The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has forced a general and in-depth review of how companies conduct business.
Leading real estate company, Tatweer Misr, has been no different, with the company not the only one requiring greater flexibility in their activities, according to the company’s President and CEO Ahmed Shalaby.
Shalaby sat down with Daily News Egypt to discuss the company’s strategy during the pandemic, and what it has done to maintain its activities during this difficult period.
What innovations has Tatweer Misr introduced to overcome the difficulties caused by COVID-19?
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected internal and external business operations and reshaped how we do things, most notably in how we communicate with our clients and partners to keep business going. With the shift from a physical presence to a virtual one, some organisations were able to excel over others due to their “digital readiness”. At Tatweer Misr, we have a strong technological infrastructure which enabled us to keep employees connected at all times and business flowing.
Pre-pandemic, our sales team relied on 1:1 communications with clients as a way of easing reaching out. Post-pandemic, we found a need for convenient and safer communications which encouraged the virtual shift. Our team had to rethink and work on enhancing their communications skills to eliminate the lag it has on 1:1 communications. We also started rethinking our sales tools. Even though virtual tours have been present for the past few years, they were unpopular and people preferred a firsthand experience of the project and mock up units.
As for internal communications, no one thought that working from home would become commonplace. At first this created a challenge for some teams, but over time each one started adopting their own coping mechanisms. Apart from flexible working hours and regular employee check ins, some teams started implementing cross-department “virtual briefing sessions”, where different departments met weekly to discuss activities, achievements and setbacks enabling smooth transmission of knowledge.
Tell us more about the company’s marketing plan during the second quarter (Q2) of 2020.
Before COVID-19, Tatweer Misr had billboards on all high traffic roads in Cairo. After the outbreak, we had to find alternative methods to better reach potential clients. We boosted digital marketing spending by 60%–70% to reach the target audience in their homes. We believe this method is more effective, as it enables us to be more targeted in reaching potential buyers according to their demographics and psychographics.
Apart from direct ads reaching potential clientele, we also managed to shadow our audience in their day-to-day activities, as our communication strategy became more 2-ways than 1-way.
In early 2020, our marketing team worked hard to achieve success at Fouka Bay, pulling off creative and interactive activities for existing homeowners such as lagoon workouts, beach yoga sessions, and musical events. However, they also faced constraints on attendee numbers per activity, to ensure the highest levels of safety measures.
What important opportunities resulted from the crisis?
The crisis allowed us, along with clients, to look at things differently and become more flexible to alternative or easier ways of doing things.
Even though the world has already acknowledged the dominance of digital in communications, we were not ready to instantly abandon our offline marketing tools. However, the shift to digital has allowed us to better reach our consumers based on analytics leading to better reach and efficiency.
For sales, virtual client meetings have grown in popularity. We cannot say they have become dominant among older age groups, but they have grown in popularity among younger age groups who are always connected. These virtual meetings were also accompanied by a need for a strong logistics network that enabled us to send important documents via courier services in a timely manner.
The global crisis has also affected our root business activities in terms of the products we deliver. With COVID-19 impacting how we live our daily lives, our basic real estate products require alterations to better suit the change we have all undergone. Such changes will cover residential non-residential components and even basic components such as landscaping within integrated communities.
What are the most prominent client needs after the COVID-19 outbreak?
Regarding residential components, client needs have strongly been affected, both in the local market and globally. For instance, architecture firms worldwide are revisiting how balconies and terraces are designed and their purposes. While in the previous years they were designed for ventilation, lighting and minimal entertainment purposes, today they have demonstrated a bigger role.
In many countries in Europe, people have used terraces as their main tool for 1:1 interaction with the outside world. As a result, architects are now looking into designing terraces for multi-family buildings, or what are known as apartment buildings, in ways that would enable families to socialise in open-air spaces with social distancing.
Secondly, landscaping now has greater importance both for scenery and outdoor activities. During the lockdown, many individuals integrated new activities to their daily routines such as cycling and picnics. Such a shift in day-to-day activities encouraged developers to ensure that landscaping is not only crucial for scenery, but it should also be efficiently designed to be useful for outdoor activities.
Do you plan to make changes in your products to meet these new needs?
From the beginning, Tatweer Misr has integrated innovation as an integral part of our strategy, and this is how we were able to develop our products over the years to meet consumers’ changing needs. With the launch of Bloomfields in 2018, we included “clusters”, the first of their type in new cities, within our master plan. Each cluster is made up of a group of multi-family buildings overlooking spacious greenery. These provide homeowners with leisure facilities on the top of each building, featuring a gym, pool, kid’s play areas and multi-purpose areas.
Additionally, we do have plans to enhance future products, even though we believe that some core consumer preferences will not change soon and this includes their need for smaller units. It is our role to revisit unit designs ensuring they have higher efficiency. For instance, smaller units need to include a work/study space in bedrooms, or a small room to act as an office for those working from home.
What new types of real estate do we urgently need in the Egyptian market following COVID-19?
Long before COVID-19, we discussed that establishing smart solutions in new developments is a financial burden on developers due to the high-tech infrastructure needed. Yet, such solutions have the potential to improve efficiency by 50%, and reduce operational costs by 30%. This period has proven the need for such advanced infrastructure to ensure constant connectivity. Smart cities feature at the top of this list in terms of what the market needs.
Secondly, revisiting the type of commercial components offered by all developers is needed. As consumer demands change, these products are the most prone to change. With an increasing demand for e-commerce, renters and commercial-space owners are either resorting to online channels or, in many cases, “pop-up shops”, due to high rent costs.
Moreover, many countries offer a unique commercial component known as “flex buildings”. These are multi-purpose, flexible commercial buildings that allow for a wide range of office and warehouse uses, and are easier to alter to meet a company’s needs than typical warehouse buildings. Their flexibility is ideal for a diversity of companies that need office space with a warehouse component.