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Thousands of restaurants close: Are you ready to sell the inventory?

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Over 5,000 restaurants across the United States closed their doors in the past 12 months. Most of them were independents, not chains. After you get over mourning the demise of your favorite Friday night spot, thoughts turn to how are we going to sell these properties?

The statistics from this week’s news shouldn’t surprise anyone. Early on in the recession Americans started cutting back on their dining out. Some cut out restaurant meals completely to save money. Those those who still ate out regularly moved to less expensive joints. Fine dining became a luxury for most Americans the past few years.

Restaurants cut expenses and adapted to the new economy (blue plate specials and coupons), utilized creative marketing techniques (Facebook and Groupon) or hung on for dear life.

Now it seems like in 2009-2010 that line snapped. With no more ways to cut costs and record level unemployment numbers thinning their dining crowds to a trickle, many independent restauranteurs threw in the towel.

In my area, there’s one restaurant that has changed hands three times in the past four years. Driving by today it looked dark at lunchtime, and someone commented to me that the location must be the kiss of death if it’s closed again.

(Question: are some locations truly jinxed or just so poor nothing could succeed there? This particular location is the middle of a small strip mall with frontage on a very busy road. It’s got easy access and visibility. What gives? Just three owners in a row who don’t know what they’re doing? Or something more?)

How do you sell this thing?

If you’re a real estate broker and you list a closed restaurant, what’s the best way to sell or market it? Obviously the best and easiest solution is to find another restauranteur (or chef who always wanted to own his own place — see prior paragraph for that downside). If the kitchen and equipment are in good working order, perhaps you can find someone who just wants to step into the prior owner’s shoes and turn the business around. That’s your dream deal.

If leased equipment has been returned and the place is a mess, one solution is to clean it out and perhaps even gut it. Make it a plain vanilla shell so that any business could see themselves there, not just as a restaurant. If it’s got a good location, plenty of parking, what else could use the building? What is the location best suited for?

Survey the neighborhood

What is missing in the neighborhood? Do a survey of local businesses and see where the gaps are. Ask people what they’d like to see in the spot. What kind of retail or services are out of the area, that they have to drive to find? What do locals wish was there?

I had a closed restaurant property with a large vacant lot that was next to a retirement development. The building itself probably should be torn down, so I was marketing a location really. Locals had to drive several miles to go food shopping. I was convinced a small grocer should move in and would make it there. There was no grocery store for miles!

Unfortunately, the large chains decided that the demographics would not support their stores. And the smaller local chains I approached were struggling themselves, and not in expansion mode. I couldn’t sell a single grocery store on the idea.

I surveyed the residents of the retirement community and found they wanted a dollar store, a crafts store, and a pharmacy. I tried approaching these kinds of developers and I got a dollar store interested. Unfortunately they didn’t want my lot and built a dollar store next door on a lot another broker had listed! It was a good idea, but didn’t sell my property.

Selling a closed restaurant is not easy, especially with financing these days. Even when you find a buyer, if it’s another entrepreneur who wants to open a restaurant, it’s going to be an uphill battle to get him to the closing table.

If the seller can handle the risk, perhaps the only way for the buyer to take over would be with seller financing — part of the deal or even the whole transaction. That only works if he isn’t so far into debt that that he’s underwater.

It’s certainly a challenge, but many real estate brokers in 2010 and 2011 had better learn how to handle these kinds of properties. There’s going to be more of them coming on the market in the immediate future.

Flickr image courtesy lindsayloveshermac

Erica Ramus is the Broker/Owner of Ramus Realty Group in Pottsville, PA. She also teaches real estate licensing courses at Penn State Schuylkill and is extremely active in her community, especially the Rotary Club of Pottsville and the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce. Her background is writing, marketing and publishing, and she is the founder of Schuylkill Living Magazine, the area's regional publication. She lives near Pottsville with her husband and two teenage sons, and an occasional exchange student passing thru who needs a place to stay.

