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Client focus is the key to a personal, local and automated future in logistics

A client-focused business model is the future of the logistics and industrial real estate industry, according to Joost Uwents, Co-CEO of WDP, the Brussels based, Euronext listed logistics and industrial REIT.

Joost Uwents

Joost Uwents has been a director since 2002 and Executive director and CEO since 2010. Together with Tony De Pauw, he constitutes WDP's management team. He is a commercial engineer and holds an MBA. He is also an independent director of Xior Student Housing and Unifiedpost Group.

Client service, he explains at the European Public Real Estate Association’s 20th Anniversary Annual Conference hosted in Madrid, has been vital to the success of WDP, which has built its foundations on a client-first ethos since it began trading 20 years ago.
“Once, we were a start-up; now we are a scale-up, and we are ready for further growth,” says Uwents. “We stick closely to our core strategy: to be a specialist in the development and investment of industrial and logistics real estate. Underpinning all of this is a clear and client-specific vision.”
For WDP, this means working with customers in partnership, helping them as they evolve and grow to ensure the company is constantly adding value to their activities. “We speak about clients, not tenants or occupiers,” explains Uwents. “By working together, we are helping our clients day by day, creating long-term value for them, which ultimately helps our shareholders. It is a win-win-win strategy.”
For Uwents, the arrangement must be beneficial to both clients and shareholders to ensure the business is run sustainably. And the figures reflect this. Approximately half of WDP’s growth comes from its existing client base, demonstrating how the business has grown in partnership with its client base; client retention rates are high.
The key to this is an ongoing dialogue between WDP and its customers, according to Uwents. “We are in close contact with our customers, not only at the time of a break in the contract, but during the entire roll-out of their business, helping them to grow further. This is a mutual benefit.”
“Our clients are part of a complex supply chain and we understand that operational excellence is important for them to continue to run their businesses profitably. So, we provide them with proper facilities management services as part of our offering and try to enhance our properties with innovative solutions to make sure that, for our customers, running their business well is as easy as possible.”
While this philosophy has always been the cornerstone of WDP’s business, this has not necessarily always been the case for the wider industry. However, working in partnership with clients is the only viable future for the industry, explains Uwents, because it is the only way that the industry, as a whole, can keep pace with the increasingly demanding, real-time expectations of consumers across the continent.

Warehouse in Veghel, Netherlands

Warehouse for wehkamp.nl in Zwolle, Netherlands

“In logistics, things are quickly changing, and it is consumers that are driving that change,” says Uwents.
Twenty years ago, logistics real estate was a small sector with few prospects for growth. For most businesses, logistics has traditionally been a way of simply storing goods ready for distribution. It is not something that CFOs wanted to invest in and, if anything, it has been an area where cost-cutting has been a priority. “But logistics service providers have changed their views and, as a result, there is a fundamental change in the way that the industry is regarded,” reflects Uwents. “We are more than simply a provider of warehouse space and a means to get the goods into the stores or directly at the customers’ front door.”
“Instant gratification and convenience are consumer-led trends that have absolutely exploded in popularity, having a direct effect on supply chain and warehouse organisation. Supply chains have, indeed, become more important due to the rise of, for example, same-day delivery. As a result, efficient distribution has become increasingly important, enhancing delivery times and customer gratification. Nowadays, a warehouse site is a key factor in this supply chain approach.”
And this has led to new opportunities for WDP to enhance its client experience, through the provision of ‘additional services’ that make operational excellence simpler, cheaper and more effective. For example, the company does not itself implement automation technology in its facilities; its customers do this. However, WDP provides future proof warehouse facilities, supporting the customers’ innovative warehousing implementations.
Digital energy monitoring systems are just one example of connectivity in WDP’s sites that have led to success. The system, which has been rolled out across many of its facilities, allows WDP to analyse energy usage data in real-time and optimise its use for clients. This contributes to their clients’ ESG delivery programs, streamlines costs and has been a factor in client satisfaction that has kept WDP’s occupancy rates so high. The monitoring system is one of the measures taken by WDP in supporting its ambition for a future carbon-neutral real estate portfolio.
Yet he remembers a time when the industry did not prioritise environmental measures. WDP was, in fact, one of the earliest to implement measures such as solar panels, but when this initiative began, it was merely a financial efficiency measure.
“Ten years ago,” says Uwents, “we started by putting solar panels on the roofs. At that moment in time it was a kind of financial engineering. There were subsidies available and it was a great opportunity for us.”
Ten years later, solar energy is no longer a financial engineering tool, according to Uwents, but instead, it has become an industrial logic and a statement of the company’s commitment to operational excellence, which has begun to be adopted more widely now. Clients can use the electricity that is produced from solar panels to optimise their operations and factor this into their plans for success.
“The world of logistics real estate has changed. It is no longer about providing a simple commodity: space. Working hand in hand with our clients and ensuring the success of their business any way we can is the most important factor to growing our own business,” says Uwents. “We pride ourselves on catering to the changing needs of our clients.”
And it is this enduring client-focus that has enabled WDP to achieve success over the years and continue to see the company go from strength to strength. WDP, which now holds a market capitalisation of nearly EUR 4 billion, is a listed company with a real estate portfolio of around 5 million m² of warehouse space that is spread over the Benelux, the Netherlands, France and Romania. The WDP growth plan for 2019-23 aims for a EUR 1.5 billion portfolio growth towards EUR 5 billion by 2023. The company aims for geographical expansion towards Germany (Nordrhein-Westfalen, Bremen and Hamburg) in a joint venture partnership with VIB Vermögen to unify its service, better serve the northwest region of Europe and capture all of the import opportunities coming into the area by rail and sea. For WDP, one of Europe’s most important logistics real estate REITs, the future is bright.