👄Retail Partnerships Blossom Everywhere (Long Limiting Lease Exposure)👄

SmileDirectClub Expands its Reach with CVS Health Corp. Partnership

In “Retail Partnerships Abound (Long Survival Instincts),” we noted how Birchbox had entered into a partnership with Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. ($WBA) and CVS Health Corp ($CVS) with Glamsquad. We concluded:

People need drugs. People need food. So why not go where the customers are rather than try to generate independent traffic through your own brick-and-mortar location? Use someone else’s lease rather than incurring the liability. This all makes sense. And so there’s every reason to believe that this trend will continue — particularly where a company brings real brand cache to bear.

This week CVS announced another partnership: SmileDirectClub will be bringing its teeth-straightening services to hundreds of locations over the next two years. Per CNBC:

CVS is trying to keep up with its changing customers. People are shopping online more, especially on sites like Amazon, hurting CVS and other drugstores’ sales of everyday items like vitamins and toilet paper. CVS thinks focusing on health and beauty products and services will be a way to draw people in.

This is a trend that we very much expect to continue. Is it beyond question that, ultimately, we’ll start seeing “health courts” much like we see “food courts?” We can see it now: a murderers’ row of previously direct-to-consumer retailers like Warby Parker, Ro, Hims and SmileDirectClub all in one place so that you can cover your health and wellness needs all in one fell swoop.

Takeaways: Jamie Clarke, Live Out There

An Entrepreneur Seeks to Turn the Tables on Disruption

Source: Live Out There

Source: Live Out There

Sometimes the disrupted need to become the disrupter.

If anyone can rebound from disruption, dust himself off, and get back on his feet ready for battle, we suppose it’s a man who has summited Mount Everest. Twice. And plans to again - wearing gear he designed and manufactured himself. Enter adventurer and serial entrepreneur, Jamie Clarke, the founder and CEO of a new direct-to-consumer (DTC) outdoor-wear brand, Live Out There.

Source: Live Out There

Source: Live Out There

Several weeks ago Jamie received a deluge of press coverage after the launch of Live Out There (LOT). Most of the coverage – here (Fast Company), here (GearJunkie), and here (WWD), for example - was thematically similar, touting LOT’s (i) proposed radically-transparent production, (ii) get-people-off-their-phones-and-off-their-asses-into-the-outdoors mission, and (iii) DTC-powered lower price point. We’ll come back to all of that. There’s more to this story. To Jamie’s story. That is, Jamie, for better or for worse, is a manifestation of the retail apocalypse. His experience encapsulates many of the themes pervasive in retail today.

For 14 years prior to launching LOT, Jamie owned and operated the Out There Adventure Center, an 8000 square-foot brick-and-mortar retail location in downtown Calgary. The business featured apparel and equipment for the outdoor set; it was also an early attempt at the current retail-fad-of-the-moment: experiential retail. The Center had a warehouse in back with a theater space, a travel agent kiosk and hosted events; his business sought to engender community before “community” became a trite buzzword shamelessly used by everyone. Including us. 

All of this, however, simply wasn't enough to counteract today’s vicious retail reality. We discussed the notion of community, the #retailapocalypse, retail survival and more with Jamie. What follows are the highlights, edited for length and clarity. 

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PETITION: What’s interesting…is the experiential aspect of what you were trying to do. That’s the big deal right now and now everyone’s talking about experiential retail….

Jamie: We were in part, perhaps, ahead of our time or maybe that’s a convenient excuse to cover up that we didn’t execute property. I think maybe it’s a combination of both. That said, hosting events and having a travel agent among other things was a powerful way to really challenge the notion of retail. You’re not just here to buy things, you’re here to gain access to experiences.

PETITION: Give us some specifics…that contributed to the downfall of this brick and mortar location.

