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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

What to consider when relocating your business near the holidays

(ENTREPRENEUR) When can you pack everything up without disrupting operations, going offline, and sinking your sales? The answer may surprise you.

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boxes for relocating

If your business has outgrown its current space, it may feel like there’s never a good time to think about relocating. When can you pack everything up without disrupting operations, going offline, and sinking your sales? The answer may be during that post-holiday slump.

Though the holiday season is marked by increased shopping and general economic activity during the run-up, once the holiday season actually begins, we tend to see a slowdown that leads to low first-quarter profits. Decreased profits during this period don’t mean we’re looking at an overall economic slump, but rather that everyone is recuperating from holiday spending sprees, while companies assess and prepare to launch their start-of-year marketing strategies. It’s a time of renewal and reconsideration, from an economic perspective.

If you’re thinking about relocating your business this holiday season, you’re on track for decreased business disruptions, but that doesn’t mean you have an easy road ahead of you. Here’s what you need to know to execute the move smoothly.

Have a loose timeline

One of the most challenging things about relocating is that it can be hard to predict how long it will take to properly execute your move. That means, even if you tell your customers you’re relocating, you shouldn’t expect to give them a hard re-opening date. Rather, the length of time it takes to move tends to hinge on a number of factors, including distance, size of your business, infrastructure issues, and regulatory concerns, not all of which are easily predictable.

You’ll also want to leave some buffer time when planning your move because you can’t predict problems that might arise with the moving company. Bad weather or a broken-down truck can delay a move, especially if you’re working with a small company. Moving companies may also offer you a lower rate if you’re flexible with your move dates.

Consider your employees

Another question you’ll want to ask before moving is, “Where are my employees in all this?” Some companies firmly believe in giving employees holidays off, even if it means closing a profitable business like a restaurant during an otherwise profitable time. Other companies, however, typically assume employees will be in the office during or immediately after major holidays.

Regardless of your usual philosophy, you need to determine what role your employees will play in your move.

While they shouldn’t be responsible for the physical process of moving, do you expect them to participate in packing and setting up the new location? You should be clear about your expectations while recognizing that moving is outside the scope of typical job duties. You also will need to budget to pay your employees during this downtime while also financing the move, even though you won’t be bringing in a profit.

Mind the locals

If you’re primarily an online business, you may not have to worry about how relocating will impact customers – other than some downtime, these individuals will be minimally affected. However, for businesses that run a brick-and-mortar storefront, changing locations can have implications for your community relationships.

If you move outside your original area, for example, you may lose customer goodwill or even sacrifice some of your customer base altogether. Depending on the service you provide, they may come back, or they may find another option closer to home.

The holidays are a busy time in general, but they’re an unusual time for businesses since economically it’s the pre-holiday period that’s actually the most hectic. Take advantage of this imbalance to move your business with the least fuss during the last few days of the year or at the start of the first quarter. You’ll be pleased to find how smoothly a company move goes when customers are otherwise occupied.

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Business Entrepreneur

Choose your startup business partner wisely

(ENTREPRENEUR) Creating a startup business with a friend sounds amazing, but consider carefully if you may be better off as friends.

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Young couple working on startup together.

So, you want to be your own boss? Maybe get out and into a new career to crawl out from under the corporate drone motif? What better way to do it than to go into a startup business for yourself?

Hundreds of Americans have ideas that could turn into a new career. But not as many have the support structure, either financial or social, to make these dreams become a reality. A few of these people might look for someone to go into business with to help with the financial burden.

Can you think of a better way to start off a new business than with your best friend by your side? I sure as hell can.

My best friend and I get along great in our personal time. We’re both zombie horror nerds. He’s straight, I’m gay. He’s a cop, I’m an out-of-work geophysicist/bartender/writer – the jokes don’t quit with us. Our typical nights together include drinking at bars and smacking the other one upside the head as deemed necessary. We’re both slightly better than Neanderthals some days. And most importantly, neither of us should be trusted to work together.

Now of course that’s probably more specific to my situation, but let’s just realize that finding two people who can be the closest of friends and business partners is pretty rare.

There are a few people who have figured it out though and you can find a number of pointers online for new/established startup companies. A few of these tips include lots of structure to try and keep the fun at home and the business in the office, clearly defining roles, honest open communication, and strictly defining fiscal expectations.

