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Forming a legacy that stands the test of time

1st Shop in Msida

I’ve always been very drawn in by the values of tradition and legacy.  The Maltese are well known for their entrepreneurial spirit and family businesses still have a strong foothold in the local economy. Family business does not necessarily mean small or part-time businesses. To me it has come to mean tradition, personal service, flexibility and pride, brought on by the desire to pay tribute to the legacies left by our ancestors and founders of these businesses.

I recently paid a visit to tappintomalta partners FORM, who, in my eyes, fit the bill perfectly as far as my definition of a family business goes.  I sat down with Philip Galea, one of the company owners to find out a bit more about how the company maintains its standards and values in today’s highly competitive home furnishing market in Malta.

I started by asking Philip about FORM’s reputation for great service. He jumped straight in without hesitation, clearly passionate about his beliefs.  “When it comes to service one should always look to companies that have a track record. Those who survive in business don’t always owe it to just a product. It’s a combination of brand, product, service and customer experience. The sales experience is beautiful.  Customers appreciate the time and effort we put in to explaining what’s inside a mattress or a pillow.” Philip still retains responsibility for the bedding sector of the company.  “I can’t tell customers which is the best mattress, but I can suggest which is the most suitable for them. We like to offer services that really help our customers out, but we don’t advertise everything we do because we look at our customers individually and tailor our service to suit their needs.”

“I love to get so involved” says Philip, “because I have always been hands on in the business, even as a young man at university.”

Where it all started

“My father started the Dunlopillo franchise in Malta in the late 1940s, and he knew his business well but decided not to exploit his knowledge to grow beyond what he could handle.

“Even back then we were operating at the high end. Dunlopillo mattresses were synonymous with quality and the most expensive in Malta till the 1990s. At the time my father started importing them they were the most advanced bedding products on the market. It wasn’t easy introducing something so much more expensive than all the alternatives, especially in post-war Malta. But there was a good circle of people who appreciated the benefits of healthy sleep and wanted comfort.

Form - Interview with Philip Galea - Dunlopillo

“Back then we just had 2 staff and no delivery vans. I remember helping with deliveries in our family car with mattresses and divans strapped to the roof.

“My generation recognised the potential growth in the business started by our father. We believed that the business could be opened up in a 100 different ways. Because we had belief in ourselves we were always looking at how to grow the business. Our first breakthrough was building our first armchair which was incredibly well received. We also made improvements to our first shop and put the armchair on display. Our customers liked it and started asking for sitting room sets.  We did everything manually back then, cutting, stitching and all of this with the means and few skills we could muster. My brother Paul developed this line, which for many years remained the backbone of the business.

Form - Interview with Philip Galea - 1st Shop in Msida

“I spent my summer holidays at the Dunlopillo factory in England and absorbed so much during that time. This is where I learnt real respect for the manufacturing process.

“This is where my passion comes from!” and this passion is so evident listening to Philip speak.  I am so easily transported back through his vivid description of eager youngsters stitching mattress covers together and reorganising their father’s shop-front.

With time, more refinement started to emerge as consciousness grew. “At university I met people who were more mature than me, who were into the arts, the museum scene and the theatre. From here I broadened my education and developed an appreciation for art and design and started looking at the work of famous designers: and this left its mark. I took on Homer’s famous line ‘to be the best, superior to the rest’ and made it my mission statement.”

What we do today?

This interest in design, aesthetics and culture was probably the catalyst Philip and his siblings needed to transform their mattress manufacturing business into a fully-fledged home furnishing emporium.

“Today I would say that I am less absorbed in the running of the business, but as passionate about the sector as ever before.

“I feel that we have built up the expertise to interact with the representatives of the brands we represent with full knowledge about their products, because we were industrialists as well as shop keepers and craftsmen. The passion we have at FORM today has been built step by step in line with self-education and appreciation for style as well as form. We are able to recognise trends and move with them.

For those of you who thought that FORM simply imports all their furniture brands from overseas, you and I both thought wrong. The legacy of the industrialist lives on! “Bedsides sofas, mattresses and pillows we still produce a good amount of beds today. We make them to order. The largest we ever built was 240 x 240cm. We believe we can make any kind of bed the client wants. We also make customised sofas and special commissions. We made all the sofas in the lobby of the Westin Dragonara Resort just a few years ago, and we can come up with a long list of projects that were undertaken by our skilled craftsmen in the recent past. I love to get involved with our carpenters and upholsterers to design frames and fittings for these custom jobs. We call our factory a workshop because we are making one-offs like craftsmen would. I like to follow a project every step of the way to prevent any pitfalls and avoid them.

“Apart from our own quality beds and mattresses using materials from all over, we do still import some mattresses, but we ensure that even those are great quality. We specify what they are made of.”

How we select brands

“Yet even with the brands that FORM does import today, selection is made with care and careful scrutiny. Whilst we believe that keeping an eye on what the competition is doing is important, our criteria when selecting what to sell is never a reactive one.

“What we have here is what we want. For example, we have Natuzzi because we believe that it is a brand that customers want. It stands for good quality, pleasing design, comfort and achievable pricing. We have brands that we believe in.

Form - Interview with Philip Galea - Form and Natuzzi Store

“We were late coming into the kitchen sector. We had had a relationship with our current supplier for years before we decided to take them on. When we were ready to start selling kitchens, he was more than happy to sell to us immediately.”

 What does the future hold?

With the third generation of the Galea family now involved with the business, forward is very much a direction they are looking in. “In future we would like to add one or two very high end luxury brands. We already have Rimadesio that is an amazing brand that works in glass and metal structures.”

History is a very important part of FORM becoming who they are today and they will always keep their history in mind when forging their plans for the next stages in this journey.

“We started from that little shop in Msida and my father never had much money to invest. But he educated us. And we were able to take it on and grow it ourselves…and we never looked back. “

FORM’s Partner Profile will give you more information about where to find their showroom and how to get in touch to discuss your furnishing requirements.

 


2 Comments

  1. Craig Lee says:

    I do not give praise lightly as Customer Experience is my field and I believe there is a huge effort required by most companies to improve in this area.

    I speak as a customer (unknown to the FORM team professionally).

    The FORM team are professional, caring and follow through! The real test of a GREAT company is the recovery process when things go wrong. This team came through with a level of personal attention I have not experienced in Malta before. Keep it up. It’s a differentiator.

    Craig Lee
    International Customer Experience Advisor, Coach and Speaker

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