Restaurant Merger & Acquisitions: Expected to Maintain Steam in 2018

Outside of real estate investment, the restaurant market for business acquisitions has been warming for quite a while now. I say “warming up” modestly because it can be argued it has, in fact, been a fire hot space attracting investors big and small to concept acquisitions big and small. The M&A (Merger & Acquisition) market for restaurants has correlated to how the single-tenant net-leased real estate asset class has responded over the past 24 months; getting hotter than ever, then slowing down, but stabilizing at values that remain higher than most cycles have ever seen. Some of the higher profile news included JAB acquiring Panera Bread, Buffalo Wild Wings being acquired by Roark Capital, and Amazon acquiring Whole Foods in a parallel, but complimentary merging of sectors. In addition to bigger news, there has been some big news in smaller concept growth as well. R&R BBQ was acquired by Four Foods Group, while Beef ‘O’ Brady’s and Brass Tap franchisor FSC Franchising sold a majority of their stake to CapitalSpring. Ponderosa went to FAT Brands. Ruby Tuesdays went to NRD Capital.

 

Why is all of this happening? Investors have been consistently looking to take advantage of the rising consumer sentiment and there is still a ton of cash out there looking to be invested. The consensus among the restaurant lending arms of the world at the 2017 Restaurant Development and Finance Conference in Las Vegas was that the flow of capital is greater than ever right now. There is a lot of risk in many retail spaces right now and a lot of those investment dollars are being funneled towards the restaurant sector as a hedge against that risk. The newfound success by many smaller more craft concepts has sparked investors to take a more serious look at smaller growing concepts with significantly more upside than their more stable, seasoned, and proven concept competitors. Strong operators or investors with economies of scale in the space are more willing to take the risk on a potentially trendy concept if they can apply some of the basic growth principles to the brand that have worked for their other brands in the past.

 

Restaurant values are some of the highest we have ever seen with M&A multiples for franchising deals climbing higher and higher. This is making it tougher for smaller operators to grow their unit size as now there are some big money players coming into the mix, willing to throw some cash around at more aggressive prices than smaller investors may be willing to bite off on, but some of these strategic buyers backed by cash heavy big hitters have the scale and size to make the numbers work. Their long-term focus on their investments is driving some prices to 20 times EBITDA or higher. For instance, RBI paid 21 times EBITDA for Popeye’s, but they have the scale, systems, and supply chain to make even the international growth of such a well established concept a successful acquisition. According to the Restaurant Finance Monitor, Wedbush Securities analyst Nick Setyan has identified various restaurant concepts that might be acquired in 2018 based on cash flow yields. He identified BJ’s Restaurants, Fiesta Restaurant Group, and Cheesecake Factory as his top three to keep your eye on in 2018. As we all know, the restaurant industry is cyclical just like everything else, but the hope is that there is still some significant runway left in this cycle for investors, operators, franchisors and franchisees to find some win-wins and continue building concepts that will sustain profits in the long run.

Restaurant Industry Trends: What to Expect in 2018

Restaurant Industry Trends: What to Expect in 2018

We have seen a number of shifts in the dynamic of how business models function over the past few years.

Consider this:

Airbnb, one of the largest travel accommodation providers does not own their real estate. Uber and Lyft, two of the most powerful personal transportation companies in power today does not own their vehicles. Alibaba, a world-renowned powerhouse retailer, owns no inventory. The world’s most popular media content company, Facebook, creates none of its own content. One of the newest and most popular forms of currency, Bitcoin, arguably holds no value.

 

The new consensus is that companies who build the quickest bridges from the consumer to the goods or services bring enormous value into the equation. In essence, a third-party company avoids paying any of the costs of providing the goods or services, but has the opportunity to capture a small percentage of the profits by inserting themselves as the middle man. Businesses that are unable to adjust and provide the same bridge to their products lose that percentage from their bottom line and must learn how to adapt to shifting consumer preferences and expectations. Investors still see restaurant investments as a hedge against the risk of these disappearing business models because ultimately, people still need to eat. The need to consume food is not going anywhere, but how, where, and why it is consumed is seeing a shift. We’re entering an operational evolution and the restaurant industry is no different. As new delivery systems attempt to bridge the gap between consumer couches and the dinner table, everyone has been pushed off an edge and they are all simply learning how to fly again. With all these changes occurring, what kind of shifts in trends can we expect to see in 2018? Based on an article from Restaurant Business Online, here are a few changes we can expect to watch unfold in 2018:

 

The Evolution of the Term “Restaurant”

A restaurant is defined as a “business establishment where meals or refreshments may be purchased”, but businesses are melding, models are changing, and footprints are reshaping in a way that is demanding new definitions. By today’s definition, a restaurant could encompass the typical quick service concepts and full service dine in concepts, while also including food kiosks, food trucks, the self-serve salad bar in a Whole Foods grocery store, and carry-out meals at Wawa gas stations. Are they all restaurants? Or will the term restaurant be redefined in an industry where there seems to be 10 new terms for every five new concepts that pop up each week?

 

A Bursting of the Meal-Kit Bubble

The various meal-kit concepts popping up worked to bridge the gap between consumers shopping at the grocery store and sitting down to finally eat their meal. Because it was in line with where consumer preferences have been heading, it has captured a lot of buzz. The intrigue has sparked a number of companies finding success in the space, but the small profit those companies are capitalizing on acting as middle man may be phased out as consumers discover how to bridge that gap themselves. There may still be space for the Meal-Kit business model with niche consumers, but the consensus is that we can expect some consolidation in the space.