Jamie: We had big competitors who could negotiate with suppliers deeper discounts on their volume purchases which meant they could go on sale and still maintain margin. So we were constantly under margin pressure because the bigger players had better margin. Two, the transformation of late which ultimately began pounding the nails into our brick and mortar coffin was that our suppliers became competitors. Great companies that I admire and with whom we had worked for years wanted to go direct to consumer.

Here, Jamie is referring to the Arcterx, Northface and Icebreakers of the world.

PETITION: Did they offer experiential retail?

Jamie: Not to the degree that we were striving but they merchandize their stores beautifully. They were doing retail well in that old sense of retail. They looked nice. They were well lit. All the rest.

PETITION: Did you have e-commerce at all?

Jamie: We launched e-commerce seven years ago. So we were in our eighth year. As a small operator we had a hard time scaling that experience.

PETITION: Did you also have the burden of an onerous lease that you could no longer justify from a revenue perspective?

Jamie: Have you suck in behind the scenes to read my lease agreement? Yes. The number one item that made our business untenable was that you had that market pressure. There are lots of levers as entrepreneurs. You know you can manage expense. You can shift promotion. You can change the way you staff the floor. You can even change the way you buy. But every month you run this monstrous nut for a chunk of rent. Its unavoidable and it ultimately rose as a percentage of revenue. And it was untenable for us.

And so Jamie shut the doors on June 9, 2017.

Jamie: I tell you it was heartbreaking. It was definitely devastating financially. Personally.

PETITION: Is there anyone in that space now?

Jamie: Empty. I think they’re going to struggle to fill it. The landlord wants a big national with a good covenant. You’re going to have another big brand go in there and the little guy is gone.

PETITION: So you closed the brick and mortar and you got rid of those partners. You're embracing your brand as your core competency. Now you're going direct to consumer. Talk to us about the decision making process on going DTC.

Jamie: The whole partner-slash-competitor issue escalated and that’s when we had to do a monstrous pivot and really challenge the industry and make that shift from being the disrupted to the disruptor. Do we want to continue being the victim? Do we want to continue being part of the problem here which is markup and middlemen or do we want to shift our business? Do we have the courage to be part of the solution even though doing that is filled with so much unknown? And it's entirely a shift in retail and we came to that conclusion in part by desperation because we had no other choice.

We've always known that outdoor is beyond reach for many many many people. We could see it when things go on sale how quickly our revenue would jump when we put a discount. And not just hungry people looking for deals. It was because a lot of people just couldn't afford it. And couple that with our investigation we began to realize that elevated price was the issue. For instance, a down hooded jacket on the market for $329. When we began to dig in there we found that those jackets are being built for say $80. What? An $80 jacket being sold for $329? What's going on here? And that's when we realized...we are the problem. We’re the middle. We're the retailer in the middle and that jacket gets sold to us for $150. We mark it up by $150 and then sell it for $329.

It's not working. It's failing the customer.  Failing people who are sitting on the couch not getting outside doing stuff. That's when we found the courage to say we know gear. We can make our own. We'll go direct to consumer. We'll take that markup out of the antiquated distribution model. And here's the kind of radical transparency that we're challenging industry with. We need to put more money into the materials so that the environment is protected. So that working conditions are improved. We need more money in the manufacturing process. Not negotiating with those manufacturers or the mill to grind them on price. We need to actually put more money into the making of those jackets so that people are paid well. So the air conditioning gets turned on. So the maternity leave is instated. All the things that are reasonable working conditions to improve manufacturing. We need to be more transparent, need to share what's going on. And that was the disruption piece. This may not work. We may go down in a barrel or ball of flames but we're going to go down swinging. This is what needs to be done.

We're proposing to pay more money for manufacturing of our product than our competitors. And in part that is a scale issue. They're just making tens of thousands of jackets and we're making hundreds. So through that alone we're paying more. Plus I'm trying to ensure that we put the best material in our product. The savings that we have on our price point is purely on the distribution side not on the manufacturing side. I got to make stuff equal to or better than the most in the market primarily because I get to use and I want to make sure it works.

PETITION: Who are your models for DTC?

