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‘The dance’ takes Fastsigns to Malta first


Inside the Upper Barrakka Gardens, in Valletta, Malta.

Malta, a small archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea with a population of about 420,000 living on its only three inhabited islands, may not seem a logical target for international franchise expansion, but to Famalco Group it’s the perfect market to debut the Fastsigns brand before making the jump to Italy and Greece.

Since signing a master franchise agreement with Carrolton, Texas-based Fastsigns International in October 2017, Famalco Group, which has its headquarters in Attard, Malta, has been preparing to open its first store this spring. Ten locations in Italy and five in Greece will follow in subsequent years after, as Famalco’s business development director Hermann Mallia said, “We’ve been able to develop consistencies before entering larger markets."

"In a small market, you can adjust much more quickly, so that’s why we want to start in Malta,” said Mallia, who co-founded Famalco Group in 1994 with his brothers.

With an extensive portfolio of businesses ranging from Fruitland, an importer and distributor of produce, to property development, freight logistics and Focused Knowledge, the company’s media and marketing arm, Mallia touted diversification as one of Famalco’s greatest strengths. The company is also the master franchisee for Coldwell Banker and Century 21, and last fall launched Domino’s in Malta.

Describing the marketing and communications industry in the region as “fragmented—you don’t know who does what,” Mallia said Famalco Group identified Fastsigns as a holistic provider of services for the entire market. “We believe that the consistency being offered by Fastsigns is the best.”

Omar Gauci

Omar Gauci will help lead Famalco's push to bring Fastsigns stores into the  Mediterranean markets of Malta, Italy and Greece.

With 600 of its nearly 700 signage, digital media and graphics stores located in the United States and many major cities at capacity, Fastsigns is focusing more of its attention on international growth, said Mark Jameson, executive vice president of franchise support and development. That’s why when Famalco Group inquired about bringing the brand to its Mediterranean market Jameson thought it a logical move.

“This deal makes sense for us because we’ve been in the U.K. for a long time and this is a natural extension to grow in Europe,” said Jameson, who noted the agreement with Famalco is a continuation of Fastsigns’ strategy of leveraging its current international footprint to expand. “Malta, Italy and Greece have well-developed business markets and there’s opportunity for sophisticated applications of our products.”

Over the course of about eight months, a time period Jameson called “the dance,” Fastsigns and Famalco executives had dozens of calls and Skype conversations before Jameson met Mallia and others on the team in the U.K. to tour several stores before all convened again in Malta.

“Famalco operates lots of businesses, so I went there to see their operations and they are people who understand franchising, they understand what it takes to execute a concept,” said Jameson. Plus, the depth of interest by the entire Famalco management team was evident from the outset.

“They were as interested in the due diligence on us as we were on them,” continued Jameson. “That really says something about their commitment to making this a success.”

Mallia pointed to Famalco’s nearly 25-year history of developing successful businesses as an ever-present advantage when launching new ventures and said the business acumen and pool of resources Famalco has make him confident they’ll successfully execute the Fastsigns brand.

“The structure the group has developed has a centralized operating system and then that allows us to support each company,” explained Mallia as he called out human resources, finance and training as just a few of the shared services. “We have the entrepreneurial spirit and then the industry knowledge from Omar.”

“Omar” is Omar Gauci, the printing industry veteran Famalco hired as its Fastsigns team leader.

“My career started in the printing industry,” said Gauci. “That was some 20 years ago and signage is still in a very infant stage here so there’s much to offer with Fastsigns.”

Before Famalco finalized its franchise agreement, Gauci traveled to Texas where he met with Fastsigns CEO Catherine Monson and participated in “foundation classes” to learn everything from the brand’s sales and account management systems to the intricacies of its various production services. “We want to be the one-stop solution for all the visual communication needs,” said Gauci.

Unlike most franchised restaurant brands, which will tailor their menus in international markets to fit local tastes, Fastsigns keeps its menu of sign and graphics services the same at stores in the United States or outside it.

What does change is the marketing strategy and sales approach. In Saudi Arabia, messaging is in both English and Arabic while in Australia, where the brand operates as Signwave, the franchisee gets rid of the generic American corporate imagery and instead uses familiar, local brands and a quirkier approach to social media.

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