently, entire fit-outs of superyachts,” he maintains.
In the 1960s, the Galea brothers were joined by Maurice DeGiorgio, Sebastian’s grandfather, who was responsible for engineering the manufacturing license for the famous G-Plan brand. “This kick-started Malta’s industrial design and furniture manufacture industry, with the company producing rare and iconic pieces which still represent the best of local craftsmanship,” he continues, noting that during this exciting and prosperous time, Joinwell commissioned architect Richard England to design what is now remembered as the ex-Joinwell showroom, an iconic building in Tower Road, Sliema.
From there, the company grew rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s, undertaking the production of pioneering furniture brands like E.Gomme Ltd and Bevan Funnell. Then, following a dip in the 1990s as demand for locally manufactured furniture was replaced by imports – which Joinwell tackled by linking up with some of the best European furniture brands and ramping up commercial and marine contracts and bespoke commissions – the group went on to move their high street showroom to their 15,000 sqm factory site in 2006. Also housing a furniture showroom, homeware shop and administrative and design offices, the new shop-in-shop then featured a variety of well-known imported brands including Vitra, Molteni, Dada, PoggenPohl, Rolf Benz and Villeroy & Boch.
FXB, meanwhile, finds its roots in the late 1800s, when Joseph’s grandfather, Francis, began to operate a wood workshop in Gozo, which lasted until the end of World War II. “From then onwards, my father Francis Xavier and his brother George took over, enlarging the workshop twice in Victoria before building their first factory in Xewkija Industrial Estate in 1970,” Joseph explains, adding that this included investment in new machinery which heralded the industrialisation of FXB’s furniture manufacture.
This was followed by a second factory at the Xewkija Industrial Estate, as well as venturing into export markets, initially with kitchen cabinet doors and fireplace surrounds in wood, and eventually into furniture for the home as well as the supply of hotel furniture. “We have performed substantial contracts abroad, notably in Libya, the Gulf States, France and Germany,” he explains.
Over the years, FXB naturally extended its customer base in a significant way in Malta, leading the company to consolidate its Malta presence with a showroom in Rue d’Argens, Msida, and a factory in San Gwann, before the showroom eventually moved to Mdina Road, Qormi. While all this was happening, the Group also developed several specialised companies, namely Techwood International, servicing the furniture trade, Econetique Ltd in the field of renewables, and most recently, The Bath Concept Ltd, furnishing tiles and sanitary ware.
And now, the two industry leaders are joining forces. On behalf of Joinwell, Sebastian maintains, “the decision to merge with FXB was really a no-brainer for us. The two companies share the same ethical values, and while FXB were looking for a succession plan, Joinwell were seeking a partner which would enable the increase of the width and depth of our product and services portfolio including bathrooms, tiles, air-conditioners, and solar panels. Furthermore, FXB are very strong in volume manufacture and have two large factories.”
Joseph is in agreement, noting that the two companies operate in the same sector with very little overlap but a lot of compatibility. “From the start of our discussions, it was immediately clear that Joinwell is very strong on the retail side, whereas FXB’s strengths centre on manufacturing and contracting. The merged companies would therefore produce a strong entity in the whole spectrum of the furniture and related industries,” he maintains, noting that they are already in the process of merging two showrooms into one and are currently planning the consolidation of the two Malta factories into one.
“Throughout this process, we are already reaping the benefits of giving our customers a more complete selection of products, ranging from kitchens bedrooms and other furniture to all types of doors and apertures, as well as bathrooms and tiles and air-conditioners and renewable energy products,” he says.
Now, consolidation of the whole organisation is front of mind for the Joint Executive Directors throughout 2023. Starting with a new showroom in Malta, an upgraded showroom in Gozo and four factories consolidated into two large ones, Sebastian also points out the opportunity for automation and IT systems for both factories.
“In the process of all this investment, we will also be looking into more sustainable business practices and working towards being more circular with our product portfolio, setting targets and goals to becoming carbon neutral in the not-too-distant future,” he explains, noting that the company is already working towards getting platinum leed certification with the new showroom. “The environment is something I am passionate about and I believe that, in general, more and more people are becoming conscious of their choices. People are growing more conscious about waste; they seek better value in what they buy and support sustainability solutions from companies that care about using the planets resources in a smarter way,” he continues.
“The business plans, complete with the vision, are in place,” Joseph adds. “The goal is not just the putting together of the existing, but the attainment of the next level of business and to become more of a complete solutions company for an even wider customer base. We have a good idea of what challenges we will face, but the truly positive engagement of our team to the merger fills us with confidence that we are well on track to meet these challenges and create even more opportunities.”