Good Mall/Bad Mall
There were a couple of slideshows that caught my eye last week, one highlighting America's most profitable malls and the other America's most endangered malls. The profitable malls have occupancy rates right around 95%, and estimated sales per square foot north of $750. The endangered malls, on the other hand, have occupancy rates below 85%, some significantly so, and sales per square foot less than $250.
Commentators have pointed out that Best Buy is benefiting from the absence of Circuit City, as Bed, Bath & Beyond is benefiting from Linens ‘n Things being gone. In a downturn like this, the strong get stronger, and gain share, while the weak get weaker, and hang on as best they can. That's happening with malls now, too. The malls that are struggling aren't just in lower income areas, they're also in areas with excessively high retail square footage per capita.
This presents opportunities, as well as dangers, for emerging multi-store independent retailers as well as regional chains. With occupancy rates being what they are, there are now opportunities to get into mall space for the first time, or relocate from weaker malls to stronger ones. The danger isn't in identifying endangered malls and staying away, the challenge is to separate the winners from the losers in the great middle between the best and worst malls.
As we go forward and gradually begin to recover, retailers will remain under pressure, and so will malls. The bifurcation of malls into good malls and bad malls is likely to continue for the next several years. It may take 3 to 5 years for this to play out fully, before retail real estate finally stabilizes.
Selecting real estate is always a challenge for expanding multi-store independents and regional chains. There are excellent opportunities out there at great value, but this is also a time to be cautious and diligent.