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.

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.

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.