Equity One doesn't expect fallout from Winn-Dixie troubles
By Tom Harlan
A North Miami Beach real estate investment trust that owns 16 Winn-Dixie-anchored shopping centers doesn't expect to be hurt by the grocery chain's recent bankruptcy filing.
Equity One, with headquarters at 1696 NE Miami Gardens Drive, gets about 2.8% of its rent revenue from Winn-Dixie, the company said. Equity One's 19.7 million-square-foot portfolio consists of 188 properties, including 132 supermarket-anchored shopping centers
Winn-Dixie's uncertain future won't weigh on the company, Equity One President Doron Valero said, because 15 of the stores - 13 in Florida and one each in Alabama and Louisiana - are in prime locations that generate strong revenues and are not expected to be closed.
Equity One shouldn't be affected if Winn-Dixie decides to close its stores, said John Crossman, principal at Trammell Crow's East Coast Retail Investment Team, because its shopping centers are in good locations that would be attractive to a variety of tenants.
Other shopping-center owners in secondary markets that have Winn-Dixie as their anchor tenant may be concerned about possible store closures, he said, because their locations may be ideal only for a few tenants.
Only one Winn-Dixie store in Equity One's portfolio, in North Carolina, is outside of the chain's core market, Mr. Valero said. He said many of the company's stores are in larger areas such as South Florida, considered an economic engine for the grocer.
Winn-Dixie spokeswoman Lin Wiu said the company is formulating plans for its stores. CEO Peter Lynch will assess each store with company executives, she said, and release details of a reorganization strategy within 45 days. "There will be some tough decisions to be made," she said.
The company announced 156 store closures last spring that were unrelated to its announcement Feb. 22 that it would go into Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization following a disappointing January earnings release.
None of Equity One's stores were listed in the announcement, and the grocer's 920 stores remain open.
"The stores are open, the shelves are stocked in full," Ms. Wu said. "It's business as usual. Winn-Dixie looks forward to providing good service for communities in which it operates."
The Chapter 11 filing is an opportunity for Winn-Dixie to reorganize itself and try to attract new customers, Mr. Valero said, or lease attractive locations to another retailer.
Mr. Valero blamed the chain's failures on bad management. He said he disagrees with company statements that the company was hurt by Wal Mart's growth or Winn-Dixie's presence in poor locations.
"What hurt Winn-Dixie was the terrible operation they were running for the past few years," he said. "They made every mistake in the book."
Winn-Dixie was a top grocer in the 1980s, Mr. Valero said, but became complacent and failed to reinvest in stores or project a clean image. "Look at the newer stores they opened over the past five years," he said. "They look old. They stayed with the old look."
Mr. Valero said Publix, which along with Kroger anchors 49 of Equity One properties, kept up with new technology, reinvented its look with newer stores and maintained a reputation for good service, clean stores and great produce.
Winn-Dixie will turn around, Mr. Valero said, or sell to a large supermarket chain that would pick up the 440 stores and compete with Publix' 625 Florida stores.
Winn-Dixie can sublease many of its Equity One stores to another grocer, Mr. Valero said. Many of the store's leases were signed in the 1980s for 20 years and renewed with options for another five to 20 years.
The grocer pays an average $7 a square foot in rent, he said. One long-term Winn-Dixie lease in Cutler Ridge carries rent of less than $3 a square foot, he said, and has about 30 years left including options. The grocer could improve operations and operate cheaply there, he said.
"I don't think these stores are going to disappear," he said.
Winn-Dixie has a strong legacy, Ms. Wu said, and can emerge from bankruptcy reorganization.
Winn-Dixie could become successful under new management and a better operational plan, Mr. Crossman said, but the grocer has to focus on a particular niche or market need or compete with top-tier stores such as Wal-Mart or Publix on selection or price.
"Winn-Dixie needs to decide who their customer is and take great care of them," Mr. Crossman said. "It's absolutely crucial. When you think who Publix' or Wal-Mart's customers are, you know who they are. Their customers know who they are."