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Each May, commercial real estate developers, bankers, tenants and vendors come together in Las Vegas to meet with the people who shape our business. The meetings are meaningful and are considered by some to be the most intensive business networking they do all year.

Attendance numbers at this conference are a great indicator of how the retail real estate industry is performing. This year’s attendance of 33,000 was up slightly from last year but not as dramatically as some had expected. Attendance has been as high as 50,700 in 2008 and as low as half that amount in 2009.

As I’ve attended the convention for 25 years, I’ve learned to leave a few gaps in my schedule to network with friends in the industry. The programs and meetings at this convention help me understand the drivers behind our industry, but I still get a thrill from the cultivation of new clients and closings.

Part of the news of this year’s convention headlined retailers reducing space and closing stores. Office supply dealers such as Office Depot/Office Max and Staples; clothing retailers like Coldwater Creek, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Aeropostale; and department stores including Sears and J.C. Peeny have all announced plans to close a number of their retail locations. Similar to this national trend toward retail space reduction, we have locally witnessed a consolidation of bank branches resulting in many key locations coming on the market.

Why are so many retailers shedding space and closing stores now when we think the economy has improved since the crash of 2007?

To read the full article on page 12 in the July issue of Arkansas Money & Politics, featuring Hank Kelley.

Brooke Miller named Flake & Kelley Commercial shareholder partner

LITTLE ROCK (May 12, 2014) – Brooke Miller of Little Rock has been named a shareholder partner with Flake & Kelley Commercial.

Miller joined the company in 2007. As a member of Flake & Kelley Commercial’s transactional team, Brooke is responsible for traditional brokerage, leasing and tenant representation. She is a member of the team that represents national, regional and local retailers such as the TJX Companies, Inc. (T.J. Maxx, HomeGoods and Marshalls), Jo-Ann Stores, Inc., LA Fitness, Panera Bread, Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt, Gigi’s Cupcakes and Indigo. Brooke is the leasing agent for two retail centers in Little Rock including Westchase Plaza (65,000 SF retail center) and Breckenridge Village (125,000 SF retail center).

Miller is a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. She is a ChainLinks Retail Advisor, the largest retail only real estate service provider in North America. She is active in the Little Rock community serving on the Board of Directors of the Little Rock Realtors Association and the Xceligent Retail Advisory Board. She is also a member of the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), a sustaining member of the Twentieth Century Club and a previous member of the Hope Lodge Board of Directors. Prior to Flake & Kelley, Brooke owned and operated Companions, a successful women’s clothing boutique in west Little Rock, which she sold in 2006.

About Flake & Kelley Commercial
Founded in 1979, Flake & Kelley Commercial has a vast knowledge and an extensive network of industry connections that facilitate virtually any commercial real estate request. This background, coupled with a staff that features expertise not only in real estate management and development but also in law, accounting and other relevant disciplines, makes Flake & Kelley Commercial an invaluable partner for today’s business.

CARTI Preparing for Growth

The opening of CARTI’s $90 million cancer center in the fall of 2015 can’t come soon enough for CARTI President and CEO Jan Burford.

“We’re getting more patients,” Burford recently said in her office in Baptist Health’s Higginbotham Building in Little Rock. “The baby boomers are entering their peak cancer years. The volume is going to go up for everyone.”

In December 2011, the nonprofit CARTI was treating about 3,000 patients a year. CARTI then began adding doctor groups, and it is now seeing about 20,000 patients annually, Burford said.

But seeing more patients is not necessarily good for CARTI’s financial health, Burford said.

About half of CARTI’s patients are on Medicare, the federal health care insurance program for people 65 and older and for the disabled. Medicare’s reimbursement for cancer treatment is less than the cost to provide the service, she said. The reimbursement rate depends on what cancer is being treated.

“It’s pretty devastating,” she said of the reimbursement rates. “Unfortunately, when Medicare is paying you less than cost, it’s not as if you can make up the difference on volume.”

In addition, CARTI is still dealing with the effects of the federal budget sequestration. Burford said CARTI missed out on about $1 million in 2013 as a result of sequestration and the same amount is projected for this year.

“Every time they come up with a cut, we have to decide how we adjust to that,” Burford said. “We’re still figuring out how to cope with that.”

And she’s not sure how the Affordable Care Act will affect CARTI. “We’re caught up in health care reform just like everybody else,” Burford said.

The earlier a cancer is detected, the cheaper it is to treat. Some chemotherapy drugs cost as much as $50,000, she said. With improved cancer treatment, however, more people have survived cancer only to be diagnosed with a second and third cancer, Burford said.

