Study finds store expansion is the norm

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FRANKLIN, Tenn. — Store closings make headlines, but new research from IHL Group has found that for every retailer that is closing stores (on net) in 2019, more than five other chains are opening them.

The study also found that the number of chains adding stores in 2019 has increased 56%, while the number of closing stores has decreased by 66% in the last year.

Called Retail Renaissance – True Story of Store Openings/Closings, the study reviewed 1,660 retail chains with 50 or more locations in the United States across nine industry segments. For each retailer, IHL measured the total store counts at the end of 2016, 2017, 2018, and plans for 2019 year-end based on company filings and statements. The net total increase or decrease in their store count was noted and that data was tallied across companies.

One trend identified in the report is that fewer retailers are closing most of the stores that are being shuttered. In 2018, 20 chains accounted for 52% of all stores closed. In 2019, the 20 announcing the most closures represent 75% of all closures.

“U.S. retail has increased $565 billion in sales since January of 2017, fed not just by online sales growth but net store sales growth,” said Lee Holman, VP of Research for IHL Group. “Clearly there is significant pressure in apparel and department stores, however, in every single retail segment there are more chains that are expanding their number of stores than closing stores.”

Since 2017, apparel and department store chains have seen the net closure of 9,651 stores. During this same period, all other segments represented 18,226 net new openings. Additional findings include the following:

  • 64% of retailers are adding stores in 2019, versus 12% that are decreasing their store counts 24% that are holding steady. That compares to 2018 with 41% increasing store counts, 37% decreasing and 22% with no change.
  • For every chain that is closing stores, about 5.2 chains are opening stores. Among
    Food/Drug/Convenience/Mass Merchants, about 9.5 chains are opening stores for every chain that is closing stores.
  • 2018 was a peak year in the number of chains closing stores with 37% reducing their store counts. This number has dropped to 12% of total retailers in 2019.

According to the research, the two primary characteristics of chains closing the most stores has been too much debt and rapid overexpansion driven by historically low interest rates for the last 10 years. Lack of innovation and short-sighted private equity has also played a significant role in many of the chains. Retailers without these characteristics have continued to thrive in this market, noting that when a retailer closes a lot of stores, it is more of an indictment on the individual retailer rather than an overall retail industry problem as has often been reported.

IHL contends in the report that it is normal and healthy for chains to be both opening new stores and closing non-performing stores. It is the net change overall (along with other measures) that reveals the health of the company and the industry. Seven of the nine segments have a net increase in stores for 2019. Only two industries, apparel and department stores, show a net decline in stores among all the retailers in the segment.

The research report is available for no cost here.




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