 

Super Food Frenzy

Consumer preferences continue to trend towards more healthy, natural, and sustainable food offerings that allow for customization. Concepts continue to work towards a customer experience that allows guests to fully customize their offering while maintaining economies of scale in preparation and operations. Offering health conscious choices to supplement preconceived base options will allow concepts to add a little more to their bottom line by charging consumers a premium for those customizable upgrades to their food offerings. Consumers, hungry for customization and the satisfaction of being health conscious, will likely continue to pay those premiums.

 

Indulgence Among Consumers

On the other side of the coin, consumers want to treat themselves for being so health conscious. In an effort to balance the scales, you can also expect to see consumers paying premiums for regular indulgence in the instant gratification found in those carb-heavy, sugar loaded, unique out of the box craft food offerings. Sometimes even the health-conscious consumer wants to let loose and devour a maple brown sugar loaded donut with greasy bacon on top.

 

Enter Italian Fast Casual

A number of pizza based fast casual concepts have had recent success, but you can expect more pasta fast casual concepts to enter the sector. As operators and innovators work to discover the best economies of scale and sustainable business models around balancing fresh pasta with food costs and quickness of service, it can be expected that one or two pasta based fast casual concepts may begin to find significant success and lead the pack.

 

Shift in Leading Consumer Action

The use of technology will spur a learning curve amongst consumers. Some generations will be reluctant to evolve, but eventually will be forced into submission by necessity, while younger generations may find the learning curve refreshing as they begin to see the integration of the new technology they know so well into new lifestyle environments that have never found a use for the technology. Either way, operators will focus on teaching consumers how to use these new automated tools to enhance the customer experience, streamline ordering and checkout, while also helping to crack down on quality control of food product output. With successful implementation of new technology, restaurant operators may be able to cut down on labor costs, lost costs, and quality control, while actually improving the customer experience and engagement.

 

Beefing up IT

With new technology implementation comes new technology support. Operators may need to find a balance between improving profits by cutting costs with implementing these new technologies and maintaining secure systems by beefing up their IT at an added cost. This shift in expenses should still prove profitable overall, however, it will take some trial and error before figuring out the perfect recipe for cost percentages in the industry. Tech support costs will not only be necessary to maintain the new technology being implemented, but also in ensuring security and safety for their guest’s personal and sensitive information in a world where hackers are digitally lurking around every cyber corner.

 

Reset and Settle

Like many things, the restaurant industry is cyclical. There are always going to be ups and downs. Generally, when things in the space begin to slow, concepts will reset their strategies, settle into their unit growth, and look to take a breath while they optimize their existing operations to mitigate risk of slow times in preparation for their next growth spurt. Although the economy appears to be the strongest in years, some concepts continue to see decreases in sales and are adjusting their overall strategies accordingly. Concepts like BJ Brewhouse are taking the opportunity to perfect their operations at existing locations scaling back on development until they are ready again to go full steam ahead. Other concepts are being acquired at a time when their existing operations may be having challenges, but investors are still bullish on acquisitions in the space. It is likely you will see those concepts take a step back after an acquisition to assess process, adjust business models, and settle into their new cultures before heading into more aggressive expansion.

 

The Experiential Revolution

Consumers everywhere, not just in the restaurant sector, are looking for richer experiences from their retail providers. Malls are evolving; large department stores are shutting their doors and being backfilled by experiential tenants looking to draw crowds. Full service dine-in cinemas are taking the outdated “Dinner and a Movie” date and allowing guests to have both at the same time. Breweries and Wineries are backfilling large spaces with their ability to attract large groups of people offering them a venue to socialize with friends and a customized craft offering for their palate. Restaurants are the perfect compliment to these venues and concepts finding themselves as outparcels to such anchors may see a spike in guest traffic. The use of technology is freeing up the on-site labor to provide more unique and personable experiences to guests as well. You can expect more and more unique experiences on the horizon for 2018.

 

The Restaurant Industry will continue to be focus for investors and concepts that put a priority on changing with the times will be the ones to stick around for the long haul. Both consumer preferences and technology are evolving at exponential rates and what works today may very well fail tomorrow. That is why it is more important than ever to stay on your toes in the space. People may always need to eat, but they won’t always need to eat here or there. Whether you are an investor in restaurant assets or an operator of restaurant assets, we welcome the opportunity to help you stay informed on what is happening in the restaurant sector on a regular basis. If you are looking for more specific information or data regarding the restaurant industry, restaurant real estate, or strategy around all of the above, do not hesitate to reach out to us directly.

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.

Does The Guarantee On Your Restaurant Net Lease Have Upside or Downside?

Does The Guarantee On Your Restaurant Net Lease Have Upside or Downside?

One of the biggest metrics investors look at when purchasing a single-tenant net-leased asset is the guarantee behind the lease. It is a major factor in weighing risk vs. return when it comes to net-leased assets.

It can also be a major factor that is misunderstood or overlooked without careful investigation.

For example, let’s say you are considering the purchase of a Taco Bell net-leased asset:

You perform a quick Google search to discover that Taco Bell is S&P rated BB and operates 7,000 locations!

That is quite a strong concept!

Hold on…You also learn that Taco Bell is actually a subsidiary of Yum! Brands, which owns Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut comprising of over 43,000 locations!

That must be a risk-free investment then…

Well, not necessarily.

Thinking this is the best investment since sliced bread, you put the property under contract. During the due diligence period, you investigate the lease to learn that it is actually only guaranteed by an entity named “Taco Bell 5 FL Tacos, LLC”…

What does that mean?

