Painting the town red
One company, ROCS, realised that there was only a brief window of opportunity and has taken over the ground-floor outlets, its eye-catching red decor making sure that the presence of its various actitivies did not go unnoticed.
"It is great location as it is surrounded by car parks; it is located very close to Valletta but without its bustle; and because we are on our own, we are very prominent," director Rachel Vella said.
The mother company, which was later named ROCS after the family's initials, started off in Mellieħa some 40 years ago, offering catering and accommodation services to incoming tourists.
In 1994, it ventured into insurance and investments and rapidly became a leading intermediary for Middlesea, winning the top award at the insurance company's 25th anniversary celebrations.
After a few decades, the company expanded in 1997 to outgoing tourism, through a subsidiary called Directions. It has been Emirates' top passenger sales agent for the past eight years, drawing clients to Mellieħa from all over the island.
In 1998, Ms Vella built up quite a media presence through participation in various television shows, presenting travelogues. She was eventually offered a Sunday morning programme of her own by Public Broadcasting Services (PBS).
"We talked about what we could do which was new but which kept a link with travel and that is how Tista Tkun Int was born," she said.
The programme first aired in September 2000. Knowing its record viewership last year, it is hard to believe that the going was tough at first. But the team behind the programme realised that the key to success was to offer heart-rending stories.
"The programme was groundbreaking. We were the first to bring people from overseas for reunions, the first to offer a car as a prize on television. But the real key to the success of Tista Tkun Int is that the stories were so wonderful. Everything else is just an accessory," she said.
The subsidiary producing the programme, Timeline, became more and more professional and within three years it had eight editing suites and a steady cohort of sponsors and advertisers. By last year, it became the most ever viewed progamme in Malta. In spite of this, the programme was taken off the air last October after the producers decided to withdraw their application after failing to reach an agreement with PBS over commercial arrangements. Tista Tkun Int was the first to buy the airtime from PBS and sell it to advertisers.
"Unfortunately, they wanted more for the airtime than we were able to afford. Our advertising revenue may have been growing but so were our costs. We were constantly investing in more people and facilities. We were working round the clock. I think PBS did not fully appreciate the complexity of the programme," she shrugged.
There is no doubt that the end of the series was a blow but Ms Vella and her family (mother, father and brother) knew that you either roll with the punches, or get knocked down.
"The success of Tista Tkun Int rather overwhelmed the company's other activities. We realised that the time had come to re-focus on our other companies, which were doing very well but which had been neglected. We decided to rebrand them all under the ROCS name," she said.
"I have travelled extensively, which really opens your mind. I had regular contact with the parent companies of our sponsors and advertisers and this taught me a great deal about marketing and the importance of a professional approach," she said.
The end of Tista Tkun Int rekindled her desire to move into new areas, such as retailing. The first foray was the Polish cosmetic brand, Inglot, founded 40 years ago by the Inglot family. The brand has been opening stores at a breathtaking rate and has franchises throughout Europe, Canada, the Middle East and Australia.
"It was hard to persuade the owner that Malta would be a good place for them to open a franchise. But they were really impressed by the Sliema store, which opened in December and which is being managed by Stephanie Hodgkins," she said.
ROCS will soon open an Inglot outlet in Valletta and has at least three more planned.
"This was our first venture in retailing and since the experience was so positive, we are definitely considering other franchises," she said.
What about ROCS Media? Ms Vella pauses, for the first time in the interview.
"We have been approached by various organisations. There are a number of possibilities. But I think we will take a year off to focus on our other activities.
"Our mission is clear. We may start from scratch in a sector but we want to become the market leaders in everything that we do. We are very strong on business development.
"But every family business gets to the stage where it can only grow by delegating some of the work. We are very fortunate to have good managers that we trust implicitly. That is the challenge we face and, you know, I cannot wait..."