COVID-19’s toll on the retail sector has been drastic. But some retail chains have been uniquely well-positioned for a recession in which many people are spending a lot of time at home.
While some retailers are closing thousands of physical stores and cancelling expansion plans due to sharp increases in online shopping and widespread shutdowns to curb the spread of the coronavirus, other brands are still growing their bricks-and-mortar footprints.
In fact, some are planning to add dozens and even hundreds of stores in 2020 and beyond.
“There are definitely tenants on my radar who are actively expanding despite current market conditions,” says Lanie Beck, director of corporate research at Stan Johnson Co., which specializes in net lease investments.
Convenience store growth is fairly robust and other essential retailers, including
grocery stores and some quick-service restaurant (QSR) concepts, continue to expand, Beck notes.
“All growth is being done very strategically though,” she says. “Location and demographics will continue to play a very important role as retailers consider their expansion plans, and we’re seeing a lot of creativity as tenants rethink their traditional concepts, roll out new prototype store designs, and figure out the right omni-channel strategy.”
Are there deals on real estate in a down market?
“Now is the time where retailers who are expanding are looking for better deals,” says James Cook, Americas director of retail research with real estate services firm JLL. “It has been a mixed experience out there, because some landlords are not yet ready to lower asking rents, but it’s starting to change.”
Cook also points out that retail spending is back to pre-COVID-19 levels. People are spending as much as they were before the pandemic, but in a different way and in different categories. “And the categories they’re spending [on] are expanding. Basically, it’s categories like casual takeout restaurants and delivery and value retail.”
There’s a “renaissance in the categories of food, pet, home, beauty, and arts and crafts, which is creating a proverbial requiem for retail,” notes Burt Flickinger, managing director of consulting firm Strategic Resource Group.
There’s a tremendous opportunity for well-located shopping centers and malls owned by enlightened landlords to undergo transformation with these concepts, he says. Other hot categories to watch, according to Flickinger, include consumer electronics and office, gaming/e-sports, clinics and health, big- box, sporting goods, warehouse clubs and food and fuel.