Jamie: Everlane is a company in the states that is DTC and transparent. They're in the fashion industry. But we have marveled at what they were doing and the courage it took to do it and felt that that was something that we should do. There’s a company in the States called Kuju. They make high altitude hunting apparel. Clearly Contacts.

PETITION: What’s your reaction to the fact that Everlane just opened up brick and mortar store in New York City?

Jamie: For me our long-term vision will be to return to where we were 15 years ago: to create a physical space that is an experience of the brand.

PETITION: So, basically you’re going to go that direct to consumer digitally native vertical brand route like others have recently. Everlane is a great example. Away would be another good example. Warby Parker. Get the community. Get the brand recognition. Get the following. Build the brand, And then reengage in the brick and mortar for purposes of scaling further. That is that a fair synopsis of what you're thinking?

Jamie: Yes, yes exactly. I want to do what we couldn’t do originally. I want to do a smarter more efficient store, not in the old school way. We won’t carry inventory in the back. It would be more about the experience, more about a meeting place. Smaller stores. Strategically placed. And not just ‘ol New York’s a great place and need to show up there because it’s good PR.’ Use data and information. Where are our customers? Where does it make sense? It might make sense for us to be in Boulder more than downtown New York. It might make sense for us to be in Chicago or Kingston Ontario.

PETITION: Well it also sound like there’s also an aspirational element here. Our readership may be in conference rooms 15-18 hours a day. Aside from saying its a better product, you're saying 'this is attached to me. If it's good enough for me it's definitely good enough for you.' 

Jamie: Yes. It sounds ego-maniacal and I’m always concerned about that. But as a consumer I want to identify with the people of a company. The soul of the company. Not a spokesperson because those can be hired. I will never abandon that personal and intimate connection to what we make, why we make it, and how we make it, and for whom. And I believe that matters.

PETITION: Why haven't you gone the blog/Wirecutter route to review gear and used your mountaineering expertise to drive affiliate revenue?

Jamie. It’s on the list for sure, but we’re a small team scaling up slowly. Between outside workouts and time with family we are slammed 7 days per week right now. 

PETITION: Considering your experience as the disrupted, what advice would you have for other entrepreneurs in the consumer products space?

Jamie. Be clear on your unique offering. If you’re not offering different value—you’re dead. 

PETITION: Why not crowdfund LOT gear leveraging your own personal story to get pre-orders and drive demand?

Jamie. That’s in the works for an upcoming piece of gear.

PETITION: We've seen a tremendous amount of distress in retail obviously. But even more specific than that is the sporting goods segment of retail. Sports Authority. Eastern Outfitters. Ski Chalet. Bob's Stores. Michigan Sporting Goods. Gander Mountain. There have been a number of these retailers who have gone bankrupt and or liquidated maybe some of them have managed to maintain a little bit of a footprint here and there or maybe they maintain some sort of e-commerce business post-bankruptcy but a number of them have just disappeared. What's your thought on that state of affairs?

Jamie: Well there is a there is a retail revolution afoot and with the revolution comes blood and pain and death and those are some of the victims. My brick and mortar store was one of them. And that's not just the outdoor industry, that's retail as a whole. There's a transformation afoot. But the adventurer in me which beats the same heart as the entrepreneur believe those who can endure this storm will come out stronger and smarter and better and ultimately the customer will benefit. It's long overdue; it needed to happen. It needs to change. There is the digitization of the industry afoot for certain and retail has been slow to catch up. But that time is here and there will be pain. And so be it. That's where the growth comes.

You know to be lazy is to say 'oh well you know Amazon is destroying retail.' There's a lot more going on. A lot of very interesting story lines. And lots of opportunity....

Is Charming Charlie's Bankruptcy a Canary in the Coal Mine?

