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From securing the ideal piece of real estate to hiring a qualified sales staff, opening and operating a physical store is a costly endeavor for retailers.
So which are getting the most bang for their buck?
A recent report by Jefferies analyst Randal Konik figured out just that. Based on his coverage universe, which includes specialty stores and off-price retailers, Konik analyzed companies' returns on investment as it relates to what they earn in sales per square foot, compared to what they pay in rent per square foot.
According to Konik's analysis, off-price retailers Ross Stores and TJX lead the pack, each bringing in sales per square foot more than 20 times greater than what they're paying in rent per square foot. Rounding out the top five are Ulta, Tiffany and Urban Outfitters.
"It's really a function of productivity," said Paul Freddo, senior executive vice president of leasing and development for DDR, about TJX and Ross.
"They're not getting better deals than other anchors [or] other key tenants in our shopping centers. They are a highly desirable tenant because they perform," he said.
TJX—parent company of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods—is DDR's top tenant, accounting for 3 percent of the annual base rent across its entire portfolio. Ross Stores is its seventh-largest tenant by this metric.
Freddo said the two off-pricers are "attractive" to lease space to because their business model—selling branded goods at a value—is "red-hot." The companies also have strong credit ratings, and are appealing to other retailers it's trying to get into its centers, Freddo said.
He added that their productivity levels are particularly impressive given that they sell their goods at such low prices. According to data from eMarketer, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls pull in about $304 in average sales per foot, while Ross does about $288 in average sales per square foot.
"At their price point ... those productivity levels we view as very, very attractive," Freddo said.
A recent study by Sterne Agee found that the off-price sector remains highly attractive to female shoppers. The firm, which surveyed more than 1,000 women in the U.S., found that 65 percent of respondents have shopped at an off-price store over the last 12 months, with more than 80 percent of respondents saying they have shopped at either a T.J. Maxx or a Marshalls.
"Notably, customers who are shopping more at off-price (regardless of which concept) most frequently cited Macy's and J.C. Penney as chains where they are shopping less," analyst Ike Boruchow wrote in the report.
On the flip side, among those who are shopping less at off-price stores, Kohl's was the most frequently mentioned beneficiary, he said.
According to Sterne Agee's findings, the most common reason consumers were shopping less frequently at off-price stores was because they're shopping online more. That presents a significant challenge for the off-price retailers, which have a very small presence on the Web.
Ross, for example, doesn't even sell items on its website. It's taken the stance that shipping costs are too prohibitive for its low prices.
"This could become an increasingly important headwind for the category in the coming years," Boruchow said.
Regardless, the off-price sector continues to flourish. In a recent note to investors, Bernstein Research analyst Anne-Charlotte Windal wrote that she sees increased consumer adoption across all age groups and income levels—including affluent households—even as the economy recovers.
That, for the time being, debunks some critics' opinion that shoppers would trade up to higher-price items when the economy strengthened.
"While we do not expect off-price comparable-store sales to significantly outpace category growth at this point in the cycle, we believe they can stay at a solid 3 to 4 percent, in line with category growth," Windal said.