SumoSalad in rent dispute with landlord Westfield

SumoSalad in rent dispute with landlord Westfield
SumoSalad in rent dispute with landlord Westfield

SumoSalad’s boss has put two of the 20 companies in his group into voluntary administration, escalating the tension between the fast food chain and Westfield about leasing charges.

After attempts over six months to negotiate cuts in leasing charges, SumoSalad CEO and co-founder Luke Baylis put two companies, Sumo Westfield Leasing Pty Ltd and Sumo Leasing Pty Ltd, into voluntary administration to force several Westfield centres to the negotiating table, according to Chanticleer in The Australian Financial Review.

These companies hold the leases over about 12 SumoSalad outlets in Westfield shopping centres managed by the Scentre Group. SumoSalad has a total of 104 stores and Baylis says the dispute will not affect their trading, Chanticleer reported.

The dispute started after the shopping centres decided to dramatically expand the number of food outlets within shopping centres, according to Baylis.

Over the past three years foot traffic in shopping centres has only risen about six per cent but the number of food outlets has tripled or quadrupled, hitting SumoSalad’s profitability, Baylis added.

"Sumo has been working with landlords over the past few months to negotiate more realistic food court leases for our stores, with no success," Baylis said in a statement. 

"Regrettably, landlords have opened the door to more and more food businesses in recent times, as well as opening whole new eating areas within the same precinct, which has essentially cannibalised existing tenants.

"One shopping centre went from 34 food outlets to 93 in a three-year period with flat foot traffic growth.”

Putting stores into voluntary administration will allow SumoSalad's franchisees to exit without paying out the remainder of the lease, if Scentre does not cut the rent.

He said talks with landlords have failed, with landlords demanding that Sumo and its franchisees collectively pay millions of dollars to surrender the existing shopping centre leases.

"This is an untenable and unfair demand on small business owners, which would send our franchisees in those shopping centres broke,” he said.

"Placing the leasing entities into voluntary administration is the only way to protect our franchisees, and we are confident this will help us restructure our leasing entities in a manner that will create more favourable conditions for our franchisees."

One of the leases affected by the decision is in the Westfield at Chatswood. 

A spokeswoman for Scentre Group said the “Scentre Group works closely with its retail partners in an effort to resolve trading issues.”

Baylis said the addition of eating outlets over the past couple of years had hit SumoSalad outlet in the centre. He says the lease payments should be cut by 30 per cent.

Earlier this year, Scentre Group chief executive Peter Allen said his company was closely monitoring the rash of new voluntary administrations among retailers. 

Scentre has avoided exposure to specialty fashion chains because of poor consumer demand.

Another shopping centre owner to face problems because of companies going into voluntary administration is GPT.

The collapse of the Top Shop specialty fashion chain has impacted all the leading shopping centre owners.

Baylis said the SumoSalad is opening franchise outlets in hospitals, airports, service stations and universities.

The company has recently entered a partnership with Caltex called Foodiary in Condord in Sydney's west.

Baylis said SumoSalad had been considering its strategic shift away from shopping centre food courts for some time but it had only become a reality following the trialling of pilot sites.


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