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Investing in Italian shopping

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Foruminvest Italy has become synonymous with expertise, know-how, creativity and financial stability when it comes to the development of shopping centers, retail parks and outlet centers. The company operates both on its own initiative and on behalf of third parties – always in close cooperation with organizations such as municipalities, landowners, architects, consultants, brokers and retailers.

The company was founded in the Netherlands in 1987 and has grown substantially since then. Part of this dynamic development was the establishment of the Italian branch Foruminvest Italia in 2004.

“The initial business idea was to develop commercial centers, retail parks and outlets,” sums up Managing Director Marco Mutti. “Our projects have always been of high quality. This is a characteristic of every Foruminvest branch regardless of whether in the Netherlands, France, Belgium or Italy.”

Foruminvest Italia first developed two commercial centers in Teramo and Bari before expanding its portfolio step by step. “After a while, we slowly shifted our focus towards integrated asset management solutions on behalf of investment companies,” explains Mr. Mutti. “Our aim has been to look after the entire process from acquisition to completion. Many British funds have great ideas and visions but not the knowledge to turn these visions into reality. Foruminvest Italia has been operating on the market for twelve years now and has gathered fundamental knowhow over the years. Thanks to our vast know-how and our long-term experience in developing shopping centers, we are in the position to implement the perfect instruments to make the most of already existing commercial centers and retail parks.”

Foruminvest is responsible for the asset management of several commercial centers. “Our motivation is to enhance value creation,” stresses Mr. Mutti. “We deliver solutions for everyday issues and always seek extensive and lasting strategic and operational improvement on growth and performance. On average, we are able to increase the number of visitors by 8% and sales by 9%.”

Today, with a workforce of 18 employees, Foruminvest processes 52 million EUR of rent, plus an additional four million EUR resulting from development and asset management services. The real estate and asset management specialist is based in a historical palazzo in Milan’s Via Manzoni.

“We are the only company in the Dutch group offering asset management and retail property management,” emphasizes Mr. Mutti. “It is part of our business philosophy to concentrate fully on commercial centers and retail parks. This is where we exceed the best efforts of many of our competitors. Our services include tax consultancy, the optimization of costs and expense reductions. We basically offer support to increase the performance of commercial centers. Furthermore, we provide technical services and look after leasing options and contracts. At Foruminvest, we all share the same ideas and values with one goal in common. We rely on a horizontal structure, and everything is about working in a team. Team work is deeply rooted in our philosophy and leads to exceptional results. When working on a project, we often change substantial structures of a commercial center to enhance its value. As a result, rents increase, which means value goes up.”

Many impressive projects such as the Centro Palladio in Vicenza, the shopping center Teramo Gran Sasso or the Gran Shopping Mongolfiera illustrate Foruminvest’s outstanding competence.

“Vicenza’s Centro Palladio covers 45,000 m²,” explains Mr. Mutti. “We reduced the size of the hypermarket and established sports and electronics retailers instead. We found new positions for strong brands, removed mobile ramps and created cozy patios and kiosks. Now, on the second level, visitors find a cinema.”

Another highlight of the portfolio is Gran Sasso, a modern shopping center located in Teramo. In 2007, Foruminvest developed the center which includes 80 shops, a supermarket, a DIY store and a food court. The project received the Golden Brick Award for the best retail development in Italy.

“Gran Sasso was quite a challenging project,” says Mr. Mutti. “During the economic crisis, the shopping center had a high vacancy rate. Within two years, it had lost 40% of its shops. Today, all shop premises are rented out. Gran Shopping Mongolfiera was another challenge. At the beginning, nobody really believed in the project. We finally completed a center with 100 shops, and since 2009 it has had double-digit growth.”

Foruminvest Italia concentrates on commercial centers located close to city centers. “Centers built in the 1990s are often perfectly located but have completely outdated structures that are not appealing at all,” points out Mr. Mutti. “In this case, we seek to redevelop these old structures and to install a kind of new spirit. Our centers are never too big; we usually focus on 25,000 to 45,000 m². At the moment, we are working on a project in Rome covering 32,000 m², and 60% of the shops are already rented out. Furthermore, there are several redevelopments of existing shopping centers in the cities of Udine, Pordenone, Vicenza and Bologna. In America, you would probably say we are revamping those centers.”

Foruminvest Italia is constantly looking for new and challenging projects. “Our work is very stimulating,” says Mr. Mutti. “Project risks are limited. Our great advantage is the expertise of our dedicated team. We simply know a lot about retail and locations – maybe a bit more than others. However, it is not easy to find suitable employees who fit into our team. They should have knowledge about asset management as well as how to develop shopping centers. Everyone needs to fit in exactly. You need to have the right skills and competencies to become part of it. After a long time and many changes, today, we take full advantage of a very stable team.”

Transparency is another key characteristic that has spurred Foruminvest’s success. “Clients are offered precise reports to get realistic ideas about what is going on,” underlines Mr. Mutti. “This approach is important as we are talking about huge investments. Often, several hundred million euros are involved, so it is essential that every process is clear and transparent.”

Foruminvest mainly focuses on well-established commercial centers within Italy. “Our investors are highly solvent,” states Mr. Mutti. “They are looking for real estate properties to consolidate sales and rents. We work exclusively with foreign investors. Furthermore, we cooperate with a Swiss fund. Our asset is that we are independent and not connected to any investor. This gives us the freedom to concentrate on our core competences. We do not waste time and energy on projects other than commercial centers and retail parks.”

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