Chapter 11 Filing May be Warning Sign for "Treasure Hunt" Retailers

In its December 11 issue, Barron's noted the following (firewall): "Even the companies that look immune to the impact of the internet could be at risk. Consider off-price retailers like TJX ($TJX) and Ross Stores ($ROST). Bulls have argued that the experience of digging through the racks looking for buried treasure is something that can't be replicated online -- and that, they argue, puts them at an advantage to other retailers."Acknowledging some contrarians among the analyst ranks, Barron's continues "There may even come a day when the bargain-hunting experience loses its thrill. Already, companies are creating the technology that allows shoppers to have their measurements taken at home, and then create the clothes people want without having to search for it...." 

Enter Charming Charlie Holdings Inc. The company filed for bankruptcy earlier this week, capping a bloodbath of a year for retail. For the unfamiliar, Charming Charlie is a Houston-based specialty retailer focused on colorful fashion jewelry, handbags, apparel, gifts, and beauty products. It has 350 domestic stores and a core demographic of 35-55 year-old women. The company blamed (i) "adverse macro-trends" and (ii) operational shortfalls (e.g., merchandising miscalculations, lack of inventory, an overly broad vendor base) for its underperformance and reduced sales. EBITDA declined 75% "in the last several fiscal years." 75-effing-percent! With a limited amount of money available under its revolving credit facility and even less cash on hand, "Charming Charlie is out of cash to responsibly operate its business." Ouch. Two weeks before Christmas. Rough timing.

As it relates to "merchandising miscalculations," this bit caught our eye: "Historically, Charming Charlie utilized a sophisticated inventory system to position products according to their color and theme. Merchandise is offered in as many as 26 different hues and arranged at each store according to the item’s color and theme, creating what has been referred to as a “treasure hunt” experience. While this approach initially provided Charming Charlie with a strategic benefit, and engendered significant brand loyalty, it eventually caused Charming Charlie to be saddled with excess merchandise in underperforming color offerings." Curious. 

Long time PETITION readers know that we love to discuss what we call "busted narratives." Reminder: our focus is "disruption" and not necessarily "restructuring." And we'll acknowledge upfront that we may be cherrypicking one statement in an otherwise lengthy court document. But one ongoing narrative is that off-price "treasure hunt" retailers are safe from e-commerce. We're not so sure. It stands to reason that as things become more convenient at home - with 3D-printing, Amazon Echo Show, Amazon private label (see below), free returns, etc. - retailers will continue to focus more and more on inventory management. That is, if they have inventory at all. Obviously, direct-to-consumer is the not new retail trend and newer brick-and-mortar locations supporting the likes of BonobosWarby Parker, etc., are merely showrooms in furtherance of brand enhancement rather than inventory and supply chain management. Indeed, Charming Charlie announced that is reducing its vendor base down from 175 to 80. As inventories are more streamlined, that strikes us as an obvious headwind to discounted "treasure hunt" retailers. After all, they benefit from inefficient inventory management. And, notably, TJX had a relatively rough quarter recently. Now, TJX isn't filing for bankruptcy anytime soon, but query whether this is a trend to watch going forward. Query whether the "off price" narrative holds. 

Some other notes on Charming Charlie while we have your attention:

  • The company has also commenced the closure of ~100 of its 370 stores (350 domestic + 20 international), a meaningful reduction in its brick-and-mortar footprint. Note some carefully crafted language, "The Debtors anticipate 276 go-forward locations following the first round of store closures." Key words, "FIRST ROUND." We wouldn't be shocked if the company shutters more. That depends on the landlords, it seems...
  • ...and the landlords are getting squeezed too. The company seeks "to amend lease terms to reduce occupancy costs and obtain rent abatements for the first quarter of 2018...." As Starbucks ($SBUX) and Whole Foods ($AMZN) recently discovered, there's a big difference handling leases in vs. out of bankruptcy court.
  • The fashion industry has suffered a 15% downturn in fashion jewelry sales and the company experienced a disproportionate 22% decline itself. Query whether the direct-to-consumer model is helping to disproportionately batter brick-and-mortar fashion jewelers.

Will TOM SHOES Be Another Victim of Private Equity?

