Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sweetgreen Springs for Success with New Location in Logan Circle (Washington DC)

Calkain attended the opening of the Logan Circle location of Sweetgreen this past weekend. Located on the ground floor of the luxury Metropole residential condominium, across the street from the 15th and P Street Whole Foods, it is in prime position to succeed in this market. Sweetgreen is headquarted in Washington DC and opened its first store in August 2007. Currently it has four retail locations but its immediate success has encouraged plans for further store expansion.

The idea behind Sweetgreen is simple: a sustainable salad and yogurt bar with a chic atmosphere and unique dining experience. In the Washington DC area, this approach has established Sweetgreen as a leader in fast-casual dining by combining the convenience of fast food with healthy, high-quality menu options. Due to its favorable position, the owners think the new Logan location will be their best store yet. Calkain is enthusiastic to be representing the partnership that owns the Sweetgreen Logan real estate.

The last twelve months have seen a surge in popularity of retail condominiums located in dense urban markets. Properties located in these areas, especially in the Washington DC urban core, are experiencing increased demand as they have prospered even in the face of the recession. As highlighted by RE Business, many individual investors are drawn to urban retail because the size and price points often allows them entry to prime urban markets previously beyond their reach.

They are also a popular choice among many 1031 investors who are seeking suitable replacement property. The retail condo units are typically NNN meaning the tenant is responsible for all expenses associated with the property. The properties are actually easier for both the landlord and tenant to manage because the services required to maintain the property are already contracted by the condominium at large. The tenant simply pays the retail unit’s portion of the condo, management and maintenance fees.

Another potential benefit to investors lies in the assessed value of the property and the weight given to improvements and land. Since the improvements are a greater part of the overall value in a condominium it is possible to depreciate a significant portion of those improvements on a 15 year schedule through a detailed cost segregation study. That means a stronger return and more cash in your pocket at the end of the year.

Please contact Calkain for more details.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Franchisee or Franchisor?

Currently there are around 1 million franchise outlets in the United States and over 40,000 international ones operated by U.S. based franchisors. Ownership and operation of these outlets can differ greatly depending upon their parent corporation. For instance Burger King franchises around 90% of their restaurants, McDonalds 80%, Wendy’s 79%, and Arby’s 69%. Conversely, large investor groups, such as Bain Capital, can also decide whether to license out the business model and make money off royalties or operate the franchises themselves, earning revenue directly. This decision is highly dependent upon the market in question and impacts future management of the property.

Typically, franchisors have three main sources of income, (1) retail sales at Company-operated restaurants; (2) franchise revenues, consisting of royalties; and (3) property income from restaurants that the parent company leases or subleases to franchisees. If a company were to engage in the first, it would necessarily negate the latter two and vice versa. In order for the first option to make sense, the specific franchise would need to operate with larger margins. For example, Bain Capital, which owns a 93% controlling economic interest in Dominos Pizza, chooses to sell the franchise rights of most of their stores (including U.S. based ones) but operates outlets based in Japan. This is because pizza delivery is considered a luxury item there, with people willing to pay up to $43.00 dollars for a single delivered pizza. Thus in Japan, it is more economical to operate rather than sell the franchise rights. Conversely, in the U.S., where pizza delivery is assuredly not a luxury item, it makes more sense to sell the franchises as margins are lower.

Should a parent company choose to own and operate a store, it can receive benefits related to its applicable real estate. A location operated by a parent company with investment grade credit, will instantly increase in value. This is because the locations returns are no longer guaranteed by an individual franchisee who has no credit rating but by a company which does. Furthermore, that company can still pull money out of the property through a sale-leaseback. This allows the company to take advantage of the properties increase in value and pull capital out for other uses. These factors are highly evident in net lease properties, where credit ratings are of high importance and sale leasebacks have always been very popular. A property which is corporate owned and guaranteed will typically fetch a much higher price than an individual franchisee due to the flight to quality in the current market.

The decision between owning/operating and franchising a property greatly impacts how it is valued. It also impacts the level of commitment and funds a franchisor dedicates to it. The applicable margins of the specific locale and the opportunity for greater profitability will then be the decisive factor.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

An Urban Trend or Legend?

A new trend could be emerging across our nation’s urban areas. With commercial real estate prices down and many locations vacant, the opportunity has arrived for well positioned investors to grab prime space in urban markets. Though many postulate commercial real estate has not yet bottomed out (Moody’s recently forecast another year of declining prices), there may simply be offers that can’t be refused in today’s cities.

This possible trend is highlighted in a recent story by Retailing Today, concerning J.C. Penny’s move into Manhattan. For most of its history, J.C. Penny purposely avoided Manhattan because of the number of competitors and their store space needs. However, recent times have seriously cut down the level of competition, while also providing new vacant space to occupy. The result was a two-level, 153,000 square foot store, which opened on July 31st. In its first month, the new store surpassed sales expectations by “double digits”. The location, which sits above a subway station and commuter rail line terminus, relays 250,000 people past the stores gates each day.

Another development has been the rising popularity of retail condominiums. As highlighted by RE Business Online, many individual investors favor this real estate type because it often allows them to own space in prime locations they couldn’t previously afford. They are also a popular choice among many 1031 investors who are seeking suitable replacement property. Furthermore, the economic downturn has caused a glut of vacant properties to fill the market; meaning retailers who are looking to buy or lease great negotiating leverage have a wider array of property to choose from. Retail condominiums are not only located in prime space but can often be bought by investors seeking to acquire real estate for their own use. These advantages make retail condominiums very popular today.

Net Lease properties are experiencing similar effects concerning urban locations. Properties located in these areas are experiencing increased demand as they have remained successful despite the recession. This coincides with the changing tastes of many investors from high risk/reward properties to ones with more stability. Taking into account the slump in property values, not only investors but retailers alike are jumping for the chance to own real estate in high density urban areas they previously would not have thought possible.