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17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Joe Loomer

    July 30, 2010 at 7:20 am

    There is a location in my town that has also had three separate owners in recent years, and just acquired it’s fourth. All restaraunts, all failed. One – The Upper Crust – was a fantastic pizza joint that was consistently the “Choice of the Town” in the local paper. I think it’s a combination of business sense and the things you state. If the traffic count isn’t there, if people can’t even see your store or park easily, you’re toast.

    In another area – a national franchise shut down, only to be gobbled up and re-opened as a sports-pub. It is doing extremely well.

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

    • Erica Ramus

      July 30, 2010 at 6:00 pm

      Joe–I confirmed it today. Owner #3 has shut down in that location. What a shame.

  2. BawldGuy

    July 30, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Erica, I don’t envy you a bit. Been there, done that with residential income property, in previous bad times. What outsiders think is ‘creative’ doesn’t make the ‘A’ list of the real creativity pros like you generate.

    We’ve all had those ‘D’oh! Why didn’t I think of that?’ moments when a situation such as yours is suddenly and spectacularly turned around by a new tenant/business. A recent example in my neighborhood was a vacant, failed Taco Bell. It’d been vacant for literally over two years. In my opinion it was the location, as it was in the middle of a street with decent traffic, but if you were on the wrong side, you had to hang a u-turn and come back. So what do ya think has finally replaced Taco Bell and is doing incredibly well?

    A taco shop! But a typical San Diego taco shop, which means just about everything they make is wicked good. In other words, the anti-Taco Bell. It’s been almost six months now, and it’s still ‘the’ neighborhood taco shop destination. Who knew?

    • Erica Ramus

      July 30, 2010 at 6:02 pm

      That just shows that people WILL go out of their way for wicked good food, or service, or whatever you produce. If it’s a tough destination, make it worth their while!

  3. Property Marbella

    July 31, 2010 at 12:10 am

    In finances crisis are bars and restaurants the first who close down. Over here in Spain is the situation the same, your local favourite is one day gone and a new one try with a “new” concept and 3-4 months later a new one…

  4. mike

    July 31, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    I miss Pizzaria Uno.

  5. Beth Anne Grib

    August 5, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    I don’t know of any lender who wants to get within reach of a buyer trying to buy a restaurant. This is one of the toughest commodities to sell right now because the lenders know that restaurants are going under and having a tough time of it and they are either not permitted to take that risk due to stringent regulations or just simply refuse to do so. We have contacted almost 200 retailers within the last 6 months for new market areas and they all say …”Call back in 6 months”. Everyone’s waiting for that evading “light at the end of the #CRE tunnel”

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Business Entrepreneur

Zen, please: Demand for mental health services surges during pandemic

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) 2020 has been an exceptionally hard year for many on a mental front. How has COVID-19 changed the mental health landscape?

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Man leaning against tree, affected by mental health.

As the pandemic stretches on, it continues to affect everything from jobs to plastic bags, but one major shift has come with mental health. According to the National Council for Mental Health, while demand for mental health services is up 52%, the capacity of mental health organizations have actually diminished. So…what does this mean?

Mental health startups get a boost

From tele-health to mindfulness apps, venture capital investments for mental health startups have already surpassed what was earned in 2019. And it makes sense; as more people are isolated for long stretches of time, there has become a greater demand for digital mental wellness services.

With COVID-19 predicted to spike again in the coming months, combined with shorter spans of daylight and less welcoming weather, the desire for these sorts of businesses isn’t likely to fade. If you have an idea for a neat app or website to help with mental well-being in some way, now is prime time to release it.

Companies increase mental health options

As the pandemic rages on, many companies have started to partner with mental health solutions for their employees. For instance, Starbucks has started offering free therapy sessions to employees through the mental wellness provider Lyra, and Zoom began to offer mental health seminars.