Is Blake Mycoskie's Company in Distress?

NPR’s “How I Built This” podcast featuring TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie is great. But it footnotes a big piece of the TOMS story and neglects another entirely: that Mycoskie sold 50% of the company to private equity firm, Bain Capital. And that the company has debt currently trading at distressed levels and faces a potential liquidity crisis.

Let’s take a step back. TOMS Shoes Inc. is an unequivocal success story and Blake Mycoskie is deserving of praise. He took an idea that was originally meant to be purely charitable and created a company that scaled from $300k of revenue in year one to $450mm in revenue in year seven. His "buy-one-give-one" model has resulted in millions without shoes now having shoes. And the model itself has been copied by Warby ParkerBombas, and others, across various businesses. 

That said, for us, this tweet sparked a renewed interest in the company. Many have speculated for years that the TOMS story isn’t all rainbows and unicorns and that there are unintended consequences that emanate out of the one-for-one model. The report referenced in the tweet drives this point home. 

Why is this important now? Because the charity narrative is critical to TOMS. The company cannot afford for the public to sour on the message. Particularly since the company hasn’t been doing so hot lately. Revenue fell nearly 24% YOY in Q2 and EBITDA fell 72% YOY to $5mm. Cash is thinning and the leverage ratio is fattening. S&P downgraded the company back in August. The company's $306.5mm senior secured Term Loan is trading at distressed levels down in the mid 40s, a marked decline from the mid 70s in the beginning of ’17. And that is up from a week or so ago, when it was in the low 40s: this partnership with Apple ($AAPL) and Target ($TGT) helped pump the quote. For those who don't deal in the world of restructuring or distressed investing, a plunge of loan value by nearly 100% is, well, quite obviously a terrible sign. This means, plainly, that the market is pricing in the very real possibility that TOMS will default (and won't be able to pay back its loan in full). 

A positive? There are no near term maturities: the $80mm revolver is due in 2019 and the term loan is due in October 2020. Still, at Libor+550bps, the interest rate on the term loan is a minimum of 6.5% which is a cool $21mm in annual interest expense. And that’s before interest rates rise. The company looks like it will have trouble sustaining its capital structure and there’s no indication that the addition of new SKUs will help the company grow into it. With that interest expense, liquidity is going to get tighter. Those of you paying attention have heard this leveraged-buyout-gone-awry-lots-of-interest-expense story before: it’s the same one as Toys “R” Usrue21Payless Shoesource, & Gymboree

According to S&P, the wholesale business is feeling the trickle down effect of pervasively battered retail with inventory orders on the decline. In a thus far successful effort to maintain margin, TOMS is focusing on operational streamlining. We are guessing that some kind of financial advisor is in there (anyone know?). At a certain point, there are only so many costs you can take out of a business. Does anyone think the wholesale business is set to reverse course anytime soon given the state of retail? We don't. 

Which brings us back to NPR’s podcast. Celebrating how something is built is great and, again, we are big fans. The series has featured a variety of awesome episodes (email us for recs). But it bothered us that we weren't given the whole story. It's not sexy, we get that, but the company's debt load, interest expense, and private equity history should have been the last chapter. What comes next is to be determined. 

Feature of the Week: More Earnings (Simon Property Group & Starbucks)

This past week was an earnings-fest with Amazon and Google pumping out redonkulous numbers, Vince Holding Corp. missing estimates by 10 cents, declining 26% and continuing its slide towards bankruptcy, and FTI Consulting missing estimates BADLY, declining 3% and charting -23% year-to-date (we wonder how Berkeley Research Group is doing?). While all of these reports were intriguing, we took particular interest in reports from Simon Property Group and Starbucks...

Simon Property Group

Upshot: increased net operating income, increased retail sales per square foot, and increased average base rent. The company reported a flat occupancy rate of 95.6% at Q1 end and affirmed it's previous '17 guidance (typically, the company raises guidance). Snoozefest, we know, but keep reading...

