WBJ: You have argued that the crisis related to the coronavirus has accelerated many retail market changes but that they are not happening so quickly, i.e. there is no revolution. I understand this point of view is possible because Dekada are mainly retail parks.
Aleksander Walczak: Dekada also owns shopping malls in Nysa, Sieradz and Malbork, which were subject to lockdowns. I believe that even in typical shopping malls there will be no revolution regarding the fundamentals of their operation. They are slowly returning to normal but a big obstacle in the normal use of facilities and shops are now masks and the related inconvenience. It is hard to expect malls to be Poles' favorite places to visit (especially whole families) when you have to wear masks, which is compounded by constant messaging from the media about the "fourth wave." Therefore, tenants are experiencing lots of stress (whether they will earn enough to cover rent), there is more online shopping and general worries about the future. All this will end with the formal dismissal of the state of the epidemic and all customers (and then tenants) will again appreciate the advantages of shopping malls because these will still be around! Even those who predict the large growth of e-commerce clearly emphasize that brick-and-mortar stores are an important element in this development.
What was the real impact of the pandemic on Dekada locations?
As a company, Dekada, of course, lost money, mainly in the gallery segment, but convenience-type single-story locations also suffered due to large rent reductions last year. Currently, single-story facilities are operating normally, with footfall and sales reaching pre-pandemic levels. Our malls, for the reasons I outlined above, have slightly lower footfall, but turnover levels similar to 2019.
Will these changes persist?
We do not see any significant changes. Smaller locations are getting more positive interest because people are choosing to shop closer to home. But such trends already existed before the pandemic, and this trend should continue, to our advantage.
How will you "improve your operating model, but slowly," as you stated? Where do you see new opportunities?
The main task is to raise the standard of existing facilities, i.e. renovations and extensions, which allow us to expand the offer. We are doing another expansion of our Grójec retail park (by 5,000 sqm GLA), and we plan extensions in Skierniewice (additional 6,000 sqm GLA) and Ciechanów (another 3,000 sqm GLA). From time to time, we also improve the tenant mix, selecting the tenants most wanted in a given location.