Three Dutch companies are currently involved in building a refrigerated warehouse. Kivits–Goes Handling, VGK Cool Logistics, and ERP are constructing this building on the Nieuw-Reijerwaard agro logistics business park in Ridderkerk, the Netherlands.
"The building's exterior is far from finished. We're still going to be pretty busy with the interior until the end of the year," says Rob van Opzeeland. The building's first phase offers space to store some 18,000 pallets of fruit. Kivits-Goes and VGK are developing the site. There will be a 3,500 m2 packaging area and office space for regular clients too.
"We began construction four weeks later than planned. Lapwings and plovers were nesting on our plot. We're trying to make up for that lost time now, and we seem to be succeeding. I'm enormously proud of the rate at which we're finishing this build. It's a good €30 million investment, which involves many parties and stakeholders. But construction will be complete 18 months after deciding we need to put up a new building somewhere.
A client waiting list
At first glance, the chosen location doesn't seem to be the most cost-effective. But, the parties are convinced of its merits. "We looked at several sites but ended up in Ridderkerk," explains Rob. "Five years ago, we moved to Barendrecht. We were able to close a nice deal with Miguel Gonzalez. We grew and developed there."
"So, we made a deal with WDP to move into the old Hagé building too. We had many satisfied clients. We even had ones we couldn't supply because of our lack of capacity. That, combined with our current locations in Barendrecht not being state-of-the-art, meant we started looking to expand our cooling capacity at a suitable price."
"Ridderkerk is expensive, but it's a great location for our clients. It's close to the container port and has good links to the inland. But it also easily accessible to our employees. Other locations were significantly cheaper, but those wouldn't make our clients as happy. After all, this is one of the few locations where, late in the afternoon, you can sell a pallet of goods to German or French clients. And still, be able to arrange transport. It's was up to us to design the new building creatively. We must be able to store as many pallets per square meter as possible," adds Van Opzeeland.
The solution? Build upward. That's resulted in a three-story refrigerated facility and a four-story fruit storage warehouse. "The building is almost 16m high and has a total area of 16.000 m2. We have a large 3.500m2 storage and repackaging space and 29 cold stores. These have a capacity of between 250 and 1,250 pallets. We also have space for 1,600 pallets where we can bring the temperature down to -3°C," Rob sums it up. "We have a 500 pallet freezing capacity too. We want to unburden our clients entirely. They want us to freeze dates, sun-dried tomatoes, and other raw ingredients."
"Phase 1 doesn't include any ripening cells. These are, however, high on our wish list, and there's space for them in the building. We've gained a lot of experience with this. That's thanks to our site in Drunen [in the south of the Netherlands]. Our colleagues at VGK also have that knowledge. But that's about ripening exotics like avocados, plums, and mangoes. We have no plans to enter into the banana business. It's not that important for us to be the biggest player, either. We do, however, want to add a lot of value. We'll do so in close cooperation with our clients."
"We don't do as much precise order picking here. Not like we do in some of our other branches. This is a true fruit location. Naturally, we have clients here who only sell, say 40 packs. But that's a few dozen orders, at most, per day. If there's a demand for these kinds of activities like packing meal boxes, our other locations are more suitable. Here in Barendrecht, we have to keep the square meter price in check; otherwise, it's impossible to make decent money," says Rob.
The new building is being developed by Kivits–Goes Handling and a construction team. A main contractor, Willy Naessens Nederland, is supervising that team. After completion, Kivits-Goes will transfer the building to WDP. It will strengthen its real estate portfolio in the Barendrecht-Ridderkerk agro-logistics cluster. "Of course, we try to build as sustainably as possible. You make all kinds of choices for that. For example, we're covering the roof with solar panels, but ultimately, the quality of our services is the top priority."
Moveable shelving will be used in the building. "Again, not the cheapest solution," admits Rob, "but we can reach each and every pallet. You used to get 10x500 g containers of Thompson Seedless grapes. The drivers brought these right into your cold store. Then it didn't matter which pallet you started with. That's no longer the case. Every pallet is unique. In this way, we can house any many pallets as possible. And we can reach each pallet quickly without too much handling. We work with four pallet-high stacks in the cells. But, that's manageable, using reach trucks."
The office space totals 3,500 m2. "Many companies want to have offices at our sites. That applies to our locations in Drunen, De Meern, and Barendrecht too. These range from small businesses to companies with 40 employees. We're committed to organizing the logistics chain as efficiently as possible. That means clients can focus on their core business - the fruit trade. Initially, some five to ten companies will move in with us. But we're not building 3,500 m2 of office space for no reason. We're not doing it because we want to look at empty desks."
Only guided visits allowed
The client might always be king, but this logistics service provider has one strict basic condition. "We remain independent at all times. We guarantee this by supervising all visits. That means no-one is allowed to simply walk into a cell. We spend at least one FTE per year on this, but it prevents one client's vendor from reaching another's pallet. Visits are welcome, but people have to register, and then we guide them to the correct goods. A lot of salespeople have to get used to that, but for us, it works fantastically well," says Van Opzeeland.
Drivers are welcome at VGK Cool Logistics and Kivits-Goes any time during business hours. "We know others in the sector work with time slots, but we do things a little differently. Perhaps our transport background plays a role here. In practice, time slots are often less well-managed than on paper."
"Of course, we can't handle 50 vehicles an hour. But we discuss things with our clients. We try to provide the best possible service. Without compromising too much on efficiency. If you're too clinical, you also miss the point. By being only efficient, you don't get happy clients. And that's what we want." concludes Rob.