Restaurants, Retailers Poised to Expand

March 7/Sacramento, Cal./States News Service -- U.S. retailers have increased their expansion plans by 40% in 2011 over 2010, according to ChainLinks Retail Advisors' National Retailer and Restaurant Expansion Guide.

Low rents are part of the reason retailers and restaurateurs are eyeing expansion into areas with lower-than-average unemployment rates in an effort to build a bigger brand mark. Restaurant chains, especially burger and Asian, are poised to increase this year.

The guide implies that many retail companies are gearing up for growth after the recession halted those plans. ChainLinks points to companies such as 7-Eleven, Walmart, Auntie Anne's and Wingstop as those with strategies for adding more locations in the coming year.

On the restaurant side, "burger players like Five Guys and Smashburger are each planning at least 100 stores this year," said Garrick Brown, research director of ChainLinks. Panda Express will open at least 100 stores in 2011, while Wagamama, a U.K. based chain, has 650 units slated to open during the next five years.

Newcomers to the restaurant scene will debut with a splash, the guide predicts. For example, Sunshine Moon Peking Pub will launch as many as 10 locations over the next two years. Also, Chipotle's new Asian fast-casual restaurant will open this summer, and ChainLinks said, "We would be surprised if Chipotle does not add at least 100 of these into the mix over the next 24 months."

According to the guide, almost every U.S. region will register an increase in retail locations in 2011. "The strongest surge in growth plans has been in those markets where unemployment is lowest," said Brown. "Everyone is saying that if unemployment is 10% or less, we're going in strong."

Washington, D.C. , ranks as a "highly desirable" area because of its 6% unemployment levels. "We have also seen a considerable increase in retailer requirements in the Chicago market," he said. "Texas remains extremely popular. Also, though both have elevated unemployment, both Florida and California have also seen a spike in retailer demand in most markets."

From the March 21, 2011, Prepared Foods E-dition