The chain is not averse to small locations, either. For these, it looks for 70,000 people within 20 minutes, 21,000 cars passing daily, and 18,000 employees nearby. “That employee population really drives your lunchtime business—we survive on multiple dayparts.”
Conklin also looks at which big-box retailers, such as Home Depot and Walmart, are nearby because they generate traffic. “We also look at areas that have positive growth—at eating and drinking sales, as well as retail sales,” he says. “This shows the health of the market.”
A change that Golden Corral made in recent years is a move into in-line and end-cap locations. “Freestanding restaurants will always be our bread and butter, but changing market conditions, such as increasing development costs and different demands from consumers, have resulted in us looking at different locations,” Conklin says. In seeking in-line and end-cap locations, the chain tries to secure sites that have great visibility from the street, pylon signage, great access, and plenty of parking.
The importance of site visits
Buffalo Wings & Rings also relies on science, but takes a very hybrid approach when selecting new locations, says Philip Schram, chief development officer of the Cincinnati, Ohio–based company, which has 56 locations across the country.
The brand turns to data-mining companies such as eSite Analytics. “They can tell you who lives nearby, who works nearby, and who are the customers,” Schram says. “Therefore, we can understand if our restaurants would fit.”
If a site’s approved, a team visits it to look at a number of factors, but primary among them are traffic, visibility, and a vibrant trade area. It also looks at the demographics. As a sports bar, the company wants to be in an upper-blue-collar or middle-white-collar area.
Schram has learned his lesson about site visits and knows they’re non-negotiable. He once skipped a Texas site visit and didn’t realize the location was only accessible from one side of the freeway. “So, theoretically, while we have access to a huge population, we actually only have access to half of it.” The site was also halfway between two vibrant trade areas and three miles from most houses, which is too far. This location, he says, has struggled since it first opened.