When the COVID-19 crisis first gripped the world, retail was among the sectors hardest hit. However, visits to STOP SHOP retail parks in Serbia quickly returned to pre-crisis levels and their operator, Austrian company IMMOFINANZ, even increased its locations from 10 to 14 last year, bringing fresh opportunities for price-savvy shoppers throughout Serbia.
The biggest retail park developer in Central and Eastern Europe recently reached an occupancy rate of 100% in its Serbian portfolio, which encompasses facilities in Čačak, Lazarevac, Niš, Požarevac, Vršac, Valjevo, Sremska Mitrovica, Borča, Smederevo, Subotica, Leskovac, Šabac, Sombor and Zaječar.
Gerald Grüll, Head of Retail at IMMOFINANZ, reiterates that this Austrian investor is here to stay and will further strengthen bilateral cooperation and economic growth with its upcoming investments.
With four acquisitions in 2021 and a 100% occupancy rate, it seems that the pandemic hasn’t hindered the plans of IMMOFINANZ in Serbia. How do you see this?
We are very proud of this full occupancy milestone and remain committed to our operations here. Retail parks have experienced something of a revival, proving to be the most successful and crisis-resilient retail format during the pandemic. They meet the need for more affordable products and offer an outdoor parking area with direct access to retail units, with low consumer density. STOP SHOPs in Serbia remained a safe place for shopping, so it was not much of a surprise that the turnover in 2020 was slightly higher than in 2019 in the overall portfolio, apart from lockdown days.
Our STOP SHOP portfolio covers 100 locations in nine countries, with nearly 750,000 sqm of leasable space
What do you think was your winning formula?
We believe our success is driven by a solid strategy and steady plans. We benefited greatly from both our focus on fair leasing and low operating costs, as well as active communication with our tenants throughout the pandemic.
Our main competitive advantage is our focus on smaller towns and bringing new shopping trends to people living far from the capital and other major cities. Now they can find entertainment and a broad range of products with convincing cost-benefit ratios at their local STOP SHOP, without the need to travel an hour or two to the nearest shopping centre. These are some of the reasons why IMMOFINANZ has been recognised as one of the region’s most successful companies in the commercial real estate sector.
You gave a promise in 2015 that you had come to Serbia to stay. What are your plans for this market?
Our initial investment of 60 million euros in Serbia has grown to approximately 150 million euros and we certainly hope it will continue to grow. Our STOP SHOP portfolio covers 100 locations in nine countries, with nearly 750,000 sqm of leasable space. Further acquisitions and internal development projects are currently under preparation, with the aim of expanding to 140 STOP SHOP locations over the medium-term. The focus is on markets in CEE, Southeast Europe and Austria, as well as selective entry into other Western European countries. The CEE region currently offers the most attractive yields and prices in the retail business. Of course, Serbia remains an interesting market and we are constantly seeking new business opportunities in the country.