Come to find out, the franchisee operating this Taco Bell only has 5 stores…and only ONE of their stores is backing this lease through the referenced entity…

It is easy to see how an investment backed by corporate Taco Bell holds drastically different risk factors than an investment backed by a 5-unit franchisee only offering a 1-unit guarantee on their lease. These are important risk factors that have significant impact on the values you can demand for your investment property and the return you can expect to yield from purchasing one of these properties.

These are also important factors that your broker/investment advisor should be making you aware of and helping you analyze, not only prior to a purchase, but prior to a contract for purchase.

With that in mind, existing guarantees can have upside or downside tied to the strength of what is backing the lease.

The typical rule of thumb in any investment is:

The Higher The Risk, The Higher The Return!

A corporate 20-year Taco Bell lease may sell for a 4.5% cap rate, while a 5-unit Taco Bell lease with just 3 years remaining might sell for an 8% cap rate. With a weaker guarantee or lesser lease term comes more inherent risk, but also more reward.

This can be especially true for your guarantee.

You may take on more risk purchasing the 5-unit franchisee backed lease, but what if a larger 200-unit operator is considering buying out that smaller franchise? If that 200-unit operator buys out your tenant and decides to guarantee the lease with the entire lot of their locations, you could easily gain 100-200 basis points worth of value overnight.

That is what some like to call upside.

KBP Foods, a large franchisee of Yum! Brands concepts, recently acquired 78 KFC locations. According to Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN), this was just one of many recent acquisitions that have helped the operator reach 530 locations in 20 states. One of those purchases was an acquisition as small as four locations in Lawrence and Topeka, Kansas. These units were purchased from franchisees and the investors owning the real estate under those operations must be popping the champagne right about now because their small franchise tenant just evolved into a powerhouse operator and one of the largest Yum! Brand franchisees in existence. Even without a change in the guarantee, the perception of now having a very strong operator can alone impact the value and equity of the investment.

My warning is that it can work in the opposite direction as well.

Part of KBP Food’s feeding frenzy in acquiring locations included 41 locations in Texas directly from Corporate KFC. This is not unexpected. Last year, Yum! Brands announced they would shift the ownership of their stores drastically into the hands of franchisees; taking their 10,000 corporate run stores and shrinking that number to fewer than 1,000 by the end of 2018, according to USA Today.

Those investors that had a corporate KFC lease just had a change of tenant…From Corporate run to franchisee run…overnight. While in some lease structures, the landlord is protected for the life of the lease, there is certainly downside when it is time to re-up and your new tenant has a fraction of the net-worth your previous tenant came to the table with. In the KBP Foods scenario, the downside in equity may not be as dramatic; a tenant shift from Corporate run location to a 530-unit operation, although a sure hit in the risk department, is still a pill you can swallow. Some leases, however, allow for corporate guarantees to revert to franchisee guarantees as small as 10 or fewer units…

That  is where there can be downside.

Which scenario strikes a chord with your current portfolio?

Do you have upside or downside?

If these are factors you actively consider when looking at deals, then you are ahead of the game and I would be happy to take you to the next level with the specialized insight I can provide. If you were unaware of these factors or fail to consider them on a regular basis, you and I should connect immediately.

Please reach out and I will make myself available.

I’m helping clients all over the Nation evaluate their upside/downside on a daily basis; analyzing property value, risk, and equity to help clients get clear on their options at any given time within the market and execute on a proactive strategy around these seemingly reactive assets. Feel free to reach out to me for more specific insight around your restaurant investments as I welcome the opportunity to help you do the same even if there is no immediate business to be had on the horizon.

Applebee’s: Good or Bad Investment?

Applebee’s: Good or Bad Investment?

It was November of 1980 in Decatur, Georgia when the doors opened for T.J. Applebee’s Rx for Edibles and Elixirs. Six years later, the concept changed names to Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar to reflect the original vision for the concept being a local place that everyone could call home. Fast forward 20 years later and Applebee’s had grown large enough to attract the attention of DineEquity, formerly IHOP Corporation, which acquired Applebee’s for $2.1 Billion in 2007 to create the largest full-service restaurant company in the world.

Now we are in 2017 and times are changing! Fast casual concepts have been picking up steam since the early 2000’s. With consumer preferences continuing to shift towards a larger variety of tastes along with a desire for healthier choices, fast casual as a segment has began to take market share from both casual dining and quick service restaurant concepts with the rise of trendy concepts. In light of these changing consumer preferences, Applebee’s made a number of shifts over the past few years in strategy, offering, marketing, etc. in order to maintain that market share and recapture their customers.

Even still, the company has seen regular declines in same-store sales recently and it has hurt the perception of Applebee’s as an investment. The average cap rate for Applebee’s sold in 2016 was 5.90%; year to date 2017, the average cap rate is 6.21%. That means that over the past twelve months, cap rates have climbed over 30 basis points.

That doesn’t sound too bad…

The recent announcement that DineEquity would close up to 135 locations in fiscal 2017 is what has really created the most recent shift in perception and cap rates. The average cap rate for on-market Applebee’s properties right now is 6.73%; over 80 basis points from the 2016 average. Further, the average cap rate for Applebee’s properties hitting the market since August is 7%. That is over 100 basis points lower than where cap rates were for a comparable asset 12 months prior. This is not happening across the board for restaurant net-leased assets. The restaurant sector actually continues to see some of the most compressed cap rates across all other net-leased food groups; staying about 40-50 basis points lower than other comparable net-leased assets in other sectors. This is a direct result of buyer perception and an influx of inventory hitting the market.

So as a buyer, you should stay away, right?

Not necessarily.

