IMMOFINANZ is a listed European commercial property group focusing on two asset classes: office and retail. The company is present on seven core European markets, of which Romania ranks third, having a real estate portfolio with a carrying amount of EUR 757.3 million, equivalent to 15.3% of the overall portfolio, and 13 standing investments with a rentable space of around 334,000 sqm and an occupancy rate of 93.6%.
Fulga Dinu has been leading IMMOFINANZ' operations in Romania since March 2018.
You took over leadership of IMMOFINANZ Romania just three years ago. What were your expectations starting off and how do they compare with the actual experience?
Truth be told my expectations were not very particular. I was familiar with the work that IMMOFINANZ was doing here because I had been part of this industry since 2002. My first thought was that they had a sizable portfolio, which included buildings with tremendous potential. Therefore, the plan was to increase the visibility of the company while emphasizing on the customer service. This is also the strategy of the company, which is definitely working as the number reflects it, respectively high degree of occupancy and a steady cash flow.
Looking back on these three years what I am most pleased with is the human side of our business. The team became my second family and I can confidently say that it is crucial to have the right people onboard; I could not have done this much on my own.
We are meeting you during an interesting time in the world. What is the general atmosphere in the company? How did the global pandemic affect your business plans?
The feeling is better than last spring. That was a moment of uncertainty, generated by the fear of the unknown. However, we learned a lot and with the support from IMMOFINANZ HQ, we made a number of good decisions, for instance to have a reserve of cash, which is very important, and adapt to new concepts. Demand has changed, not in the sense that people are not coming back to their offices (I do not believe that is possible in the long run) but I do see a combination of home and office work. Therefore, what we need to offer now is a space that nurtures creativity and the possibility to contract spaces for short and long terms alike.
We are preparing to implement a new, flexible office module that includes anything a business leader may have in mind. Do you need a small space for a month? Ok. A large space for a short timeframe but with possibility to expand? Sure, we can offer that. Do you just want membership in the myhive network? You can have it for a monthly fee.
This is a concept that was already implemented in Austria and Poland, and we are just about to implement it in Romania - it fits like a glove in this period.
Did you already start discussions with potential tenants about this flexible model? What were the first reactions?
Duration is what mostly draws their attention but based on these initial discussions it appears to be an overall excellent product; we have a lot of faith in it.
Several voices in the industry have mentioned that the pandemic will force changes in terms of office layout. To what degree do your existing buildings already respond to these new demands?
We started off last year with two buildings in renovation (work was kicked off just 1-2 months before the crisis started). There were some concerns that we would not be able to proceed as planned but we finished both of them, and they turned out superb. This brought us to five buildings under the myhive brand.
The concept is so attractive that one of the buildings was almost fully rented out before the works finished. This year we are starting reconversion works on another building, which would become the sixth addition to our myhive portfolio, the idea being to turn our entire office portfolio towards this concept.
On the retail side, many countries in the Group (Serbia, Croatia etc.) expanded throughout 2020. What is the situation in Romania?
On the retail side, we have two brands: "VIVO!" for shopping centers and "STOP SHOP" for retail parks. In terms of shopping centers, we have four of them, and they work very well. In addition, we have a STOP SHOP in Botosani. We all believe that retail will recover, even if it faced a tough time this year.
We have seen a fast recovery in visitors with our shopping centers each time COVID-related restrictions softened. We can see that people do have an appetite to go back to shopping, especially now that they travelled less and have reserves left as a result. We are getting ready to refurbish VIVO! Baia Mare - the fact that we have made this commitment speaks about the confidence we hold in this segment of the market.
On the other side, our STOP SHOP retail parks have proven to be crisis resilient and continued to attract people. Firstly, because they remained open and offered convenience products with a good value for money. Another benefit was the fact that visitors can access each shop separately from the street, which minimized contact points during COVID times and increased security. With this success in mind, sooner rather than later, we will expand the portfolio for STOP SHOP in Romania as well.
Looking at the Romanian market at large, do you think now is a good moment to invest here? Why?
Oh yes, I have been saying this for the past 20 years! Romania is a country full of potential and I am very much in love with it, with all the pros and cons it entails. From a yields perspective Romania offers much better returns than other countries in CEE. In addition, the market is nowhere near saturation - overall, both when it comes to offices and shopping centers, there is room to grow.
If we are to look at second tier cities (quite numerous here) the office stock started appearing just a few years ago, some cities literally have none. However, they do have businesses, local entrepreneurs etc. For retail, the situation is similar.
So when it comes to the Industry - Public Authorities relation you say there was a natural, good progression? What is the key to success in your communication?
Community has always been a big part of our identity. Especially with retail premises we don’t invest in a location, but also into a local community by creating jobs and providing a better infrastructure. Additionally, we also plan many activities to engage and support the community and the local authorities. Diplomacy and the sort of relationship you build makes all the difference.
For instance, when talks started about re-opening the shopping centers authorities invited us to ask for input, to make sure the safety measures they had in mind are realistic and can be implemented. We had several discussions, all of them constructive and applied as agreed.
Switching our focus to the future, what objectives do you have in mind for the coming 2-3 years?
I would be thrilled to remain in the top three and keep climbing the ranks. I want to grow investments, become more visible both the retail and office sides and remain at the top of the top when it comes to quality of service.
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