The Weerts Group is a Belgian family-owned business headquartered in Liège with operations also in four other European countries, including Hungary where the Group first appeared in the year 2000.
The Weerts Group was established before 1945 as an agricultural transport company with one truck driven by Hubert Weerts operating in and around Teuven, a small village in the Voeren region of Belgium. After a short break during WW II, the company was restarted in 1945 by Hubert Weerts and his only son, Joseph Weerts (Sr.). From 1960 onwards, the company began to develop into a national and international transport firm (‘Transports Weerts & Fils’), primarily driven by Léa Kremers (Joseph’s spouse) and her sons Pierre and Lambert, the CEO of the Weerts Group, Pascal Weerts highlights the major stages of the history of the Group to Diplomacy & Trade.
“The company originally was a pure road transport company, but in 1989, construction started of our first industrial warehouse in Hauts-Sarts in the Liège region in Belgium (54,000 sqm). This marked our transition from a pure logistics player to an integrated services provider. In 1994, at the age of 26, Yves Weerts (Pierre’s son) became the CEO after the unexpected and sudden death of his father. After this time, we continued our expansion as an integrated transport and logistics services provider throughout Europe including expanding into Hungary in 1996. In 2008, we sold our transport division to focus on real estate, warehousing and added-value logistics services,” he adds.
Since 2008, the Group has continued to grow its real estate business with expansion outside of big box logistics to residential, office, and (in Hungary) SME warehouse development. The group has also expanded into motorsport in 2009. Its racing team WRT is generally considered to be one of the leading endurance racing outfits in the world. Pascal Weerts joined the management team in 2017 as CEO, bringing with him a wealth of experience from his background in law. The Weerts Group now has over a million square meters of logistics warehouse space under development in seven countries throughout Europe.
With Yves and Pascal Weerts being the sole owners of the group and both being involved in the day-to-day management, one of the strong points at Weerts Group is short decision lines. This, combined with a wealth of experience and an ever-stronger balance sheet, makes for a compelling proposition for its clients and partners.
High quality logistics buildings
The Group entered the Hungarian market in 1996 at the request of one of its clients. “We were supplying logistics and warehousing services to Danone and they wanted to expand to Hungary, so they requested that we be their provider here as well. We built a small (5,000-sqm) warehouse for them in Budapest’s 17th district, which was sold as part of our transport business in 2008. Following a pause of a few years, we re-entered the Hungarian market in 2016 with a focus on developing smaller warehouses for SMEs. Since then, we have sold over 65,000 square meters of SME warehouse space to over 60 companies. In recent years, we have built off our experience throughout Europe of developing logistics parks by adding big box logistics developments to our offerings here in Hungary. We now develop high quality logistics buildings for lease, as well as ready-to-build plots of land for developers. While there is plenty of land currently for sale throughout Hungary, we have found that many developers do not have the time (or want to take the risks) of rezoning and performing the necessary infrastructure developments to develop on what was previously farmland. It can be a bit time-consuming (compared to some countries) before you actually obtain the building permit. Because of this, we see a strong demand for properties that are ready to be built with a valid permit,” the CEO explains.
Reasons for growth in the logistics market
The logistics sector has been a winner during the epidemic as the rise of e-commerce is creating additional warehousing needs. As to what extent the Group has managed to take advantage of this sudden situation, Pascal Weerts points out that “while the growth of the e-commerce business has certainly been a boon for the logistics sector, we see this as only one contributing factor to the current growth in the market. Another change in the current business model is a move away from just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing. It worked well to reduce warehousing costs until the disruption in the supply chain, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, resulted in factories shutting down. Companies became more aware of how much risk they accept by using a JIT model and are now moving more to a just-in-case model. Another major change is the re-consideration of where to store goods. As transport costs have gone up, companies are turning to re-shoring and becoming less reliant on Asia.”
Scaling up operations in Hungary
As one of the Group’s latest investments in Hungary, in the summer of 2020, Weerts purchased a plot in Ecser, next to the M0 ring road and near the Ferenc Liszt International Airport to create a 120,000-sqm warehouse. “This was (at the time) our largest investment to date in Hungary. After much work to make sure that we met both our own needs for the plot as well as the concerns of the local municipality, we finally started construction of the first 40,000-sqm building at the end of 2021. Around that time, we sold the project as a ready-to-build plot to CTP Hungary, a major real estate developer in this country, as part of a package deal that included a finalized 46,000-sqm development as well as another ready-to-build 15-hectare plot in nearby Nagytarcsa. We simultaneously used this opportunity to scale up our Hungary operation with the purchase of a 66-hectare plot in Vecsés, also in the area, that will have a total of 205,000 square meters of big box logistics as well as 36,000 square meters of smaller buildings for SME clients,” the CEO highlights.
The Weerts Group has major international operations but still, they have managed to preserve the family enterprise aspect of their business, according to Pascal Weerts. “We believe in the business model of family ownership with a strongly engaged shareholder with a long-term view. As stated earlier, our background is a family-run logistics company. Our chairman, Yves Weerts drove trucks himself in his early years after joining the family business. We feel that this history has given us a very valuable perspective in knowing exactly what it is like to be a tenant of a logistics building and this allows us to develop industrial parks that work well from an end-user’s point of view. In our experience, family involvement has been a strong motivator for our team.”
As regards the European and Hungarian logistics markets in the years to come and the place of Weerts Group on these markets, the Group CEO is of the view that “there certainly are many challenges to the current market. Besides the pandemic in Europe, we see disruptions caused by the Ukraine war, the breakdown of global supply chains and China’s zero COVID-19 policy. Despite these challenges, the logistics market is still currently growing. We see this growth continuing in the coming years throughout Europe including Hungary. We believe that in Hungary, the growth will accelerate not just in the Budapest region, but especially in major industrial centers throughout the country. Weerts Group is in a good position to ride this wave of growth by having a strong local team backed by the expertise and experience of our team in Belgium.”
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