Many argue that now is the time to enter the Applebee’s concept and take advantage of these inflated cap rates for a proven concept with a long-term lease in place. Applebee’s has been on a steady decline, however, recently there have been a number of changes within executive management and they are shaking things up. What they did not tell you prior to rolling out the breaking story of all the anticipated location closures was that they had identified most of these closures quite some time ago. In fact, half of the stores they plan to close have likely already shut their doors. According to Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN), the Applebee’s brand president, John Cywinski, said this was a strategic move and many of the store closures are stores that “need to close and perhaps should have closed a long time ago”. In addition, Applebee’s has vowed to get back to their American roots. Instead of continuing the attempt to capture a new demographic, they are going back to listening to what their core demographic is asking for. According to Inc.com, Cywinski made this statement regarding their new focus:

Now, let’s shift attention to our guests and perhaps one of the brand’s strategic missteps. Over the past few years, the brand’s set out to reposition or reinvent Applebee’s as a modern bar and grill in overt pursuit of a more youthful and affluent demographic with a more independent or even sophisticated dining mindset, including a clear pendulum swing towards millennials. In my perspective, this pursuit led to decisions that created confusion among core guests, as Applebee’s intentionally drifted from its — what I’ll call its Middle America roots and its abundant value position. While we certainly hope to extend our reach, we can’t alienate boomers or Gen-Xers in the process. Much of what we are currently unwinding at the moment is related to this offensive repositioning.

Applebee’s is upgrading image, equipment, and focus. They have embraced technology and begun implementing tablets into their POS systems. They have adjusted the menu and pricing strategies under new executive management. To top it all off, they are getting back to the roots of their core demographic and are revved up to crush it out of the park. Good or bad investment? It depends on your threshold for risk and your hunger for return. For every seller looking to transition from Applebee’s to a different asset or net-leased sector, there are three buyers trying to take advantage of the inflated cap rate environment around the concept.

Like any long-term net-leased investment, it is important to weigh all the factors heavily before moving forward. Ultimately, anything can happen over the next 15-20 years. If you are concerned with maintaining your cash flow for the extent of the new 15 year Applebee’s lease you are looking to purchase, then get critical of the guarantee behind the lease and weigh the risk that it holds. If you would rather take a 7% return when all other restaurants are trading 100 to 200 basis points lower, then simply assume they will vacate at the end of the lease and evaluate the core real estate for the future. If the financial strength of the guarantee holds weight and you are positioned on over an acre of land, on a decent thoroughfare, in a growing area, then a dive into an Applebee’s bottom might be your smartest move; worst case scenario you re-tenant after the base term with a growing concept after collecting an average of 7-8% on a passive net-leased asset…the upside, though, is that you could enter into the monster concept on a downswing and get to ride it back up through its transformation.

Hurricanes Irma and Harvey: How Natural Disasters Can Impact the Market

Hurricanes Irma and Harvey: How Natural Disasters Can Impact the Market

I remember a few years ago, taking a phone call in front of our large conference room window. I was looking out at the downtown skyline of Tampa Bay, discussing deal points with a client on other end of the phone. Most of the office had cleared out to prepare for a brewing hurricane. The skies were blue and the sun was beaming, but grocery store parking lots were gridlocked as swarms of people flooded the aisles in search of water and canned goods. There was no indication that the storm would even continue heading our direction, but everyone was up in arms about being prepared for the worst. It turns out the Category 3 storm that was headed straight for us took a last minute detour and we maintained blue skies for the bulk of its passing.

Preparation, or non-preparation, becomes a double edged sword. Nine times out of ten, you will over prepare for a storm that never happens, but that one time you decide to overlook your preparations is when you will be hit the hardest. This year, hurricane season has been in full force. First it was Hurricane Harvey, which slammed coastal Texas with devastating power. Homes and businesses were flooded and cars were swept off the roads. The category 4 storm had 130 mph winds that ripped through the Texas coast overnight. At the end of it all there had been as much as 20 inches of rain in some places leaving over 300,000 people without power.

That type of devastation affects not only the residents, but the surrounding businesses, the infrastructure, and the real estate. Darden Restaurants, Inc., the parent company of a number of well known full-service restaurant brands such as Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze, and the newly acquired Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, reported the storm hurt same store sales and earnings in its fiscal first quarter. Between forced store closures, power outages, and other unfortunate circumstances, their earnings per share took a hit. The Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen concept was hit particularly hard because of their strong presence in Texas according to Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN).

Hurricane Irma was expected to have a similar impact on Florida markets. With its last minute shift causing a direct hit on the entire state of Florida, there were many Florida markets that were hit hard as a result. The day after all the devastation, our team was out driving the market to help owners assess damages to their properties. Many of the coastal flood zones flooded some houses and businesses. Most of Tampa Bay, however, was able to weather the storm with minimal damage, although many businesses went without power for over a week in addition to having difficulty acquiring supplies to keep their doors open. Some businesses were raking in the sales and taking advantage of being the only restaurants open among some of the densest counties in Florida. One Taco Bell I visited was slammed with guests, but still struggling to save face in the wake of not being able to get the supplies they needed. A guest asking for a spork was met with a manager’s apologetic eyes:

“We don’t have anymore. I might have to go down the street and see if we can get some plastic forks from Publix”

Most of Central Florida, although arguably hit the worst, weathered the storm fairly well. Aside from debris and a few fallen trees paired with a massive loss of power, most structures stayed intact. Many of the restaurants maintaining power served to feed those residents who were going on 5 days without power in their homes.