Of course, while smaller companies might not have the means to provide specific therapy, many companies have gotten creative with how they’re looking out for employees’ mental and emotional well-being. From providing virtual meditation sessions, to increasing self-managed leave, to connecting employees through book clubs or happy hours, there are a variety of ways that any company can help employees manage their psyche during these difficult times.

Resources are more accessible

Although therapy and similar apps do cost money (many apps include a monthly fee for the services provided), there are plenty of low cost alternatives available for those having a hard time. For example, many sites are offering free trials to services. There are also plenty of free or low-cost apps available to help you do anything from track your moods to manage your breathing. Or check out YouTube for videos to help with yoga or meditation.

While these resources are not a replacement for medication or talk therapy, they can help mediate some of the increased strain on our mental state that many of us are feeling right now.

In case of an emergency, there is also the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is available by phone call or chat 24 hours a day. If you or someone you know is struggling, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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Business Entrepreneur

The success of your business could be tied to your succession plan

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) You can’t spell ‘successor’ without success. In the age of COVID-19, are the two mutually exclusive to your ventures?

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Women at desk with laptop discussion succession.

“Heir” is a weighty term. A fun pun, to be sure, through the beauty of English homophones. But seriously, unless you’re already 10% and up rich, talk of heirs and succession does connote a certain heaviness you may not be used to.

For those choosing successors, it’s the heaviness of accepting mortality. For the potential promotees, it’s the heaviness of accepting a multitude of responsibilities. Or buying ear poison. Either way.

We expect to deal with familial succession. As eldest (assuming he doesn’t outlive me), I’m in charge of flinging Dad’s ashes into a nicer section of the ocean and distributing all of his Cosby sweaters amongst the sibs, and I take the role very seriously.

As a serial-small-business employee though, I’ve only just started wondering what would happen if my boss died. Of all the ‘lose your job’ scenarios I’ve had waking nightmares about, that one in particular only cropped up for me a year ago. And now, with the coronavirus taking up our attention, more business owners than usual might be wondering the same thing from the other side of the desk.

What’s going to happen to my employees if I’m too sick to work? Have I set things up so that this company can survive past me? Does at least one other person know the combination to the safes?

If your business is big enough to have employees and advisors on deck, these are questions you need to have answered… Preferably in written, notarized form to ensure smooth succession.

So where should you start? Probably with a good talk.

If you have a next-in-command standing ready, but don’t have a plan yet, let them know that if the inevitable happens sooner rather than later, that you’d like them to step in. A frank conversation about their future with your brand, and actually asking them if they feel up to taking the reins is a great place to start. Otherwise, consider your network— who you might sell the business to, and who might know someone who knows someone.

P.S. If your VP says they’d rather run off and sail the world if you got hit by an asteroid next week, please don’t hold it against them.

We all know that ghosts stick around because they’ve got unfinished business, right? Don’t let your literal business be the shade that haunts your team! Take a deep breath and get the ball rolling on THIS side of the dirt… Ouija boards can only do so much.

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Business Entrepreneur

6 simple self-care tips to keep any busy entrepreneur sane

(ENTREPRENEUR) We don’t all have time for yoga and long baths, but self-care can keep us sane and able to keep doing what we love for work – here’s how.

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entrepreneur self-care

It’s no secret that Americans are stressed. A recent study shows 3 out of 4 Americans experienced a symptom of extreme stress in the past month. Throw entrepreneurship into the mix, and you’re primed for a breakdown, or burnout at the very least. The good news? It doesn’t have to be this way.

This is why self-care is important.

The term “self-care” is nowadays often associated with skincare routines and Netflix, but in reality, it’s much more than that: It’s valuing yourself and your health enough to graciously set boundaries and say no. That way, you bring the best version of yourself to your job and relationships day after day.

I’ve started several companies, sold two, and recently started a new gig as VP of Growth & Ops for Steadfast Media (hi, guys!) while running Honey & Vinegar, so it’s safe to say I’ve been one tired woman. There were times I was tired, frustrated, and honestly burnt out. At one point, I took a sabbatical for several months at the urging of several mentors, family members, and my career coach. Burnout is real, but I’ve learned ways to cultivate self-care in my professional life that allows me to have a somewhat balanced life.

