Three generations since the initial Galea family members’ enterprising days in Valletta, today, Oxford House is managed by grandson Marco Galea and his team of 70 employees. Marco’s philosophy lies within the same strong family values it began with, alongside a focus on customer service and support.
Oxford House is a family success story in all senses. Not only was there the amicable takeover by the ambitious university-educated son who was truly passionate about the industry in 2018, but the result is what many in a family business could only romanticise about. This is the story of a successful CEO making strategic decisions to keep growing the company, while his retired father welcomingly drops by from time to time for a cup of coffee and a chat, which often features solicited, sound advice.
The company expanded from the first tubular steel furniture manufacturer in Malta to one of the island’s first factories, followed by the importation of small household appliances and white goods. In the mid- 80s, the operations were incorporated into a limited liability company under its current name, Oxford House Ltd, and the furniture manufacturing and importation continued throughout the decade.
More expansion took place in the 90s with office furniture, until the new products eventually replaced the steel furniture completely. Thanks to the foresight of the management at the time, the company continued to diversify and remain ahead of the curve until the company became the national representative for Bosch domestic appliances, with a major showroom expansion (1,600 square metres on four floors) further consolidating the business. The company now deals exclusively with international flagship brands, prioritising importation, retail, distribution, and support.
Since 2010, the family shareholders had an understanding that in the near future there would be a shift in the running of the company and, eventually, in 2018, Marco Galea acquired the company. He hit the ground running upon his takeover and implemented an immediate restructure.
Marco ascertains that there’s no secret to the company’s success. “I am open to my management team, and in turn, they are open to their teams. Our philosophy is to discuss and explain the overall vision so that everyone is on board. We sell quality products and offer great service and support. This has helped us build a very strong reputation, giving us leverage over the competition. If we don’t believe in it, we don’t offer it.” The quality of the company’s products paired with impeccable service through its strong collaborations with reputable suppliers (Bosch, Steelcase, Nobilia and Dorelanbed, among others) has allowed for a uniquely efficient, quality customer experience.
Marco has always deemed customer service highly important. “Anyone can import appliances,” he says, “the trick of the trade is how the company supports customers after their purchase. It’s not a profitable department – we have about 15 employees in this division, and we don’t make a profit from it – but it supports a very successful business, so it’s paramount.”
Marco’s challenges lie in the constant scaling needed for the business, human resources, the current economy, and navigating the turbulent macro environment. The CEO shares that it’s an ongoing effort to keep up with the growth of the business – from constantly improving the warehouse to making processes more efficient. Even though the company is fortunate to have staff that have been employed for very long – some for over 30 years – HR remains an ongoing battle, with a particular, constant need for skilled technicians.
However, Marco makes a point of focusing more on what he enjoys about his role rather than its challenges. “I thoroughly enjoy leading people and seeing my vision come to life with a great team to support it. I love creating and strategising. Beyond that, I always have, and likely always will, enjoy meeting people daily.”
As with almost every sector, the appliance and home interior retail landscape has transformed tremendously since the rise in popularity of online shopping. “Many people today come to the showroom knowing the product they want based on their online research,” Marco explains. “Here we’re lucky to represent the brands we do, as it makes it easy to provide the avant-garde products that are often requested. This kind of challenge is not easy, but I enjoy learning in the context of this evolving field of marketing, while innovating at every level of our operations to stay ahead of the curve.”
When challenges arose in the macro environment since the onset of the pandemic, Marco adopted an introspective approach and turned his team’s focus on understanding the company’s strengths and weaknesses. And while others were laying off staff to keep their heads above water, Marco worked against the trend and hired more people to reinforce their product offering. It was a bold and risky move but it has paid off, with the company now reaping the benefits of the sacrifices that were made at the height of the pandemic. Beyond this, Marco encouraged increased empathy within management for it to trickle down throughout the company.
As a result of the pandemic, Marco has sought to focus his energy on ensuring that Oxford House is more targeted in its offering than ever before. “This period has shown us that diversification and scaling are imperative,” he says. “However, knowing your product and strengths within the market, and ensuring you consolidate what you are best at, has become the priority. Experience has proven that, although it’s risky, reinvesting in the company to improve at the most challenging of times can reap real rewards.”
Having said that, going forward, Marco admits that he is becoming somewhat conservative when it comes to major business moves. He shares that he has learnt to be more analytical and cautious, preferring to err on the side of caution in the current economic climate.
Nevertheless, while he may be cautious, the CEO can’t conceal his optimism. He admits that there was a huge silver lining to the pandemic in that people re-prioritised their home and living environments. They invested in their homes more than ever before – “out of necessity or pure boredom” – which was hugely advantageous to Oxford House and others within the industry.
Marco believes that, over the past year, certain luxuries have become a commodity, as consumers have begun to truly appreciate the comforts of being at home. He sees the appliance and home interior retail sectors changing over the course of the next five years. “More than ever before, people want homes they can entertain in, to build connections in, and to appreciate family in. Customers have become a lot more detail orientated and are leaving no stone unturned in that regard.”
Moving forward, Marco intends to invest heavily in the company’s digital offering, as well as to drive home ‘green’ as much as possible. “We are gauging the feedback of our end users and trying to understand what works and what needs to be improved through constant A/B testing. This is how we plan to stay ahead of the curve. Customer experience is key – online and in-store. Who knows, we might end up having a storefront on the Metaverse in a few years!”
In fact, Oxford House recently redesigned its website, to improve its online offering. “Where eCommerce is concerned, we have invested to improve our digital storefront. However, things are always evolving, and we plan to continue to build on the groundwork we have set out in tandem with our redesign.”
As to the future of Malta’s appliance and home interior sector, the CEO is confident that it is still going strong. “Despite the challenges I’ve mentioned, much like us, our suppliers have focused their energy internally to innovate, bringing us new product offerings. This will help our positioning within the market. If we continue to invest, there are opportunities all around. If we look at the market and continue to evolve with it – facing and adapting to our new realities – we will find even more opportunities.”
This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2022 – an annual high-end publication bringing together some of the country’s most influential business leaders.
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