Talking With: Tim Hughes, President and CEO of Falcon Realty Advisors

Falcon Realty Advisors is a privately owned commercial real estate firm that works exclusively with retail, restaurant and entertainment clients advising them on market penetration strategies, concept branding, site selection and development throughout the United States. The Dallas-based firm boasts a portfolio of top chain retailers including Whole Foods, Twin Peaks, Macaroni Grill, TCBY and On The Border, as well as emerging brands such as Meso Maya, Velvet Taco and Grub Burger. Modern Restaurant Management magazine’s “Talking With” series continues with Tim Hughes, Falcon’s President and CEO, who has more than 30 years’ experience developing and implementing real estate strategies and is also an advisor and principal in numerous acquisition and development projects that buy, develop and redevelop retail assets for retailers and restaurateurs. Hughes discusses branding, location, growth strategies and the “craveable” aspect.

What are the best practices to creating and growing a brand?  

Understanding that the customer has more of an emotional attachment to a brand and a bigger desire for knowing about what’s behind the brand. Knowing what is “craveable” about your brand to your consumer, versus just believing that as long as your advertisements are reaching your target customer, that they will want the product.

What  are some factors that make one brand and/or chain more successful, while another falters? 

One factor that can inhibit success is choosing a location solely because it is on Main and Main, versus the right fit for the brand. On the other hand, when the brand has the right team in place for each store at opening, success can be more attainable. Another factor that encourages success is having a “craveable” aspect.

Tim Hughes
Tim Hughes

Currently the most craveable aspect that is driving consumers to brands are “natural,” “organic” or “locally sourced” items. And every brand has its individual craveable aspect. For example, McDonald’s craveable aspect, although not “natural” or the healthiest item on the menu, are its french fries. Still, even McDonald’s stopped selling frozen burgers because regardless of income level, consumers all have the same desire to have higher quality food for themselves and their families. So regardless of the price point, a successful restaurant chain will still need to speak to health concerns, while also defining its own “craveable aspect.”

How do you help/what advice do you give to local chains making the leap of faith to becoming national? How do you help them manage effective, strategic growth, while maintaining quality control? 

Be careful to not focus too much time on store growth/expansion and lose sight on concept development.  Stay disciplined to strategic growth vs. leap frogging across the country to the next “hottest” market.

What are some of the challenges of site selection? Are there particular regional challenges? 

A main challenge is finding the ideal fit in the community that is best suited for our clients versus simply finding available real estate, which currently is a challenge within itself – as there is very little of it anyway.

Is the term, “location, location, location” still viable or have other factors taken more prominence?  

Location is always a priority, but how most interpret the traditional “Main and Main” can be viewed differently with many concepts.  Recently, more and more consideration is being given to the physical space, not just the location.

I love having the opportunity to ultimately be a customer at one of our client’s establishments.

Today it is about the customer experience, investing in new and creative ways to build an environment where the consumer wants to spend their time. Otherwise, there are so many apps and resources for a customer to choose to just order delivery instead.

Do you feel Falcon’s customer-centric and relationship-building approach is similar to how restaurants view their guests?  

Of course, we are all about the consumer – we serve our “customers” in all aspects of their growth. We are not just one dimensional – we handle concept and branding advisory, construction management, negotiations and coordination, site selection, market strategy and more.

What are Falcon’s growth plans?

Falcon has recently expanded into Central Texas with the opening of an office in Austin. The opening is a result of the tremendous growth of the tenants Falcon represents in Central Texas over the past several years. The Austin office will serve as an extension of our Dallas headquarters by continuing operations within our tenant representation services and the development of our build-to-suit platform.

Some of the clients we will be focusing on is Austin-headquartered Whole Foods and other top retailers throughout the state including Sonic, TCBY, Twin Peaks, Chevy’s and iPic Theaters. Our Austin office will also be concentrating on flourishing emerging restaurant brands, such as Thirsty Lion Gastropub & Grill, Ted’s Montana Grill, Modern Market, Bulla Gastrobar, Velvet Taco, Whiskey Cake, Pisco y Nazca and 54th Street Grill.

Our vision is to be nationally recognized as the leader in representing restaurant and entertainment venues. We believe we offer our clients the best of both worlds: a wide geographical reach with the ability serve clients on a national platform, with knowledgeable local expertise.

How is Falcon positioned compared to its competition? 

Falcon is not one dimensional, we have multi-service prongs in Brand Consulting, Private Equity, Construction, Site Selection and more. We are extremely well-positioned in terms of our experience and relationships throughout the country that enable us to act on opportunities for capital infusion and expansion growth for our clients that not all of our competitors are capable of. We focus on both the art and science of real estate for our clients.

Compared to most retail representative firms, Falcon has established a Restaurant and Entertainment Group that consists of a very talented and knowledgeable team that is 100 percent focused on our restaurant and entertainment clients. This division is active locally, regionally and on a national scale.

We focus on both the art and science of real estate for our clients.

A key addition to the team is Lane Cardwell, a director in Falcon’s R&E Group. Cardwell was previously the president of Brinker and has been on the senior management team or board of about 40 restaurant concepts during his career. We are so excited to have Lane at Falcon and adding him to the team really showcases the importance and the standards we uphold for our restaurant clients. We asked Lane to join us to purely serve as an advisory role to both our established and emerging restaurant brand clients. He concentrates on their growth, strategic positioning and concept branding to help their leadership accelerate their path to success.

And Lane is just one example, our entire team’s experience and dedication to this sector definitely allows our firm to stand out compared to our competition.

What are some trends you see in the restaurant industry? 

There is more of a shift than a trend coming from a recently identified Aspirational psychographic, predominantly ages 18-52, where a choice of a brand is no longer about the functional part of getting a meal but “what am I buying into.” The shift is from functional to emotional, where the customer feels there is a badge or identity of values that is representative of who they are when choosing where to eat, drink, shop, etc.

Which is why there is also a bigger desire for knowing more about what’s behind the food – where it comes from, sourcing, organic, grass fed, best practices.  This goes hand in hand with the trend in concepts that have a “craveable” product or identity.  For example, the chips and salsa from your favorite Mexican restaurant. But, this “craveable” aspect doesn’t have to be a specific menu item, just what they stand for, a “conscious business identity” – where a brand is offering customers organic, farm-to-table, locally grown, sustainable, etc. options. No longer are customers only going to a restaurant for food, they want to share an identity with the restaurant, know where the food came from, how it was grown or raised. Example of concepts that practice these are Sweet Greens, Chipotle, Modern Market, Wild, etc.

What are challenges you see facing the restaurant industry?  

Labor and real estate that fits and is not forced – being able to find quality locations at an affordable price where the restaurant will be successful. It is extremely expensive to open and operate a restaurant, from labor costs to insurance, so a big challenge is the ability to find the right location versus a space they can simply afford to occupy. Quality locations are harder and harder to come by, especially in major metropolitan markets like Dallas, Austin, Nashville and L.A.

But it is our job at Falcon to help clients make decisions they won’t regret, by finding the high- quality, affordable and successful location that reached the communities our clients want to serve.

What do you love about what you do?

I get the biggest satisfaction of being able to be a part of the entire process of what we do – from inception to reality, and ultimately a customer. I love helping bring a new concept to market, being able to watch them grow and expand, and then get to experience it first hand when my client’s dreams and goals for their brand come to reality.

I love having the opportunity to ultimately be a customer at one of our client’s establishments, or when one of our client’s new restaurants or movie theaters open and I see people lining up around the corner to eat there or there’s a full house in every theater.

Absolutely nothing has been more gratifying than watching someone else’s success realized.