(Side note: I understand there are situations out of one’s control that can contribute to burnout, including ailing family members, parenting, disabilities, etc. This article is not focused necessarily on these, rather preventing your professional life becoming your entire life. That way, you can focus on the truly important things.)

Here’s what I’ve learned about self-care thus far (mostly the hard way):

1. Set strict boundaries & turn off notifications.

The best advice I ever received was a one-off realization from my brother: gate it, don’t date it.

Meaning that if you have emails, Slack, or Trello on your phone, don’t make it available to where you check it at all times of day and night. Force a gate between you and the app. Put the app in another folder to where you don’t check it 24/7. Don’t let the notifications own you, or straight up disable them.

If you’re the boss, you get to set the standards. Check Slack and emails during certain times, and be as specific as possible when setting those times. If there’s a true emergency, have employees then call or text. Set those boundaries and stick to them. Encourage your employees to stick to them with one another, too.

2. Have friends and a life outside of your industry.

I can’t emphasize this enough, and this is also why I’ve only lived in cities that emphasize one industry. (DC and LA people, I don’t know how you do it! Props to you.)

This allows you to create a life beyond just your professional life.

When it seems like the sky is falling — i.e. you don’t get that round of funding, or that one client flips out, it’s important to have people around you who are a) grounded b) can give you perspective. Compatriots in your respective industry are helpful for support and sounding boards, but it’s easy to b

When an acquisition deal for a past company fell through, I felt like my world was over. I was devastated. My darling friends, one in healthcare and another in real estate, took me to Chuy’s happy hour and gave me perspective. Relationships like these are game-changers.

3. Schedule time for yourself.

Set time aside for yourself, but get real: What does this mean practically in your day to day, week to week life? For me, I purposefully make sure to keep one night a week, ideally two, to rest at home with my husband.

Also, plan that damn vacation! It doesn’t have to be a lavish European vacation, but set aside time where you are intentionally not checking your phone or emails.

When I took my first actual vacation (and not working remotely) in years, It was life-changing. Be intentional to take more than two days to think, journal, set aside goals not just professionally, but what you want you life to look like that following quarter. You, your company, and the people will be a lot better for it, I promise.

4. Cultivate healthy habits that are enjoyable.

Don’t let the hustle culture get to you. Hard work is important, but so is exercise, eating healthy, and maintaining mental health. In other words, some legit self-care.

Some good thoughts from VC Harry Stebbings.

Set routines of things you love to do that also maintain your well-being. I love going to the gym and putting my phone on Do Not Disturb for 30 minutes, but that’s not for everyone. Take your dog on a walk, put on a playlist to cook a good meal, go to that yoga class. Or just go on a walk with a friend. You do you, boo.

This could be you.

 

5. Train other people to do your job.

You may think you’re the only person that can do a number of things at your job. If you want your company to ever scale, you need, I repeat, need to take those tedious tasks off your list, and even some larger projects off your hands.

I know it’s so hard to relinquish control, but *gasp* there might be people that can do parts of your job better than you. So let them!

Does this mean you need to hire a virtual assistant, a COO, find another co-founder, or just hire that dang accountant? Do it.

Your business is only going to succeed if you’re performing as the best version of yourself, not a stressed-out shell of yourself. If you need to micromanage everything, your business won’t succeed or be sustainable long-term. Don’t let your stress about doing everything stunt your company or personal growth. If you needed a sign, this is it.

6. Practice self-awareness.

There is nothing more valuable than the gift of self-awareness.

Listen to your body and what it’s telling you. Does it need water? Does it need sleep? Start a habit of journaling and seeing what areas where you’re running on empty. More than that — do what your body tells you. Drink that water, my friend!

The takeaway:

All in all, life is more than work and who we are is more important than what we do. Take time for self-care, and you’ll have a healthier mind and body.

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