Other Florida markets, however, were hit harder than they would have wished. South Florida markets on both coasts and everything in between were met with some tough times; properties flooded, power grids out for weeks, infrastructure ruined. Many markets are still working to recover their physical structures, not to mention swallowing the pill of lost sales during the times of closure. Franchisees have been forced to close doors on a number of stores and some have even abandoned specific locations that they deemed too much of a capital expense to get back up and running.

In terms of net-leased investment sales, these factors impacted the market there too. Some properties that were hit the hardest were actually under contract at the time of devastation. Many of the potential buyers in the midst of 1031 exchanges ended up dropping those contracts. We saw an influx of offers shifting from south Florida markets to West and Central Florida inventory we still had available. Investors were looking more critically at hedges against catastrophe than they had previously. In addition, a number of owners had never considered the potential risk of a natural disaster or at least never considered it a risk significant enough to impact their investment. Some owners have had to spend thousands to tens of thousands of dollars on repairs, while others made it out with little or no damage, but now have considered selling due to the increased perception of risk.

These storms have been eye opening for many people in a variety of ways, including the other side of the coin where there are many investors now looking hard at Florida markets trying to identify the opportunities to scoop up some of these properties that may suddenly have value to be added. At this point, most businesses are back up and running in most major markets, and while many are still recovering, everyone is working hard to move forward. Ultimately, though, it is amazing how resilient the market is. For every owner wanting to exit Florida markets for fear of the next natural disaster, there are three buyers looking to buy in the income tax free state.

The show must go on…but now it may just come with a higher price tag for flood insurance.

Church’s Chicken: A Work in Progress

Church’s Chicken: A Work in Progress

Church’s Chicken is an American chain of fast food restaurants specializing in fried chicken. The chain was founded as Church’s Fried Chicken To Go by George W. Church, Sr., on April 17, 1952, in San Antonio, Texas, across the street from The Alamo. The company, with more than 1,700 locations in 25 countries, is the third-largest chicken restaurant chain behind KFC and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen.

Church’s is known for thriving in tough markets housing lower income demographics. Many investors actually prefer these investments because there is a sort of hedge against risk in these markets. The perception is that regardless of what hardships hit these markets, they will always need to eat cheap and Church’s is there to provide that service. In the recent past, however, with the chicken market exploding, Church’s has had some tough competition. Church’s as an organization has made serious strides towards improving their competitive position.

According to the organization itself, burger joints and grocery stores are stealing their thunder lately. It could be argued, however, that their biggest competition is the local shop across the street. Even they agree that the business is a battle of street corners. Essentially, it is all about real estate…Who has the hard corner with the highest traffic counts? Who is most likely to pull customers in from the street and capitalize on their impulse for dinner?

Admittedly, Church’s as an organization is working on both variety of offering and also increasing volume through drive-through efficiency. According to Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN), Church’s has been ramping up their technological offering in an attempt to improve their drive through experience.

Who is the drive through competition though?

Chick Fil A, Raising Cane’s, Zaxby’s…There is some tough competition out there. Church’s has clocked their drive-through time in at just over three minutes and 30 seconds, which is impressive, but you also have to get the order right. According to recent data published by QSR Magazine on the accuracy of QSR fast food joints, some of the top contenders include Raising Cane’s topping the list at over 97% accuracy…Chick Fil A pulling 3rd with over 93% accuracy…and Zaxby’s clocking in at over 90% accuracy. Church’s Chicken unfortunately did not make the top 15 on the list.

With a dinner oriented business, focused on a lower income demographic and catering to the entire family, there is still little competition for the type of value their $5 Real Big Deal brings. It is hard to beat a deal that cheap that can feed the family while also offering choices that allow you to customize your meal.

When it comes to Church’s Chicken as a real estate investment, there are certain characteristics the deal holds that you cannot ignore:

  • Like many QSR properties, the real estate tends to maintain core desirable properties:
    • Hard Corner
    • Main Thoroughfare
    • Good Ingress/Egress
  • The rents are low
    • With rents averaging around $20 PSF as a concept, if the demographics were to shift in a landlord’s favor, there could be some generous upside in rent appreciation.
  • Demographics have a sustainable need
    • The target demographic, although thrifty, has proven to spend money on convenience. The concept works and is typically recession-proof. Even when there is a downturn, the main household income for this demographic will not shift as dramatically as other higher income areas. Because the demographic is self-sustainable, they can often replicate the disposable income necessary to spend money on eating out more readily than other economically hard-hitting areas.

Over the past twelve months, Church’s Chicken has had an average cap rate of 7%. Similar to the story above regarding the sustainable demographic, the cap rate has also remained fairly stagnant compared to other concepts. Why? Mainly because while the risk or perception of risk in other concepts varies greatly around market traction, the perception of risk for these types of assets remains fairly the same over time. The guarantee has not shifted much; and although the demographics will never demand a certain amount of sales, the demand for the concept and product is there. The density of the population and demand from the surrounding population will sustain the concept.

The challenge for an owner is: what happens if they leave?

If you own a Church’s Chicken and the lease term is approaching, a major question is: Will they stay or will they go? As an owner with this question in mind, you hold significant risk. Although compared to other net-leased investments, the average Church’s Chicken pays a fairly low rent per square foot, the sustainability of the cash flow stream can still be unclear. The nature of the target demographic is a pro in the fact that it is in constant need of the product, but a con in the fact that even though the base rent is low, if Church’s left, you would be stuck trying to lease to a local tenant likely at half the market rate. Your cash flow would be cut in half. If you are a savvy investor and have enough tenant relationships to redevelop the parcel or sit on it until it can be redeveloped with a stronger tenant, then you are in good shape.

Most of us, however, are not in that kind of position.

