18 November 2020

Multi Netherlands is part of Multi Corporation, one of the largest companies in Europe and Turkey in the fields of asset management, property management and the development and redevelopment of shopping centres. Multi manages 15 shopping centres in the Netherlands. Hubert Stech, who also manages Multi Germany and Multi Belgium, took over the management of Multi Netherlands just over 18 months ago. He is a renowned real estate professional who firmly believes in Multi’s DNA: creativity.

Multi Netherlands put the flags out in late September when, after years of hard work, FORUM Rotterdam officially opened its doors, with around 64,000 m2 of shops, food & beverage outlets, offices and residential units. This is a major inner city redevelopment project in the heart of Rotterdam. Hubert Stech is enthusiastic about this outstanding performance. ‘FORUM Rotterdam has a multifunctional character, with a mix of shops, bars and restaurants, offices, homes and other facilities, such as fitness. This is how you turn a shopping area into a real destination, where there’s something happening at every hour of the day. We are experts at redefining and redesigning shopping centres allowing them to offer a mix of functions.’

How have you experienced the Covid-19 pandemic as a manager?

‘The pandemic has caused an unprecedented economic and health crisis. From minute one, we focused on pro-active and close communications with our partners and tenants. Our aim was to provide guidance and reassurance with regard to our commitment and the long-term partnerships we strive for, and to address the uncertainties many of our tenants and partners faced.

Ultimately, when running a business like ours, you have to look at the risks and opportunities. This experience will eventually help us to improve and grow. When the full extent of the COVID-19 crisis in Europe became apparent in March of this year, it was obviously frightening for lots of people. We invested in motivating and supporting our teams. Because Multi manages assets in 14 countries across Europe, including Turkey, we had to deal with a broad range of scenarios and responses to the COVID-19 outbreak from both local and national governments. We put together an international task force to coordinate the responses per country and to share best practices and lessons learned from right across the organisation. We have structured our business continuity plans, protocols and pandemic plans at country level, so each country was always in the right phase of the pandemic plan. On a country level, we worked closely with the local authorities and industry councils to make sure we received the information we needed on the details of local and national regulations firsthand and in good time. This enabled us to act quickly and responsibly for our stakeholders.

One of the most important lessons of 2020 is that digital technology has radically changed the lives of millions of consumers. We have to learn to think differently. We need to act and keep a close eye on consumer behaviour. We are continuously on the lookout for new solutions to keep our locations attractive and safe, so people will continue to visit our shopping centres.’

Following the debacle with V&D and the Dutch Hudson’s Bay operation, we can no longer count on the pulling power of anchor stores in shopping centres.

‘As long as I’ve worked in real estate, the complex world of retail has been subject to cycles. I firmly believe that in 10 years’ time, we will still be visiting city centres and shopping centres to buy products. Retail has to remain an attractive proposition. Look at the behaviour of young people: they look for places they can hang out and socialize with their friends. Retail will always be relevant because the physical experience of shopping is irreplaceable.

We will eventually see a recovery of strong retail brands. Zalando is opening more and more pop-up stores. Their Zircle retail concept in a Berlin shopping centre sells clothing via the Zalando Wardrobe mobile app. Consumers can also use this app to sell their second-hand clothes, in exchange for credits they can use in the store. Amazon has announced that it now plans to add physical stores in Germany, after opening stores in the US. This will help to attract new tenants, who will in turn attract new visitors and boost footfall.’

The last nine months have seen a lot of focus on rental contracts. How does Multi view its tenants? 

‘We see ourselves as a partner. We are not looking at standard problems, so we don’t provide standard solutions. We are close to our tenants and consult with them continuously. Keeping retailers to a 10-year contract is not flexible. I want to maintain our relationships with tenants, taking a long-term view. I firmly believe that when you act like a fair partner, people will trust you. ’

What is your goal for Multi?

‘Our job is to offer high levels of service and create value for our investors. We have all the necessary skills and disciplines in house to analyse an asset and to propose and manage sustainable improvements. In addition to active asset management, our services include leasing, marketing, centre management and finance and accounting. And we have our design agency TTDesign for redevelopments, renovations and architectural designs. We work in multi-disciplinary teams to draw future scenarios for, say, the repurposing of retail space or unused space into homes and offices, or sports or medical facilities. Investors like working with us because Multi is the most complete and integrated retail real estate platform and they know we can deal with every aspect of a project ourselves. They see the added value we can offer.

