An interview with Jeroen Lokerse, Head of Netherlands and Arjen Boesveldt, Head of Retail Services
This interview was originally published in Dutch on VG Visie.
Amsterdam’s biggest challenge? They don’t have to think twice about it at Cushman & Wakefield: to make way for the city’s huge potential. “Let’s stop being afraid, modest and working 9-to-5. We owe it to the Netherlands to transform Amsterdam into a truly global city.”
“A real Amsterdammer,” is the way Jeroen Lokerse describes himself. While he actually lives in Amstelveen, Amsterdam is the place where he really feels at home. “The great thing about this city is that it feels safe and familiar, while it has so many new things to offer. And that gives me an energy boost.”
Arjen Boesveldt shares his enthusiasm. They share the drive to tirelessly promote Amsterdam as a fantastic place to live, work and shop. The Netherlands’ largest international real estate consultant (the leader in the retail sector, in fact) Cushman & Wakefield closely monitors the developments – and those developments are all heading in the same direction: growth and internationalisation. So why would you even consider curbing the growth of Amsterdam, as some people propose? That’s a topsy-turvy attitude.
Mr Boesveldt: “Amsterdam has the benefit of a truly unique position. It offers visitors two of the world’s top three museums: the Van Gogh and the Rijksmuseum. How cool is that! Instead of worrying about the bustle of visitors they attract, we should be examining ways to facilitate such growth.”
As far as Boesveldt and Lokerse are concerned, there is only one possible answer: think bigger! “We need to start viewing Amsterdam from an international perspective,” Mr Lokerse proposes. “The world is changing at a staggering rate. And if we are to keep prosperity up to standard in the Netherlands, then we have to remain relevant. We simply cannot take our wealth for granted. We really need to raise our level of ambition a few notches. Amsterdam is little more than a village compared to other cities. However, we now have the chance to turn it into a global city. The big issue remains: are we prepared to grasp this opportunity?”
It is a no-brainer in Cushman & Wakefield’s opinion: ‘We simply have to”. The city can easily cope with the changes required, provided everyone involved has the courage to broaden their horizons and look beyond existing boundaries. The first step is to adopt a more ambitious approach and rely on our own strengths.
Mr Lokerse: “Amsterdam already has all it needs to become a global city. Given that the authorities played a guiding role in the past, it currently has a rock solid basis to facilitate this. There is an abundance of all the prerequisites for a pleasant living and working environment: security, infrastructure, public parks, international schools, a high level of education and a pleasant working environment. The task lying before us now is to expand on this basis.” This also implies ensuring that we become relevant to international businesses, Mr Boesveldt insists. “Firms operating in the international retail sector very often opt to set up business in Amsterdam, before expanding throughout Europe. And the crucial issue in this regard is: they often want to open for longer hours and more often than is currently permissible in the Netherlands. So: abandon the nine-to-five mentality! We are the gateway to Europe. Let’s also benefit from this position.”
Apart from capitalising on Amsterdam’s existing strengths, it is a matter of moving with the times, as today’s retail landscape is radically different to that of a decade ago. Mr Boesveldt: “The trend is: bigger, and more diverse and international. The boundaries between segments are becoming increasingly blurred. Living, working and recreation are becoming closely interwoven. Catering and leisure facilities are becoming increasingly important. The search has therefore commenced to discover new combinations and new formulas. And this is a vital quest too, as the days of consumer brand loyalty are now a thing of the past. It’s either hot or it’s not nowadays. As an entrepreneur, one therefore has to continue to provide added value, while constantly reassessing one’s position. It is a continuous process. In the past, our conversation with customers was all about the rent level. Nowadays, however, the added value of locations and premises is the big issue. It is a totally different mindset.”
Fortunately, Cushman & Wakefield has this mindset. “We know exactly where retail firms need to be to prove successful; on which streets and rubbing shoulders with whom,” Mr Boesveldt points out. Both gents agree that the future lies in compact, lively areas comprising a subtle blend of residential and commercial properties. Areas that also offer something for all ages, such as the Zuidas district. “Everything you need is within easy reach here, and you can even cycle to work. Not only is this a luxury, it also puts people in closer touch with one another. You can feel the buzz of energy here.”
Cushman & Wakefield’s Cross Border Retail Agency Team possesses much of the real estate knowledge required. This is an international team based in London, exchanging information 24/7. This level of cross-border cooperation is a key factor in the firm’s success, and one from which Amsterdam could greatly benefit. Inaction is simply not an option, according to Mr Boesveldt. “Office locations that are not ideal will simply no longer be office locations in the future. And the same goes for residential and retail sites. This means that we need to make real choices. We have to stop competing at municipal level, as the rules of the game have changed in recent years. International organisations no longer ask themselves ‘Amsterdam, Utrecht or Zwolle?’ but rather ‘Amsterdam, Frankfurt or Copenhagen?’ It no longer revolves around the particular city nowadays, but entire regions.”
It is therefore vital to facilitate growth in the places where it fits best. “We need to create the global city we have in mind based on the philosophy: what is best for the Netherlands?” Mr Lokerse concludes. “It would be fantastic if the mayor of Almere – or another city in the area for that matter – were to say: ‘I’d like to be appointed an alderman of the Greater Amsterdam area’. That would really allow us to pursue substantial growth. After all, the decision to put the Netherlands on the international map as a single city would make us far more popular abroad, and we would all benefit in the long run.”
is Head of the Netherlands