Working in a warehouse encompasses more than driving a forklift truck
You hardly think about it, but any item you see in a toy store, any product you buy online or add to your shopping cart, was at some point stored in a warehouse. The main issue is always the (lack of) place. "This has became very clear in the past months," says Ignace Tytgat, CEO of MG Real Estate. "During the corona crisis, 24 percent more products were stored than in any other period before. It demonstrates that there is still a real need for storage space at the moment. All our unoccupied warehouses have been hired in the meantime, some of them via temporary contracts."
NEED FOR ADDITIONAL BUFFER STORAGE SPACE
Tytgat explains that the COVID-period also caused surpluses in the warehouses. "On the one hand, COVID-19 led to an increase in e-commerce, which resulted in the need for buffer storage of goods and raw materials in order to be able to continue producing, in anticipation of borders being closed. On the other hand, there was also a decline in sales in-store. This resulted in even more surpluses of finished products, which also had to be stored."
MG Real Estate develops large-scale projects for the logistics sector. The current situation has forced them to think about how to swiftly switch to or anticipate on any other future changes. "We always think in terms of ‘tailor-made’. If a client needs 20,000 square meters, it's pointless to offer him a building of 30,000 square meters. Moreover, a profound analysis and structured preparatory work are essential. Belgium might be a small country, but we are very centrally located in an economic region. That's why it's crucial to think in a future-oriented way when determining a location for a new logistics site."
CIRCULAR AND SUSTAINABLE WAREHOUSES
In addition to the location, sustainability also plays an increasingly important role. "You can't compare a warehouse today with a warehouse twenty years ago," says Michiel Bontinck, Commercial Manager Logistics at MG Real Estate. "Seven years ago we built MG Park De Hulst in Willebroek on 60 hectares. On that site, we strive for CO2 neutrality. To achieve that we have amongst others water-saving basins, green zones and energy supplies which are jointly managed by a park manager. For another project, we concioucsly opted for a CO2 - neutral building. Emissions from gas blowers are a thing of the past. The on-site energy is generated by solar panels. That energy is not only used for lighting, but also for heating and cooling. We are aiming for circularity on site, by creating a closed loop."
In addition to sustainability, automation will also become increasingly important in the future. "This was already the case," emphasizes Tytgat. "But at the same time we realize there must be a balance between people and machines, between manual work and automation. One cannot exist without the other. That is also relevant for logistics, certainly because IT is playing an increasingly important role.”
INVESTING IN THE FEEL-GOOD FACTOR
And finally there is the warehouse itself, or rather the design of the warehouse. Tytgat: "Fifteen years ago, an office was an office. This is no longer valid. In all of our projects, we aim to add that feel-good factor. After all, people who work in a warehouse also like to see daylight. Adding greenery to the environment, installing benches overlooking the water, providing a relaxation or fitness area, ... Employers want their employees to enjoy themselves, resulting in lower employee turnover. Working in a warehouse encompasses so much more than driving a forklift truck. IT, for example, has become an integral part of logistics and supply chain managment these days. This has certainly evolved.”
Tytgat concludes that the architecture of a building can also help to attract the right profiles and persuade them to choose your company. "If they feel good, you're one step ahead of the rest. If an applicant leaves your building thinking 'I want to work here', it means you have created the right atmosphere. And that's what we are aiming for in all our projects."
Previously appeared in Fokus E-commerce, appendix of De Standaard.