Another vital aspect of how we work is our transparency. Even during this crisis, we have proven the importance of a constructive and transparent approach with our stakeholders, and communicated on a daily basis regarding visitor numbers, shop closures and alternative solutions, informing and reassuring both visitors and asset owners.

Traditional marketing is now a thing of the past. The marketing for each shopping centre has to be tailored to its own target group. This is why we take an in-depth look at customer personas and their individual retail journeys, to identify potential marketing initiatives for each individual asset. We also made a conscious decision to include students in our marketing teams, to give us a glimpse into the minds of the consumers of tomorrow.’

You do not see yourself as a spreadsheet manager of square metres?

‘I’m totally service oriented. I think and act as an entrepreneur and a problem solver. This is how I motivate the team in the Netherlands to be the best they can be and make the most of the assets in our portfolio. It’s not our goal to create volume if we can’t manage it. We want to offer the best quality to help our investors grow. Over the past few years, this attitude has helped us to win dozens of new mandates to manage shopping centres, for investors such as Commerz Real, Allianz Real Estate, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse and Corestate Capital Group.’

Do you still have wishes for 2021?

‘Of course I have wishes. After I took over the management of the Netherlands in March 2019, I spent a lot of time optimising our assets and actively looking for new opportunities, new tenants and new ideas for existing assets. On top of this, we were very active on the market pitching for new management mandates. It’s the right time. We’re seeing a lot of movement in the market, with new investors. Institutional investors will also return to retail real estate. We want to grow despite the fact that we are in the midst of a crisis, the impact of which will only be visible next year. We are working very hard on expanding our management portfolio, so we need to be a state-of-the-art organisation. We want to be the best management service provider in Europe.’

Patrick van Dooyeweert is Multi’s Chief Investment Officer and Chief Development Officer. Multi currently manages more than 100 shopping centres in 14 countries, most of which it also owns. Multi manages 15 shopping centres in the Netherlands.

“FORUM Rotterdam is a typical Multi project: a complex inner city development, with numerous stakeholders in a complex economic, technical and financial context. It is an excellent example of how we work together with all stakeholders to transform and intensify the use of space in a city centre.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated existing trends. I call this creative destruction: an endless cycle of making and breaking. Right now, we are in a phase of the cycle in which large shopping centres in Europe are being repurposed. How do we make monofunctional shopping areas and shopping centres multifunctional? And this is not just about adding leisure, food & beverage and health. It’s largely about adding a residential component.

The market currently revolves around mixed-use. What we can do is look beyond an existing situation with creativity and fresh ideas. The architects at our in-house design agency, TTDesign, always begin with the basis of a project: the location. Every location has its own strengths and you have to make the most of those strengths and look for connections with the local environment. You can create locations, but a bad location will never become a good location. Next year we expect the market will be largely dominated by conversions and redevelopments. Of course we have ideas that we can market commercially, but we also have the execution capabilities and the capacity to make these things happen. One of our major advantages is our international footprint, from Finland to Ireland and from Portugal to Turkey. We can identify trends in all those countries.”

Harry Vroemen is an architect at TTDesign, Multi’s in-house design agency. He and his team are responsible for the urban development plans, designs and interior and exterior architectural concepts for all the developments and redevelopments in Multi’s portfolio.

“Our role is changing. In the past, you had a development and construction budget and we were free in terms of form and design. These days, you need a capital expenditure budget to get the place back on track. As a design agency, we have been pushed up to the front. For example, we now look which tenants want to work with us and which vacancies we can resolve to improve a location. Once we have all this information, we can then move more quickly to the strategy phase to optimise a retail project. As designers and architects, we play a very different role in the process than the people who are responsible for the financial goals.

These days, we have gone back to the tried and tested concept of the integrated city, which combines a mix of functions, so you no longer need an abundance of shops. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the demand for multifunctional shopping areas. Innovation in a shopping centre is first and foremost about putting customers first. What motivates them and why do they choose this particular place? This is all about the extras you can offer them. And this is not about a major intervention that acts as a kind of panacea; you need to make changes on all fronts to create the optimum offering and experience. If you can bring out the emotion of a place and touch the emotions of your visitors, that’s when you know you’ve hit the right note and that they will come back.”

Click on the image below to read the VG Visie interview (in Dutch)

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