Logistics Special: ‘We just try to figure out where the customers want to be’

Panattoni’s Robert Dobrzycki tells Paul Strohm how it has grown to become one of Europe’s largest logistics operators.

In the 15 years since its US parent established the company, Panattoni has developed 11 million sq m of space, has more than 6 million sq m of assets under management and, from its headquarters in Poland, has expanded into nine countries on the continent with designs on more.

Panattoni’s growth is not the result of a rigid expansion plan but is client led, as CEO Robert Dobrzycki explained to Real Asset Insight: “We don’t have a strategy that is set in stone, we just try to figure out where the customers want to be.”

The dominant theme among the firm’s customer base right now is e-commerce and the firm is focused on identifying where these customers want to grow, where there is consumption and where there is a need for logistics infrastructure.

European expansion

In early 2017 Panattoni established a foothold in the UK, followed by openings in Spain and the Netherlands. “Western European countries represent an amazing opportunity in terms of development volume. Previously, we were focused on Central Europe because it was underdeveloped, but currently, with e-commerce, you need to build infrastructure everywhere and Western Europe is leading the way in terms of e-commerce,” says Dobrzycki.

In terms of development volume, Panattoni is the largest operator in Europe, he adds. “Our unique selling point is scale and the kind of flexibility that you usually only get with local players. That’s our advantage so big customers can have flexibility on a large scale. They don’t have to open many doors in many places, they can work with us.”

‘Our unique selling point is scale and the kind of flexibility that you usually only get with local players.’

Robert Dobrzycki, Panattoni

This flexibility entails being customer oriented and open-minded. “We don’t have one way of doing business. We try to respond to the customer needs. And in different places that might mean different things in terms of capital structure, location, size. Only very rarely do we say ‘no’ to the customer and for a large-scale business that is pretty unique. We try to address all customer issues so that they come back.”

Scale provides depth and collective know-how on technical aspects of development but the development process can be highly localised, especially when dealing with local authorities and gaining planning permission. Here, scale is not necessarily the essential characteristic. “I don’t think scale directly translates into better process with authorities. Here we try to be local so we have offices in all the places that we operate, and in many places we also have regional offices which are close to local communities,” Dobrzycki says.

Growing markets

In most countries in which it operates Panattoni has more than one office but it is as many as seven in one territory. “Historically, obviously, Poland was our biggest-volume country. We still do a lot in Poland and Central European markets are still growing and now serving Western Europe, and not just in terms of production, but for e-commerce.”

Germany and the UK have become strong in terms of volume, Netherlands and Spain are important growth markets and now the company plans to establish a presence in France and Italy.

“It’s a question of finding the right people that are locally based but which fit our spirit and the way we look at business. The minute we find the right team we’ll start working in those countries,” Dobrzycki says.