So basically, it’s like committing to another marriage, which is what another set of people do for their startup business as well. Numerous married couples have put together careers and their relationships, and a great many of them are very successful.

So, if you have someone who you can commit to another potentially lifelong relationship with, and you trust to follow all of these rules, then go for it.

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Business Entrepreneur

4 easy ways to keep track of inventory this holiday season

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Feeling overwhelmed by your inventory this year? Use these three simple tips to keep your stock managed for the end of the year.

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Man scanning inventory with tablet in one hand and a scanner in the other.

2021’s retail holiday season is in full swing. With it comes waves of purchases and shipments, both in stores and online. Holiday inventory management is essential to get the best handle on the continuous rushes. Organization, strategy, and automation are the 3 main steps to stay on top of inventory this year. Deliberate use of these will create a better setup for the coming months.

1. Organize

Organization takes many forms. In the stockroom, a messy workspace will slow down sales and shipments, making the entire store inefficient. However, with the right classifications, labeling, and management, the stockroom can become the leanest place in the store.

First, stores must have a point-of-sale system that can cleanly organize everything into actionable data, according to Software Advice. When a transaction occurs, the system logs it and, from there, employees can get a better understanding of what inventory is selling fastest.

In the back, employees can change the inventory layout to prioritize items that are selling well. Keeping that area fully staffed at all times may be the best move during the retail holiday season rush. For instance, employees can categorize clothing by material, size, and color.

The store will need to use a full-featured inventory management system. With it, employees can accurately track what goes in and out of the store through scanning barcodes and logging shipments. With a better handle on what consumers need, its location in the stockroom and better tracking, backorders, and sellouts can decrease.

2. Strategize

Retailers must have a clear strategy for holiday inventory. Otherwise, the rushes and high demands and orders can easily overwhelm employees and result in lost revenue. We are already seeing orders falling behind due to multiple shortages, including chips and even, employees themselves. Combined with organization, a plan should involve prioritizing customers’ needs and interests and increasing item accessibility.

Just as employees can organize the stockroom based on what consumers will be buying the most, they can also rearrange the store to put those items toward the front. That way, people can get what they’re looking for right away. This strategy will work online as well — where the site advertises the popular items on the main page.

Then, based on what POS and inventory management systems report, managers can order more sought-after items ahead of time. At home or in person, consumers get what they want without frustration, while retailers know the exact numbers in their inventory.

Another crucial area to focus on is in-store pickup. Some consumers don’t want to pay for shipping. Instead, in-store pickup ships their order to the nearest retail location, where they can quickly claim it. Especially during the holiday rush, designating a separate section for these items will be essential for a strategic inventory.

3. Automate

Automation is a broad topic when it comes to holiday inventory. With this wide scope, though, retailers can integrate countless systems to conquer the rushes more effectively. Helpful gadgets and organization equipment include Internet of Things sensors and big data. They will go a long way in monitoring inventory at all times.

IoT sensors are small and practical. While they can attach to any items in the stockroom, they’ll be invaluable for everyone along the supply chain to use. The sensors show merchandise’s exact location and specifications, which an inventory management system will automatically present in actionable ways.

When retailers use the information from sales and inventory, it falls under the category of big data. With the right analytics and prediction software, employees can use this data to understand coming trends and better understand what they’ll need to order and when.

If businesses — retail and warehouses alike — are looking for an efficient way to find stock without wasting time, they can use robots to retrieve it. These autonomous robots cut down on search times when they know the exact location based on IoT sensors or barcode scanning.

4. Make Post-Holiday Changes

The work continues even after the retail holiday season ends. However, businesses can take steps to optimize their setups for months afterward to keep drawing people in through next year’s holiday season.

The first step is to declutter. Get rid of things that will no longer be a priority to most consumers. A sale or clearance section is an efficient way to profit from obsolete inventory.

Then, it’s time to step back and reevaluate the landscape. What has changed for consumers? What new trends are emerging? Social media will be invaluable to track how customers want to spend their money in the coming year. It’s also a critical place to build an e-commerce presence for the future.

A Lasting Central Inventory

Year-round, but especially during the holiday season, inventory must be a critical factor for any retailer or warehouse. With better organization, strategy, and automation, the workplace can run more smoothly. These factors will also improve communication across the supply chain, making the holidays a profitable breeze for all retailers.

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