Our habits have changed – and so have our logistics needs

Neil Francis, head of Industrial & Logistics at Knight Frank in Cardiff

By Neil Francis, Head of Logistics & Industrial at Knight Frank in South Wales:

These are unprecedented times for all businesses. Some have locked the doors for the foreseeable future, some may have changed to operate from home, while others continue as key worker hubs providing essentials, such as food, medical supplies and key public services.

Events have moved very quickly and continue to evolve as the lockdown criteria develop. As a result, the impact on our clients – existing occupiers, landlords and developers – has been mixed and the full effect unknown.

In South Wales the industrial market has been robust and its main feature continues to be a relatively limited supply of Grade A space, especially In the size range of 25,000 sq ft to 100,000 sq ft.

The storage and distribution market has witnessed a raft of short-term requirements from supermarket chains, home delivery companies and third-party logistics (3PL) suppliers with the focus on immediately-available fitted facilities, as well as requirements to support the NHS and local government.

The nation’s growing dependency on online ordering and home delivery has the potential to accelerate the growth of online retail sales, particularly of grocery items and food, which we believe will result in a growth in demand over the longer term.

Before the lockdown, 18% of all retail sales were online, with only 5% in the food sector. The lockdown has forced people to try online shopping, so we are anticipating further growth in this area. Retailers with a good online offer will be best placed to survive.

3PLs are reportedly busy with short-term requests from customers, while their biggest challenge is getting enough people in the right place to service key contracts.

Knight Frank’s Industrial Tracker shows an immediate need of up to 5m sq ft nationwide, although many requirements are short term only. In Q1 2020, there was approximately 5.6m sq ft take-up of units of more than 50,000 sq ft, compared with around 9.5m sq ft in Q1 2019.

From a regional perspective, enquiry levels are down. While occupiers are still reporting requirements, they are pausing decisions until they can assess the impact of the lockdown on their business and the wider economy. Even so, everyone I have spoken to in the South Wales logistics and industrial property sector is busy, with plenty of activity being reported albeit, with its owns challenges. This activity spans rent reviews, lease renewals, acquisitions and new disposals. These are good signs for the future and proof that we can make things happen.

Post-lockdown resurgence

There was a real shortage of good quality storage and distribution properties across the region before the lockdown, with companies like DPD having to purpose build its new 60,000 sq ft warehouse in Swansea, while others such as DX have had to adapt existing warehouse space in Bridgend and Newport.

While we anticipate there will be some casualties when we emerge from the current restrictions, which will result in some units coming back to the market, we are hopeful of a resurgence in requirements post lockdown.

The changing shift in retail will gather momentum and create new requirements for mid-size and big box units post lockdown. Additionally, a lack of good quality stock will encourage traditional industrial occupiers to consider new build. Those with national operations are not baulking at higher headline rents as acquiring the right building in an optimum location is proving paramount.

Another point to consider is that people’s habits will have changed. While many have been pushed to shop online, there has also been a shift to support local services such as milkmen, butchers and greengrocers.

These businesses, offering delivery services to our doorsteps, have quickly adapted. Will this warrant our loyalty when we are on the other side of the pandemic and generate requirements for small distribution units?

The new norm will undoubtedly be different to what we have known in the past.

While the impact on the market is unknown and we continue to watch closely to understand it, we are still working with a number of developer clients that remain interested in the region given its strong fundamentals with excellent connectivity to the road network, ports and nearby available workforce.