A flight to quality during the recession saw businesses move to more modern warehouse and distribution facilities. In some cases, companies relinquished functionally obsolete buildings that have the potential to be modernized.
Bob Brehmer, CCIM, SIOR, principal at NAI Daus, says when businesses can’t find what they want in an existing facility, they’ll build. However, there’s a substantial cost difference between modernization and new construction.
“The lack of amenities in their current facilities or lack of suitable options on the market must be sufficient enough to warrant new construction,” he says.
Smart Business spoke with Brehmer about how businesses can take full advantage of real estate trends affecting warehouses and distribution centers.
What’s driving the changes with warehouses and distribution centers?
Facilities are becoming more efficient, leveraging speed enhancements and space optimization to reduce costs. Warehouses and distribution centers are maintaining their existing footprint but adding volume by building up — incorporating higher ceilings — and implementing cross docking, myriad material handling systems that reduce storage times and improve shipping efficiencies, and improved racking systems.
How is this affecting the physical building?
Businesses are implementing racking, conveying systems and automated case picking using robots, which has necessitated changes in the physical construct of warehouses and distribution centers. These optimizations are driving out the uncertainty of human costs to a more fixed-cost, predictable model.
Some warehouses also are incorporating high-efficiency lighting in the form of LEDs, which burn longer, saving money. These cost more upfront, but they’re being mass-produced as demand rises, so prices are dropping. Federal energy policies have incentivized companies to utilize these energy-saving bulbs through rebates.
In the same vein, better-insulated walls and improved dock seals are saving companies money on their energy bills.
It might cost more to construct or retrofit a hyper-efficient warehouse or distribution center, but operating and occupancy cost savings are tangible. If a company is handling millions of stock keeping units per year, it can result in major long-term savings.
What’s key to know in terms of location?
Businesses are building or buying warehouses and distribution centers nearer their customer base, primarily, as well as within a favorable distance to their modalities of transportation.
Transportation costs are a significant determinant. Existing facilities, particularly in the Midwest, are ideally situated in industrial parks and in areas that feature wide boulevards, adequate land, close proximity to a highway, near or in a foreign trade zone, and where labor is available.
While there is an adequate supply of land in Northeast Ohio, there is a limited supply of land sufficient to site larger distribution centers, such as those required by e-commerce firms.
How can companies find properties that align with these trends?
Consider seeking a qualified real estate expert who understands these issues and the inventory in the market. Find someone who specializes in warehousing and distribution centers with knowledge of your industry. Then engage a qualified facilities planner or engineer to analyze your current facilities to diagnose their shortfalls and provide options.
This team will help you identify land or properties, the costs associated with modernizing, redevelopment or new construction, and potential tax and financing incentives. It takes a special set of skills to navigate all the possibilities because each involves many moving parts.
However, if you decide to move forward with new construction, consider your exit strategy. You need to know the facility you build is suitable to sell to a broad spectrum. An overspecialized facility naturally limits the market for potential buyers.
You don’t have a plan unless you have a backup plan. Try to envision the building’s use, and your needs, far into the future, so you don’t get stuck with an unsuitable property. ●
Insights Real Estate is brought to you by NAI Daus