I urge clients to look at their investments critically and evaluate their options on a regular basis. I am here to help. I’m evaluating risk, cash flow, equity, and future value for clients on a daily basis and I’m happy to do the same for you. As you plan your long-term investment strategy, it is imperative that you look at how your existing portfolio fits into your long-term plan. An investment like Church’s Chicken has its pros and its cons; it can certainly be a strong part of a comprehensive portfolio, but my point is that nothing should be left to chance. If you are not looking at these investments with a strict magnifying glass and comparing them to the rest of your long-term plan, then you need to re-evaluate your investment strategy. I am happy to help wherever it makes sense, so please reach out if you are curious about your existing portfolio, looking to diversify, or simply wish to keep a pulse on what is happening in the market and how you can best capitalize on the recent market changes.

Starbucks, New Leases, & Termination Options

Starbucks, New Leases, & Termination Options

Starbucks as a tenant is notorious for their hardball negotiation tactics.

Who can blame them? Starbucks, founded in 1971 out of Seattle, is one of the strongest quick service restaurant (QSR) tenants you could wish to have occupy your property. With over $20 Billion in revenue, over 26,000 locations nationwide, and a credit rating of A2, it is no wonder Starbucks is one of the highest paying restaurant tenants in rent averaging over $60 per square foot.

They negotiate hard simply because they have the leverage to do so.

If you would like a lesson on how to negotiate, I will reserve that for a separate article or you can contact me directly to discuss in more detail, but for now I want to address how these negotiations can impact the value of your property. These hardball negotiations on Starbucks end will certainly put them in a further position of power in regard to controlling their own destiny with their real estate and location growth, but it should be understood that it does not mean Starbucks is an investment to now shy away from. If anything, it should show that they are a stronger investment than ever. Not only are they one of the strongest guarantees you can secure, but they are looking out for their own long-term interests and success.

In recent years, Starbucks has been approaching landlords about signing new 10-year leases. Typically, when a store reaches the 10-year old mark, it is time to upgrade the store. For Starbucks, this could mean significant capital expenditures to bring the store up to new standards. They see these expenditures as a necessary evil and tend to ask the landlord in return for a new longer lease in order to secure their capital investment long-term. Sometimes they ask for a rent reduction or some other concessions, while other times they may just be looking to secure a new 10-year lease in lieu of exercising their next 5-year option. If you have been approached with this offer, I am sure you felt butterflies in your stomach as your eyeballs turned to dollar signs and you felt like your investment just became 10-years stronger. There is no doubt that Starbucks showing interest in signing a new 10-year lease is a solid opportunity to explore, but reel your excitement in a bit and prepare to read the fine print.

Many of these new 10-year leases include a termination option at year 5, which is not the end of the world. After all, if they are willing to put real dollars into renovations and sign a new 10-year lease, it would appear their intent is to stay for the entire 10 years; that 5-year termination clause is simply a hedge against an unforeseeable future. It is important, however, to understand how this will affect the equity of your entire investment. The value of your property is directly correlated to how much lease term you have remaining and the strength of your guarantee.

In this scenario, guarantee is not the issue, however, remaining lease term is. On paper, it appears you have a new 10-year lease. From the graph below, you can see that the average cap rate for a 10-14 year corporate lease over the past 12 months has been 5.88%. Talk about equity; if Starbucks is $60 per square foot on a 2,000 SF building ($120,000 NOI), then a 5.88% cap rate puts your value just over $2MM.

cap rate versus guarantee vs lease term graph

Here is the problem:

Investors and buyers will not see a new 10-year lease. Investors will see a termination option in year five and in order to hedge their own risk, they will assume the tenant will leave after 5 years. Effectively, that simple little 5-year termination clause crushes your current value as an opportunity cost versus a true 10-year lease. You will see from the graph above that the average cap rate for a 5-9 year corporate lease is at 6.27%. You just lost about 40 basis points worth of value and that is being generous because these figures include a range of lease terms lumped together. More realistically, you are looking at a 50-75 basis point hit in value by keeping that 5-year termination clause in a new 10-year lease. See more detailed recent cap rates for Starbucks specifically at my last cap rate market update.

When it comes down to it, however, fighting over striking the 5-year termination option from your new lease is not worth losing Starbucks as a tenant. There are few tenants willing to pay $60 per square foot and so the likelihood of replacing that rent and cash flow stream is slim if you do not come to an agreement with Starbucks. Hence, why they hold all the leverage.

Here is the silver lining: Do not beat yourself up if you have signed a new 10-year lease with Starbucks and it includes one of those 5-year termination options. The values are still strong for Starbucks net-leased properties and investor perception is still very strong for these assets as they are still great long-term investments with solid financial backing and stability.

DSC_0266

I listed this Starbucks location in New Port Richey, Florida (pictured above) recently and if you are looking to enter the net-leased investment realm, consider this deal. Just as mentioned above, this client had Starbucks approach him about signing a new 10-year lease. They were asking to include a termination option at year 5. Through working with me, the client was able to secure a very marketable deal. Starbucks signed a new 10-year lease, keeping their option to terminate in year 5, however they are required to give 6 months notice to the landlord and pay a penalty of about $50,000. Worst case scenario, that equates to almost an entire year of cash flow for the landlord if they do plan to exercise their option to terminate in year 5. In these situations, though, all signs point to an intent to stay long-term. Starbucks is investing dollars to renovate the location and if you ever visit, the drive thru stack consistently wraps around the entire building. As an investor, how can you go wrong with a new 10-year Starbucks deal on a hard corner with frontage on a thoroughfare that boasts 59,000 cars per day?

