JOAQUÍN BERBEGAL

Spain 2021 | INDUSTRY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Joaquín Berbegal, CEO of Actiu, on the company's over 50 years of operations, the effects of the pandemic, and dealing with numerous export markets.

Founded in 1968 by Vicente Berbegal, ACTIU has become the leader in the design, manufacturing, and marketing of office furniture. What have been its main milestones during these 50-plus years?

At the beginning, the company was a small workhouse that manufactured furniture on demand. It produced all kinds of furniture and not just office furniture. In the 1980s, the company opened a new business segment with the advent of PCs and computers in the workspace. We started to specialize in office furniture, especially for software development and technology companies. Vicente Berbegal was at the time a pioneer. Starting from 2008, we completely focused on the office space, having a wide portfolio of different equipment for offices. In 2008, the recession hit, and we were severely impacted. We realized we had to invest in branding and look abroad to acquire new clients. We invested in our brand and sought to participate in foreign markets. Actiu has always been manufacturers, and that today has a particular importance at an innovation level. We do not seek to compete on costs; however, we have to remain efficient and also stay close to our clients.

What has been the impact of the pandemic on Actiu's operations, and what strategy have you implemented to mitigate it?

Our sector experienced a 37% fall in sales, while we personally experienced a 25% contraction of our business. The impact has been extremely significant. We have focused on our business structure in order to sustain our business, which we also did during the 2008 crisis. That allowed us to thrive and overcome the recession. The crisis will eventually pass, and we must prepare ourselves to be ready when the sector picks up. It is important to highlight that we have not carried out any ERTE layoffs. We have made some adjustments to our operations; however, in terms of our staff we have been extremely cautious. We are also accelerating many projects because they might be strategic in the future. As part of this strategy, we are developing products for some segments that might be key in the future. Despite the downturn, the pandemic can be an opportunity, and we have to be ready to remain leaders in our market. Actiu has been extremely strategic during its history, and all its profits have been reinvested into the firm. Financial solvency is one of our main assets, and fortunately we have an exceptionally solvent financial situation.

How is Actiu adapting to the new needs in a COVID-19 world, and are you seeking new market niches now that remote work is here to stay?

With the arrival of the pandemic, the first thing we did was to provide solutions so that people could work. Protective screens were some of the first products we launched. Second, we looked at how we could support our clients so they could ensure a safe return to work. Not all employees were returning to the workplace at the same time, so we issued guidebooks on how companies could arrange for this safely. One of our new strategies is to optimize working spaces by measuring the humidity, light, and CO2 emissions in order to provide a better understanding of the workspace for our clients. This is a project that we have advanced fairly well and is a disruptor for us. This is a new business segment and is highly aligned with the current needs of offices. We are part of an observatory on remote working, and this can potentially be an opportunity for us because the pandemic has not only generated additional needs but is also a challenge because individuals have to work at home under the same conditions as in offices. We are offering packages to our clients with certain conditions that can be passed on to their employees. We will also expand into the B2C segment, because we see demand and growing interest from that area.

Actiu exports to more than 90 markets. Where do you export the most?

The majority of our exports go to France, Germany, the UK, and Portugal. These are mature markets but are natural for us. We have a historic tie to Latin American markets and have great relations with the Arab region, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. In the last few years, we have strengthened our presence in Africa, and this has been special for us. There, we are focused on particular products such as hospitals and universities. Exports are important for us, though in the coming years we will focus on our natural markets. Spain represents approximately 50% of our revenues, and around 50% comes from abroad. We are targeting a 35%-65% ratio in the coming years; we would like to further expand our operations abroad. In Africa, there are many projects financed by the UN or the EU, and they require safe products and a safe working system, like those that Actiu offers. We have extensive experience in healthcare and education infrastructure. We not only sell furniture and equipment, but also advise our clients by sharing our knowledge and expertise.

What are your priorities for 2021?

We have to advance the digital transformation process. We are currently focused on the new MDF and derivatives manufacturing plant in El Tablero, which has been an investment of over EUR10 million. This has been a highly automated business. Additionally, we are in the process of implementing a new ERP system through SAP. The pandemic has been an excuse to accelerate our digital transformation process. We do not want to lose our hallmark as a family business. Although our MDF and Derivatives plant in El Tablero is already operative, there are some machines that require more time, so it will be fully operational by the end of 2020.