Selling Thabo’s Antiques to Italy

1 December 2005

KwaZulu-Natal antiques dealer and furniture maker Thabo Mhlongo has signed a R230-million deal with top Italian-based furniture manufacturer Fratelli Costantini to produce quality furniture for the international market.

Mhlongo (43) owns Thabo’s Antiques, a well-known furniture shop in Howick on the Midlands Meander. The investment comes a few months after the formation of the KwaZulu-Natal Furniture Industry Cluster to help grow the local industry.

The joint venture will be known as Thabo’s Designs Fratelli Costantini, with a 60:40 shareholding split in favour of Mhlongo.

Thabo’s Antiques was established in 1983 and sells some 1 000 restored furniture pieces a month. The first phase of the new joint venture is the construction of buildings and an assembly plant at a cost of R30-million. Thabo’s Designs will sell furniture to wholesalers, not to the public.

“We expect to break even with R1.5-million after three months,” Mhlongo told Business Report. Thabo’s Designs will initially use hardwoods such as teak, mahogany and beech imported from Yugoslavia, France and Romania, and will look at sourcing wood from Mozambique at a later stage.

“It is good to have formed a partnership with a family that has been in the trade for a while. It will lead to job opportunities in my area,” Mhlongo said.

Choosing a stable government
With a monthly turnover in Italy of R56-million, Fratelli has been in the furniture business for 55 years.

Company owner Giuseppe Constantini said they were impressed by Mhlongo’s professionalism and did not doubt that the partnership would produce “durable, super quality” furniture well able to compete internationally.

He said that with a stagnant market in Europe, his company had been looking abroad to diversify and expand. Yugoslavia, Romania, Czechoslovakia and China were considered, but Costantini felt their governments were too unstable, according to Business Day.

“Then we approached the Trade and Investment South Africa office in Milan and were referred to Trade and Investment KZN, which helped us identify a local partner,” he told the newspaper.

International markets
Once Thabo’s Designs Fratelli Costantini is established locally, the company will investigate exporting furniture to America, Russia and the rest of Africa.

“Trade and Investment KZN is really working hard to help local businesses,” Mhlongo said.

KwaZulu-Natal Finance and Economic Development MEC Zweli Mkhize said the deal showed that trips undertaken by the government to Europe and other countries were starting to bear fruit.

“We are glad the Constantini family has chosen to do business in KwaZulu-Natal and, more importantly, that they selected an emerging entrepreneur as their partner,” he said. reporter