CEO David Simon had a number of choice things to say about the current state of affairs (PETITION commentary follows in italics):

  • Retailers need to improve the in-store experience via technology, look and feel, and merchandising. He straight-up called his tenants to task alleging that they are overspending on the internet vs. the store fleet. He says this is reversing back and notes that pure e-commerce will need brick-and-mortar. Ironically, most recent bankrupt retailers claim that they filed for bankruptcy because they hadn't focused on their e-commerce fast enough! We can't recall one bankrupt retailer who cited too much expense associated with e-commerce as a cause for filing. He also makes no mention whatsoever of Amazon and Walmart's increased market share in clothing, the rise of mobile e-commerce, the rise of platforms, and millennials' lack of interest in shopping (and penchant for vintage clothing). 
  • A lot of the current bad performance is driven by private equity leverage rather than the common theme, the internet. He expressly calls out dividend recaps. No quarrel here whatsoever and more victims of this are in the bankruptcy pipeline. 
  • SPG has lowered apparel in its retail mix by 5-6%. Whether that was elective was not clear.
  • Expect more discounters like TJ Maxx and HomeGoods and grocers like 365Wegmans and Fresh Market in high end malls. Other specific new tenants include restaurants (Fig & OliveNobu) and several movie theater brands with the occasional Dave & Buster's thrown in for good measure. This all seems consistent with the narrative that more experiential-oriented tenants will fill these spaces. Query how long until and to what degree the pain in the grocer segment will come to roost, if at all.
  • Because these long-term anchors aren't driving foot traffic and revenue to the malls, there is a lot of upside in reclaiming and redeveloping department stores for mixed use, lifetime or community-oriented activity. They are actively taking back space from unproductive retailers and they are "not putting good money in the rabbit hole," suggesting, at least, in part, that future Aeropostale-like deals are unlikely. Note, also, Aeropostale's performance shaved several basis points off performance and is likely to continue doing so through Q4. This sure sounds like a solid counter-narrative but won't this eventually boil down to a case of volume assuming the vacancy rate next quarter is lower than this quarter?
  • Store closures in a market also kill internet sales for that business in-market too. Really interesting and speaks to the thesis promoted by the likes of Warby Parker that some retail presence helps scale.
  • Expect improvements in technology in the mall environment. If people had an issue with Unroll.me selling their data, wait until the beacons scale! 
  • The mall "traffic is there" and the retail apocalypse "narrative is way ahead of itself." Yet, he wouldn't provide traffic data noting that there aren't traffic counters in their malls. The parking trackers at their outlets, however, are up 2%. See also Starbucks below.
  • The strong US dollar has had a significant impact on spending by international tourists. So has our President but we won't go there. Oh, wait, we just did. Not a political commentary: just a plain fact.
  • He would not opine as to how much per capital retail needs to come out of the system. It was abstract but, as we noted last weekVornado Trust's CEO noted somewhere between 10-30% in the next five years.

Macro narrative aside, Mr. Simon remained upbeat about SPG's quarter and guidance. But speaking of REITS, we'd be remiss if we didn't point out this doozy of a red flag piece by the WSJ, highlighting 10 retailers that S&P Global Market Intelligence has noted as at high risk of default: Sears Holding Corp. (for obvious reasons), DGSE Companies Inc. (millennials don't buy precious metals, apparently), Appliance Recycling Center of America Inc. (millennials haven't been buying homes, apparently, so no need for recycled appliances...?), The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. (specialty retailer massacre), Bebe Stores Inc. (what? nobody wants glittery hats and shirts shouting BEBE anymore?), Destination XL Group Inc. ("our financial condition is extremely healthy" says the CEO whose company has a projected net loss on $470mm of revenue), Perfumania Holdings Inc. (mall-based perfume including the foul-stench of the Trump family...also fact, just saying), Fenix Parts Inc. (doesn't Amazon have an auto parts reselling business? why, yes, as a matter of fact it does), Tailored Brands Inc. (tons of quality tuxedo options online these days), Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores Inc. (obvious).

