Pollo Campero — sort of the KFC of Guatemala — has spread to the United States and put the Tampa Bay market in its sights.
Founded in 1971, the no-frills, quick-serve chain expects to have up to three stores locally by the end of 2010 dishing up its marinated, grilled or pressure-fried (and less greasy) chicken, beans, rice and rice pudding. Each store comes equipped with a salsa bar. For signature drinks, Pollo Campero pours up Salvadoran and Mexican horchata, tamarindo and maranon. The company has 53 stores in the United States after growing via franchising since 2002, but plans 40 more company-owned ones within 18 months.
"We're looking for locations close to large Central American neighborhoods," said Jim Plante of Clearwater, director of East Coast licensing. "We put a store near a large Nicaraguan population in Boston, and it's doing $180,000 a week."
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For those searching for signs of economic revival or more recession, forecasts for back-to-school sales pack something for everyone.
For the glass-is-half-empty set, a consensus of analysts predicts 3.5 to 5 percent declines in the sales index of general merchandise and apparel in August. That would be the worst back-to-school performance — and the first sales decline — since 1995.
For those looking for a glimmer, the economy — two-thirds of which is consumer spending — bumped up from the bottom. Even the glum forecast would be an improvement over the trend since December, said Mike Niemira, chief economist for the International Council of Shopping Centers.
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Add Ace Hardware to the chains paring selection 20 percent to only the bestselling items and brands.
"It's more efficient to stock nine types of utility knives than 21," said John Venhuizen, vice president of business development for the nation's biggest buying cooperative for independent hardware stores. "With a store within 3 miles of half the American population, we think this will get us closer to the other half."
How? The member-owned cooperative hopes to parlay improved profitability to even more profitable smaller stores.
Five years ago Ace shrank the smallest store allowed in the network to 10,000 square feet. With scads of smaller spots empty in today's retail real estate recession and rents falling, Ace just dropped the minimum store to 8,000. It is discounting the $500,000 to $600,000 startup fee by a third to a half.
Ace figures a smaller, more profitable business model can keep it on a path adding 150 stores a year to its 4,600.
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High-end furniture maker Ethan Allan is switching all case goods — wood tables, bookcases, desks — to custom orders. Pieces will be assembled at a "parts supermarket" after a customer orders. Delivery remains a month. But Ethan Allen can avoid goofs estimating demand. It's part of Ethan Allen's shift from stores to design centers.
"You'll see the same size showroom collections," said Jeff Bloom, who owns Ethan Allen outlets in Tampa Bay. "But our case goods will offer more options and finishes."
Mark Albright can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8252.