Fast Casual Eateries are Giving Retail Real Estate a Healthy Boost

Retail Trend: Scramble for Small Restaurant Space Creates a Landlord’s Market
Millennial diners want their quinoa bowls in a hurry and that’s good news for retail real estate companies. Fast casual restaurants – the popular source of healthy, affordable fare – are hungry for 1,500 to 3,000 square foot spaces in shopping venues nationwide. They’re competing with each other and with nail salons, spas and downsizing retailers who are eying the same sized spaces, creating a hot market for retail leasing. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that this competition has “driven lease rates to astounding levels” and created a “landlord’s market.” (Read more: http://www.eater.com/2016/4/28/11523694/restaurant-real-estate) And Jesse Tron, spokesperson for International Council of Shopping Centers calls the current climate “hyper-competitive.”

Tenants in this niche within our leased and managed portfolio include Saladworks, Good Mood Restaurant and Bubbakoo’s Burritos. As tenant representative we work with Dig Inn, the hip, highly popular Boston-based chain, currently on the move into new East Coast markets. So, naturally, we’re staying focused on what’s happening with fast casual restaurants.

Efficient and Appealing, Fast Casual Tops the Industry in Growth and Sales Volume
Led by the rise of Chipotle and Panera in the early 90’s, fast casual fused the speed and convenience of fast food with menus featuring healthy fare. It’s a winning combination, growing the category 550 percent since 1990 and driving the annual growth of fast casual sales to 11.4 percent in 2015, double the rate of any other restaurant segment. Fast casual, which now comprises 7.7 percent of the industry, is expected to lead restaurant sales through 2022, as Millennial diners take healthy dining further with demands for food that is locally raised, according to sustainable and humane practices.(Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/02/02/the-chipotle-effect-why-america-is-obsessed-with-fast-casual-food/?utm_term=.cd1fb581cc35)

Consumer appeal lies at the core of fast casual’s success, but it’s not the sole factor in this segment’s growth. Operationally, the concept is amazingly efficient. Sit-down diners are served in under 8 minutes and 50 percent of orders are take-out. This means a high volume of business can be transacted in a space about one-third the size of the average casual restaurant.

National Brand vs. Local Favorite: Which One Gets the Lease?
Faced with tenants vying for space, managers of retail real estate find themselves
weighing a number of factors when awarding a lease. Fitting out a restaurant space
even one of modest size – is more expensive than a retail store or an office. Ventilation, special kitchen requirements, and local regulations spike construction costs. A successful fast casual establishment, however, can offset that initial investment, not just in rent but in driving shopping center visits which, in turn, attract more demand for leases.

The choice is often between an independent or regional chain and a big national brand. Both bring positive buzz but savvy landlords, especially in the case of shopping centers or malls, tend to choose big names. Brand recognition, a record of success and deep pockets tend to win out. Emerging retail areas in urban neighborhoods, where there may be resistance to chains, may be the exception to this trend.

What’s Ahead: Fast Casual – A Role in Reviving the Mall
As brick-and-mortar stores shutter or scale back, food and entertainment may breathe new life into malls and shopping centers. Ron Ruggles of Nation’s Restaurant News sees a rosy future for retail venues that provide an inviting mix of entertainment, food and shopping to create a community experience that online can’t match. Fast casual, with its Millennial appeal, will have a big role to play in this new environment that replaces transactions with experiences.
(Read more:
http://www.themarketmogul.com/implications-rise-fast-casual-restaurants-real-estate.)

After a Strong 2016, Our Retail Tenant’s Outlook is Optimistic

Annual LMC Outlook Survey Reveals Growth Trend, Continued Evolution
Retailers in our 95-property, 13 million-square-foot shopping center portfolio are feeling good about the future. In fact, three quarters (74.5 percent) of respondents in our annual Retail Sentiment Outlook Survey of store managers are optimistic about their anticipated 2017 performance – the highest percentage in the January poll’s six-year history. As a regional leader in retail real estate, this is the kind of news we love to hear.