Of SPG's top 10 anchors, Sears is #2 with 69 locations and 11.3mm square footage of space and The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. is #10 with 8 stores and 1.1mm square footage of space. Macy's is #1 with 121 stores and 23.1mm square footage. Top in-line stores? L BrandsSignet Jewelers and Ascena Retail Group - all of which are reporting rough numbers of late. Which may explain why, in the end, SPG's stock was down this week, is down for '17, and is close to its 52-week low. 

Starbucks

Starbucks is just fine from the restructuring community's perspective. With one exception: Teavana. The company indicated that it is "evaluating strategic options." Why? Good question and, quite frankly, the answer is very much at odds with what Mr. Simon says. See, Teavana is a mall-based retailer; it has 350 locations. And they're not faring well predominantly because, per Starbucks' CFO, there is dramatically reduced mall traffic. Accordingly, Teavana has been suffering from negative same store comps and operating losses "for some time" with the rate of decline over the last 6 months far worse than forecast. Now even further declines are expected. And so we did a quick check: there are 78 Teavana locations in Simon Properties which would be 22% of all Teavana locations. Is it possible that those locations are the outliers and are performing extremely well on account of steady foot traffic? Starbucks doesn't break out numbers of a per location basis. But we highly doubt it. 

Caspar the Friendly (Non-)Restaurant

Walk through the streets of Manhattan these days and you are bound to see a lot of “for rent” signs taped to the windows of empty commercial spaces. In Captain Obvious fashion, Crain’s New York last week noted that Amazon is affecting a lot of mom-and-pop brick-and-mortar: revenue is down due to the online competition and rents in New York, despite tons of vacancy, remain unsustainable for many business owners. 

It’s rather simple: online retailing is eating up brick and mortar and there aren’t enough Bonobos, Birchbox and Warby Parker showrooms to fill the gap. After expanding to seemingly every corner of the City, banks are in contraction mode: there are now a number of shuttered Capital One and Chase locations in the City. And restaurants? We’ve covered that in detail: forget about it. Art galleries? Mwahahahahaha.  

Under the radar are the ghost restaurants that are quietly undermining the commercial real estate market and contributing to the over-supply of space. Wait, what? Ghost restaurants? Picture this: you're on billable hour 26 for the day and you're hungry. You go on Seamless and find a restaurant with glossy food-porn photos and reasonable prices. You order and 35 minutes later you're indulging in your tasty delights while questioning the meaning of life.

A week later, you've got 20 minutes free from the office and your significant other suggests going out to eat. You say, "I know a great restaurant with awesome food. Let's go." You look for an address but you can't find one. Because there isn't one. The place you ordered from has no physical presence whatsoever or, alternatively, is just a kitchen with no seating space. Now you're rubbing your belly and really having an existential crisis. WTF.  

With sky-high rents and quick turnover the norm, companies like the Green Summit Group are coming up with varying and unique restaurant concepts, locating themselves online only (or, at best, securing a small commercial space with no seating), skipping the long-term onerous lease with commercial landlords, partnering with commercial kitchens, and using Seamless and Grubhub for distribution.

This model promotes improvisation. One benefit of avoiding an actual storefront is the ability to test different food concepts and pivot menus if there are lower-than-anticipated sales. Rebranding is remarkably easy: just a new name, some different food porn photos, and an update to Seamless. To the extent that one company is running different concepts - say, Middle Eastern and Greek - it can also cross-pollinate by offering the exact same menu items per "restaurant" and sharing ingredients in the kitchen. This limits the need to source new ingredients or engage in extensive food prep training for each and every concept. 

It is questionable how sustainable these experiments are long-term. You can read more about some of the cons - loss of alcohol-related sales, no walk-ins, logistics complications - here. The fact is, though, that this represents yet another headwind confronting established restaurant companies. And that potentially means EVEN MORE restaurant bankruptcies in the near future.