For the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012,CARTI had net income of $16.6 million on net patient revenue of $85 million, according to its most recent IRS Form 990. For the year that ended in June 2011, CARTI had a net income of $8 million on net patient revenue of $41.2 million.

The Center
The new 170,000-SF cancer center is expected to slash CARTI’s expenses. Burford said she didn’t know exactly how much CARTI is expected to save when all of its doctors’ offices and support staff are under one roof in west Little Rock. It currently has 26 physicians and about 470 employees.

The savings from reducing expenses will be spent on more support services for patients, she said.

CARTI currently is renting 100,000 SF. For the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012, CARTI spent $2 million on land and building leases, which was up 45 percent from the previous year, according to its Form 990.

The cancer center also will make it easier for patients who now have to travel across Little Rock to see different CARTI doctors for treatments.

The cancer center will offer medical, surgical and radiation oncology, diagnostic radiology and hematology services.

CARTI tried to design the building to be as “patient centered” as possible, Burford said. The four-story building will have five main entrances so patients can get inside the building as quickly as possible, she said.

To view the full article by Arkansas Business.

Slim Chickens’ Goal: By 2025, 600 Outlets

Slim Chickens, the 11-year-old creation of a couple of Fayetteville restaurant entrepreneurs, appears poised to take advantage of diners’ increasing appetite for chicken.

“You’ve got to have a target on the wall,” Tom Gordon, president of the chain, told Arkansas Business recently. That target, said Gordon and his business partner Greg Smart, is 600 restaurants in 2025.

The chain, which opened its first location in Fayetteville on Feb. 17, 2003, now has 13 locations with a 14th scheduled to open June 16. That 14th outlet will be Slim Chickens’ third restaurant in Fayetteville. The chain has two locations in Little Rock and outlets in Rogers; Jonesboro; Conway; Hot Springs; and Texarkana, Texas; along with three in Oklahoma. Five of those are franchises; the other eight are company-owned, as will be the newest location.

Gordon and Smart, the company’s chief marketing officer, put Slim Chickens’ annual revenue in 2013 — counting every unit — at between $15 million and $20 million.

As for average annual sales of each location, Gordon, while declining to be specific, said, “We have a range that we like to see.” The restaurants “that perform exceptionally well” have annual sales of between $1.7 and $2 million, he said.

By that standard, the first Slim Chickens in Little Rock, at 4500 W. Markham, is on track to be among those performing exceptionally well: It didn’t open until May 2013 and yet racked up $1,296,143 in sales for the year and has had sales of $404,794 in the first three months of 2014.

A National Trend

The Slim Chickens chain is among a number of restaurants seeking to exploit Americans’ taste for chicken.

Food Business News, an online industry publication, reported earlier this month that Chick-fil-A, KFC, Domino’s Pizza and others were introducing new “chicken concepts.” And Technomic, which provides research for the food service industry, reported in March that chicken chains grew 5.1 percent in 2013, outpacing the 3.9 percent experienced by the overall limited-service restaurant market.Chick-fil-A was the category leader, increasing 9.3 percent with 2013 sales of $5.1 billion and surpassing KFC as the top chicken chain.

Yum Brands Inc., parent company of KFC, on April 9 opened Super Chix in Arlington, Texas, a test store focusing on chicken tenders and sandwiches, in what was seen as a potential challenge to the mighty Chick-fil-A.

To read the full article from Arkansas Business.

Simmons Name Appears on Arkansas’ Tallest Building

The new logo of Simmons First National Bank appeared over the weekend on the south side of Arkansas’ tallest building in Little Rock, an installation timed specifically so that a photo of the high-profile branding could be shown at the Simmons First National Corp. annual shareholders meeting Tuesday night at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.

The dinner meeting hosted by the company’s new CEO, George Makris Jr., was mostly perfunctory, without the fanfare of last year’s final production under retiring CEO J. Thomas May. The Simmons First Foundation, the creation of which was announced at last year’s meeting, revealed the first two recipients of the Tommy May Make-A-Difference grants: $25,000 to Juvenile Court Judge Ernest E. Brown’s “Family Engagement Program” and $22,910 to the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson County.

New branding was evident in videos shown to the audience and in the new signage on the 40-story Simmons Tower, which was the Metropolitan Tower until Simmons acquired Metropolitan National Bank last fall. The corporate name and the official name of the flagship bank still contain the words “First National,” and the logo still has a “1” across the “S,” but new branch-level signage says only “Simmons Bank.”

To read the full article from Arkansas Business.