That’s Net-Lease Investor Gold.

You can find more details on this specific Starbucks Offering Here

Ultimately, it comes down to what your long-term strategy is for the property. It is often times easy with these “coupon clipper” properties to set them and forget them. Rent is deposited every month, year after year, and the landlord gets to sit back and sip the pina coladas, but I urge all my clients to stay fresh on their feet. Before you know it, you could be down to just 12 months remaining on your lease, which does not put you in much of a position of power when it comes to tenant renewal, property values, and retaining your existing cash flow. I work with clients on a regular basis to keep a pulse on the market and ensure they are maximizing their equity, exchanging in and out of the market, and over time increasing the overall portfolio value of their investments. Some of the strategies I help clients execute on include sale-leasebacks and blend-and-extends among other strategies to help them mitigate risk and maximize value in situations such as these.

More specifically, I have helped many Starbucks landlords find a Win-Win common ground with Starbucks during negotiations as referenced above in order to maintain their cash flow stream, maximize the value of their investment, and ultimately establish a successful future for Starbucks to stay at their property long-term. If you would like more detailed information around how to maximize the value of your property through new lease negotiations or if you have interest in purchasing a Starbucks net-leased property, please contact me directly at 813-387-4796 and I would be happy to help wherever it makes sense.

The Tenant & Landlord Relationship

The Tenant & Landlord Relationship

Tenants and Landlords both have the same end goal:

Maximize the Value of Their Investment.

Sometimes it can be tempting for either side to try to improve their own situation at the expense of the other; it can be tempting to trust one another to have a genuine interest in your own investment’s success. The important point to consider here, however, is that the tenant’s investment and the landlord’s investment are one and the same. The tenant and landlord, whether they like it or not, became business partners when they both entered into a lease agreement. With that in mind, you cannot build a sustainable business and maximize business profits without trusting the partner you are in business with. In order for a landlord to maximize the value and sustainability of their property, and for a tenant to do the same for their business, there must be a constant Win-Win mindset on both sides. When both sides give, the entire investment thrives. This article serves to highlight some of the most common tenant/landlord relationship hurdles, how to maintain a Win-Win mindset for each, and then current applications of this Win-Win mindset in today’s evolving Food & Beverage industry.

Lease Guarantees and Credit

To start, let us highlight a few of the most common tenant/landlord relationship hurdles

A tenant would not sign their name in ink if they thought their business was going to fail. Lease agreements are signed by tenants eager to be successful, but whether you are a tenant operating the business or a landlord investing in their business as a tenant, there is risk involved with entering any agreement. It is the landlord/investor’s job to weigh that risk against the return of their investment dollars, while it is the tenant’s job to mitigate that risk for the landlord and prove that they will back up all their talk with a profitable walk through the next real estate cycle. More important than proof of concept doing business under a lease is the credit and guaranty backing that lease. Having a Nationally recognized concept holds little weight when the guaranty on the lease is a 1-unit operator without money to pay for a new AC unit, let alone money for rent this month. Similarly, you may have a tenant that no one has ever heard of, but a personal guarantee on the lease worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The lease risk is in the guaranty and while a tenant may be reluctant to give an ideal scenario of a corporate guaranty in an attempt to protect their business, there should be a happy medium for both parties that coincides with the long-term value of the expected cash flow stream. When it comes to what credit is backing the lease, the bottom line is that if a tenant wants out, they will find a way out. A tenant with money that wants out will fight you hard to get out. A tenant without money will disappear in the dark of the night and take all the lightbulbs with them. As an investor, you may be buying the guarantee, but you are also investing in the success of their business. If you are not willing to grow together, you are both bound to fail.

Information Sharing

Which Came First: Unit-Level Sales? Or a Sustainable Rent-to-Sales Ratio?

As a tenant, your gut reaction may be to hoard your financial data in an attempt to secure a well below-market rent and add that money to your bottom line. What happens when the market shifts, your sales dip below sustainable levels and you need a rent reduction, but your landlord does not believe you because they have no access to hard facts around the financial health of your business?

Unit-Level Sales and Tenant Financials are imperative to both parties getting on the same page and coming to a mutually beneficial agreement for long-term success. Without this transparency, tenants cannot trust their landlords and landlords cannot trust their tenants. When there is no trust, every engagement is a head-to-head battle to keep hold of their chips. Tenants become over-leveraged on rent putting their business at risk, while landlords cannot effectively maximize the value of their asset and cash flow stream for sustainable long-term growth.

For a Win-Win to occur, there needs to be transparency on both sides. Landlords should be requesting and requiring financial data before even signing a lease, while tenants should be concerned if their landlords are not doing so. It is simply bad business on both sides. As a landlord, how can you maximize cash flow while maintaining sustainability and mitigating risk without an indication of how well their business is operating? As a tenant, how can you get your landlord’s buy-in to manage your occupancy costs or even get a lease agreement signed without some kind of proof of concept? The paradox is that once both sides let go of that information control, both sides acquire an even more solid control of their business and investment.

Competitive Landscape

Tenant’s should not be the only ones concerned with encroaching competitive concepts. A landlord remain aware of what other restaurants are entering the surrounding market. This awareness includes staying conscious to who they actively recruit to be neighboring tenants within their shopping centers or adjacent single-tenant properties. While some restaurant concepts can complement each other, others can cannibalize each other. A competitor moving in could mean a 20%-40% loss in sales. Alternatively, it could mean monster sales growth in the same respect if a competitor down the street shuts its doors. Landlords and tenants should work together to share intel on the surrounding landscape so that both sides can stay ahead of any market shifts and craft their long-term investment strategy accordingly.