Survey Respondents Report Record Sales Performance in 2016; Bricks and Mortar Stores Continued to Attract Shoppers
According to our President Matthew K. Harding, the percentage of respondents reporting 2016 sales at the same or higher level (68.8 percent) was the highest in Outlook survey history. Our finding reflects a positive year for retail nationwide. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, 2016 retail sales rose 3.3 percent over 2015; for context, 2015 retail sales were up 2.1 percent from 2014.

The holiday season yielded a record performance, too, with survey respondents reporting sales and shopper traffic at the same or higher level than last year. These were the strongest in survey history at 75.6 and 74.4, respectively. “Industry experts agree that the recent holiday season was good for retail, yet some have indicated e-commerce was the real winner over bricks and mortar,” Harding said. “From a ground-level perspective we are seeing a different story – one illustrating the ongoing relevance of physical stores in our portfolio, which is comprised mostly of open-air shopping centers.”

Supporting our findings, the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) in its Post-Holiday Shopping Survey found consumers spent an average of $711 on gifts and seasonal items during the holidays – a 16 percent increase over 2015’s post-holiday survey results. Further, ICSC reported 91 percent of holiday shoppers spent at bricks-and-mortar locations.

Expansion Plans Are Heating Up:  A 2017 Retail Trend to Watch
When we asked survey participants about their companies’ expansion plans for 2017, more than one-third (35.1 percent) indicated their brand plans to open additional stores.

“Again, our findings may seem to counter current headlines reporting ongoing store closings by major retailers,” Harding said. “But in the 65 years we’ve been leasing and managing retail properties we have witnessed the ongoing transformation of retail. Ultimately, concepts come and go, creating opportunities for new and expanding players. Today is no different, and our tenants are proving this point.”

Qualified Job Candidates: Retail Is Facing a Growing Scarcity
The decline in unemployment and its impact on retail hiring also was addressed in the Outlook Survey. Only about one-quarter (23.6 percent) of respondents have seen changes in the hiring climate related to the tightening jobs market. Of that group, more than half (51.7 percent) indicated they are seeing fewer applications from qualified job candidates, and nearly half (46.6 percent) said they are experiencing demand for higher starting salaries.

Tenant Business Models Are Adapting to Impact of E-commerce
The e-commerce phenomenon – and its impact on bricks-and-mortar – has remained top-of-mind for us. As leaders in retail real estate we are continuing to gauge how our tenants are taking competitive action. In the 2017 Outlook Survey, we asked our tenants how they have adapted their business models in response to e-commerce’s growth.

Marking a notable jump from the last two times the question was asked, 55.2 percent of survey participants indicated they have adapted in some way. This compares to 38.2 percent of respondents in the 2016 Mid-Year Survey and 37.3 percent at mid-year 2015. Among that group, our retail tenants have:

  • Added in-store services and/or incentives (50.9 percent).
  • Added in-store pickup and returns options for purchases made online (37.9 percent).
  • Increased coordination between online and bricks-and-mortar operations (30.2 percent).
  • Added “experience” draws such as demonstrations, classes, performances or other in-store events (28.4 percent).
  • Altered store inventory, such as having fewer in-stock SKUs or larger quantities of popular items (25.0 percent).
  • Altered store prototype, such as reducing store size or increasing focus on showrooming (17.2 percent).

In turn, 57.5 percent of the respondents who have adapted in response to e-commerce say they have seen a benefit in terms of sales and/or in-store traffic. That percentage compares to 43.0 percent at mid-year 2016 and 52.1 percent at mid-year 2015.

“In our last two mid-year surveys, about one-third of tenants (32.9 percent and 30.9 percent) were unsure of whether their efforts were making a positive impact,” said Melissa Sievwright, vice president of marketing. “The number shrank to less than a quarter (24.4 percent) in the 2017 Outlook Survey, indicating that tenants are beginning to see more measurable results.

“This is very good news in an environment requiring retailers to continually reinvent themselves,” she added. “We anticipate continued changes as our tenants strive to establish the best mix of services and incentives, and elevate and personalize the shopping experience to draw customers into their stores.”