Checkers and Rally’s: Leveraging Modular Development

Checkers and Rally’s: Leveraging Modular Development

Checkers is one of the largest double drive thru chains in the United States. Having served hamburgers, hotdogs, French fries and milkshakes since 1986, Checkers today is headquartered in Tampa, Florida and operates over 850 locations in 29 states. Rally’s, a similar concept out of Louisville, Kentucky, was purchased by Checkers in 1999. Since the acquisition, Rally’s has began adopting design from Checkers and the two concepts look virtually identical aside from the name on their signs.

Despite construction costs ticking up and some concepts pulling back on development, Checkers is pushing forward hard. Checkers is slated for a future 30 new locations in the D.C. area; a future 30 new locations in Houston; With over 60 locations around its headquarters in Tampa, even franchisees local to Tampa Bay are still growing.

What is enabling the company to pursue such aggressive expansion? A big factor seems to be the modular design they are using for their new construction. Modular construction involves an off-site process where buildings are constructed under a controlled environment. Although the same codes and standards employed under traditional construction are adhered to throughout the process, the construction can be completed in half the time. The buildings are built in sections, which are then put together like Legos, on site. Not only can the buildings be built in half the time, but modular buildings are typically stronger than conventional construction since each portion of the building is built with its own structural integrity to withstand the stress of travel. The process also includes a number of other benefits including safe and secure storage of construction materials, reducing site disruption from weather or pedestrian traffic, and reduced waste for a more sustainable construction process. With the new prototype designed by Checkers, building each modular location ends up being 20% cheaper in addition to being much faster. With the nimble flexibility of popping a location up faster to avoid “dead rent” periods and a cheaper upfront capital injection for new locations, it is allowing Checkers corporate and franchisees the opportunity to expand into denser, higher rent, competitive markets where barriers to entry are high. Another model includes Checkers re-using shipping containers for constructing their new prototype, which is also both cost effective and sustainable.

As a real estate investor, this can be good news if you are eyeing Checkers as an investment, which tends to have a higher cap rate when compared to other concepts in the QSR sector. It can build confidence around an investment into Checkers as a tenant, who appears to be making shifts in technology to take advantage of the evolving landscape, while also adapting in ways that are allowing them to expand the concept and capture more market share. Like anything else, investors should also be aware of the risks associated with these deals. The Checkers prototype can go as small as an 800 square foot building, while the average QSR concept operates in 2,800 square feet. This can present a potential metric of risk to watch. The average unit sales volume for Checkers was around $970,000 in 2016; about the same volume as the average KFC ($999,500), Captain D’s ($1.04MM), and Arby’s ($1.07MM), but operating with a building square footage almost 2,000 square feet smaller than the other above referenced concepts. This can equate to a higher rent per square foot paid by Checkers; a high rent per square foot in markets that are generally lower income areas where the Checkers concept thrives.

Why is this a potential pressure point?

The average rent per square foot paid by QSR concepts was $35 per square foot in 2016, while Checkers, on average, was paying $47 per square foot in rent with an average square footage in 2016 of 1,800 SF. That rent per square foot could be inflated even further with their 800-1,000 SF prototype design. I have seen investors purchase new construction Checkers locations and after a few years, Checkers had decided to vacate. While Checkers may still be paying their rent obligation in these scenarios, the realization may set in that replacing $40-$50 PSF in rent will be impossible in a market where the average rents may be as low as $10-$15 per square foot gross due to the demographics and household income capacity. Now, with the new smaller footprint and an aggressive campaign to secure urban locations by getting competitive with rent, some new Checkers leases are approaching $80-$100 per square foot in rent. These very well may be slam dunk locations and great investments, but it cannot be argued that these deals also bring exposure to risk in rent sustainability. Pair that risk with the fact that Checkers is one of the few concepts that can develop on 0.25 acres of land, which does not provide many future opportunities for redevelopment, and the risk in these deals must be weighed accordingly.

All in all, there are positive things happening for Checkers as a concept as they remain bullish on further expansion. Investors looking to take a dive into the concept should look at every deal on a case by case basis. If you have a deal you are currently looking at and determining how to underwrite the deal to hedge against risk, but also remain aggressive in securing the asset for purchase, I am happy to walk through the details of the deal with you and help you determine your best strategic move. As always, I’m available to help wherever it makes the most sense for you.

 

 

Burger King: Corporate Owned to Franchise Run Investments

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.