Landlord/Tenant Concessions

Landlords used to buying into established cash flow streams and then watching them get chiseled down by struggling tenants asking for rent reductions can become desensitized to the core of what a sustainable tenant/landlord relationship should look like. For an investor or landlord trying to protect their investment and their cash flow stream, the instinctual reaction is to be adversarial towards the tenant. In a situation where the tenant does not share their financials or sales data, the landlord can feel like the tenant may be crafting a sob story and taking advantage of their relationship to pocket additional profit in a rent reduction, which is all the more reason that tenants should be more than willing to share their financial situation with their landlord. As an investor, this instinctual reaction is simply a function of trying not to feel like you’ve taken one step forward, but two steps backwards; backed into a corner, a landlord will scratch and claw their way back to where they started even if it means giving no concessions and keeping rents as high as possible. This mindset, however, will run a restaurant out of business and eliminate the entire cash flow stream for the investment; neither of which is forward progress for the landlord or the tenant.

Landlords should keep in mind that when working with tenants, the best chance for big success is a great build out. Sometimes additional T.I. for a tenant works wonders for their balance sheet as it sets them up for the most success, but allows them to maintain cash on hand. That extra T.I. will often create better visibility, better landscaping, and the ambiance necessary to capture higher guest volume and solidify a location for long-term success. The tenant on the other side also needs to understand that many times, for an existing landlord, T.I. is an unexpected capital expenditure in the midst of a diminishing or completely depleted cash flow stream. In the end, like everything else, both parties benefit most from a Win-Win.

Food & Beverage Trends

From speaking with landlords, tenants, developers, and investors in the restaurant sector, there are a few common threads we are seeing begin to trend in newly successful restaurant concepts. Below is a summary of what we have heard lately:

  • Chicken and Asian-Inspired Cuisine is Trending in the Southeastern United States
  • Flavor Profiles are Becoming Less Important
    • The Focus is on Volume and Quick Service
  • Footprints are Shrinking
    • 7,000 SF Concepts Finding Ways to Shrink to 3,000 SF Prototypes
  • Health Conscious Food Transparency Becoming a Necessity
  • Customization/Individualization is Driving Traffic
  • Localized Design and Community Integration a Consumer Focus
  • The Dine-In Experience is Evolving to Compete with Delivery Alternatives

New concepts having success with these business model shifts are a sign of changing consumer preferences and the major players are not naïve to these changes. Everyone we talk to is proactively striving to evolve to meet the desires of consumers and maintain relevant in this ever-changing industry.

Overall though, Restaurants are moving up in the retail world. It used to be that Food & Beverage accounted for close to 10% of shopping center occupancy, but that has been moving closer to 30% today. Some fear that the market is becoming too saturated with restaurants and that the general population will not support sustainable sales for the density of restaurants entering the market. Keeping this in mind, tenants should think critically about their plans for expansion and the numbers they are crunching to get there, while landlords should remain focused on the key elements of a good investment:

  • Core Real Estate Characteristics
  • Tenant Overall Credit/Track Record
  • Tenant’s Commitment to Site
    • Recent Capital Expenditures
    • Extended Lease Term
  • Tenant Financials/Sustainable Unit-Level Rent-to-Sales

Ultimately, retail and restaurants will ebb and flow. In any given year, whether concepts are expanding or contracting, the general population will still need to eat. The tenants that will be left standing will be those that have secured A+ real estate, have enough equity to slip through the slumps, optimize their infrastructure to maximize profitability, and most importantly those that keep a close eye on their occupancy/food costs; raising labor/food costs can put unanticipated pressure on occupancy costs/rent. The good news is that all of those tenant characteristics scream slam dunk investment for investors and property owners.

Sustainability of business and of cash flow is based on that kind of Win-Win.

We are actively working to help our clients bridge the gap between tenants and opportunities. Whether you are a tenant actively seeking growth opportunities or a landlord working to maximize the health and value of your property, give us a call to see how best we can serve you.

National Net-Leased Report | 2017 Outlook

National Net-Leased Report | 2017 Outlook

The outlook for 2017 remains strong. Restaurants are still hanging on to some of the lowest cap rates across the net-leased sector, which bodes well for existing investors’ values. One would think that these low returns would deter buyers, but with all of the exchange capital floating around and the stability of restaurant net-leased investments, buyers still view these long-term investments as a hedge against inflation.

Check out the cap rate comparison graph below showing the most recent cap rate ranges by both sector and major brand:

Cap Rate Comparison Across Sectors

Overall, positive economic momentum has carried into 2017 and it is being driven by confident consumers. Although rising interest rates have sparked a slight investor re-calibration, there still seems to be some runway left in this market. The spread between cap rates and the 10-year treasury is maintaining a steady gap and although we would anticipate interest rates to go up at some point, they appear somewhat stable for now.

Net-leased properties recorded a 23.9 percent advance in the average asking rent last year, which has more than doubled the pace of multi-tenant shopping centers over the same period. A lot of this is due to strong corporate backed tenants or franchisees getting aggressive to secure additional sites and locations. The good news is that asking rents in net-leased properties are still below the pre-crisis peak with an average tenant paying $19.62 per square foot nationwide.

For 2017, store openings will be led by the dollar-store segment, however consistent expansion in the fast-food sector will continue over the comping year. From all angles, I see this year shaping up to be a busy one across the entire net-leased sector!

Access the Full Report Here

If you would like more specialized insight or research in regard to your current investment portfolio or more information around what restaurant net-leased investments are currently available on the market, feel free to contact me directly at 813-387-4796.