Burger King: Corporate Owned to Franchise Run Investments

Burger King has been part of quite the wild ride. As an income producing property investment, it can be considered one of the most popular options because of the attractive lease structures, experienced franchisees and powerhouse institutional parent backing. When looking to identify solid net-leased investments that also have upside, Burger King may be worth a strong look, but first let us start with a quick history lesson on how the concept has grown to what it is today.

It was 1953 when Keith Kramer and Matthew Burns built a stove called the “Insta-Broiler”. Living in Jacksonville, they were searching for a restaurant concept and settled on a burger joint called “Insta-Burger King”. After James McLamore, a student at Cornell, visited the hamburger stand operated by the McDonald’s brothers, he and his fellow classmate David Edgerton bought an Insta-Burger King franchise in Miami. By 1961, Burger King had begun expansion across the United States becoming famous for their signature burger, The Whopper. Just six years later in 1967, Pillsbury purchased the concept for a whopping $18 million and with Pillsbury’s support had the means to scale their operation becoming the second largest burger chain in existence, only behind McDonald’s.

Because of the intense competition between the two burger concepts, Burger King franchise agreements were restructured to restrict franchisees from operating franchises in other chains, in addition to regulating how far away your stores were from your home in order to cut down on absentee ownership. With the continued growth of the Burger King brand, TPG Capital paired up with Goldman Sachs and Bain Capital to purchase the concept for $1.5 billion before its IPO in 2006, which generated $425 million in revenue. Then, in 2010, 3G Capital purchased the concept for $3.2 billion.

That is about when Burger King began shifting its business model to focus heavy on franchising. Burger King makes its money from primarily three revenue streams: Sales from corporate operated locations, Income from leasing owned property, and Revenue from Franchise fees. In 2011, Burger King had 1,395 company owned and operated locations, but in 2012 Burger King began selling off stores. In 2012, about 59 percent of Burger King’s revenue came from store sales and operations. One year later, only 8 percent of the company’s revenue was from operating stores. Burger King had sold 96 percent of all their stores to franchisees in order to focus more on branding, product development, and other support resources that would help franchisees find further success.

Quarterly-Revenues-2014-09-01-BK

Their philosophy became:

Let the franchisees do what they do best so we free up time to find new ways to make the concept better.

That is why today, an investment in a Burger King net-leased asset, even operated by a small franchisee, can be an extremely safe, stable, and attractive option. That is also why many of these Burger King assets demand aggressive cap rates compared to other concepts on the market. In 2016, the average cap rate across all Burger King investment sales was 6.04%, while the historical all-time average cap rate across the restaurant sector lands at about 7.12%. This data includes both long term leases and short term leases; both corporate backed leases and franchisee backed leases. The graph below shows the average cap rate across a number of quick service restaurant concepts. You will notice that Burger King offers investors a very competitive return compared to other concepts, but while also offering a very well established brand and operation.

avg cap rate qsr 2017 trailing 12 months

For a long-term lease (10-20 years remaining), that cap rate can compress 50-100 basis points. In 2017, there have been a number of fee-simple properties backed by small franchisees (5-unit to 20-unit guarantees) selling at cap rates from 5.08% to 5.59%. Although corporate backed leases will demand a more aggressive cap rate in most instances, the franchise and support structure employed by the Burger King concept has proven a successful business model for smaller franchisees and those investments continue to demand a very competitive cap rate because of it.

So where is the upside?

Burger King is moving towards and would prefer to have fewer, but larger franchisees. Fewer franchisees operating more stores means less micromanaging, fewer contacts to keep in front of, and economies of scale. Fewer operators obviously means fewer moving parts. That is why purchasing a store operated by a small franchisee could provide very attractive upside in the future. Because a small franchisee backed lease still offers stability of concept and a hedge against risk, it will still demand an aggressive cap rate; however, an investor would still be able to capture a higher return than purchasing a corporate backed lease, which exposes the investor to even smaller risk. Why wouldn’t you capture that higher return on a solid long-term net-leased asset, while also keeping in mind the potential upside in the future. If you purchase a property operated by a 5-unit franchisee and plan to hold for 10 years, the chances of that operator being acquired by a larger more regional franchisee are fairly strong. That means that by the time you are ready to revisit an exchange, you will likely have built up equity in rental increases, real estate appreciation, but most importantly an increased financial guarantee or at the very least a stronger operator behind your original guarantee. Now, when you decide to bring the property back to the market, you will be able to demand a more aggressive cap rate having a larger, stronger operator having taken over your location.

That’s the potential upside!

Although Corporate will still back leases, most Burger King locations are owned and operated by the franchisee and provide a lease guarantee to match. As an investor, this is a benefit because your tenant has significant skin in the game, while also operating under a proven concept with monster support from its corporate parent. You are able to secure a long-term passive net-leased asset, but with upside in the future acquisition from a larger regional franchisee. This is why even a property housing a small franchisee operating under the Burger King umbrella can demand extremely aggressive cap rates in the investment sales arena. These deals should not be overlooked by investors looking to purchase or exchange into a net-leased restaurant property.

For more detailed information regarding Burger King properties, franchisees, or lease language and how it can impact the value of your investments, feel free to contact me directly at 813-387-4796. I am working with property owners, restaurant operators, and developers on a regular basis to connect the dots around where they are today and what they are trying to accomplish in the future. Even if there is no immediate business, I welcome the opportunity to learn more about your current investment situation and what I can do to help you maximize the value of your assets.

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