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‘Topgolf for Pickleball’ and Other Emerging Retail Concepts To Watch in 2023

There’s a Lot of ‘Eatertainment’ on This List
Chicken N Pickle is one of many pickleball restaurant chains expanding across the U.S. (Chicken N Pickle)
Chicken N Pickle is one of many pickleball restaurant chains expanding across the U.S. (Chicken N Pickle)

Retail has never been more active. At least by one measure.

Many national retailers are still expanding despite recession fears heading into 2023. And many of them are trying out new, unorthodox concepts.

This comes as monthly retail sales (excluding auto, gasoline, and online retailers, a measure that best encapsulates brick-and-mortar retail sales), pushed to a new record high of $384 billion last September, according to CoStar, the publisher of LoopNet. That’s more than 30% higher than pre-pandemic levels in September 2019, even after accounting for inflation.

This momentum has propelled retailers of all types into new markets and presented new opportunities for retail owners and investors.

As we kick off a new year, LoopNet looked at a few retail concepts emerging throughout the country, including pickleball and “dog bars.” Here are the ones to watch in 2023.

Pickleball: Still a Smash Hit

A rendering of a Camp Pickle restaurant expected to open in 2024 in Huntsville, Alabama. (Camp Pickle)

You’ve probably heard that pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the country, and “sportstainment” companies with deep pockets are increasingly relishing it.

Restaurateurs including Robert Thompson, Chicken N Pickle and others are making big bets that large pickleball venues with space for courts and other social games can become the 21st century’s version of your neighborhood bowling alley.

“Our real estate profile is not dissimilar to TopGolf’s,” Thompson, formerly of Punch Bowl Social, said, referring to the multi-billion-dollar sports bar chain that popularized gamified driving ranges.

Thompson’s concept is Camp Pickle , and it’s set to debut with two locations in 2024: One on a five-acre site in the Denver suburbs, and the other in Huntsville, Alabama. Styled like a vintage log cabin summer camp, Camp Pickle will combine “from-scratch” dining with craft beverages plus indoor and outdoor pickleball courts, as well as other entertainment like duck-pin bowling, dart lounges and private karaoke rooms.

Thompson said pickleball had been on his radar for years, but he didn’t take the sport seriously for a restaurant concept until its growing fanbase skewed younger. He said that now 50% of pickleball players are 34 or younger.

“In 2021, capital partners looking to invest in the pickleball arena began calling; landlords began calling; all asking me to create an ‘eatertainment’ pickleball growth brand,” Thompson told LoopNet. “I began visualizing Camp Pickle, which I see as threading the needle between younger and older customers, families and singles.”

He came up with the vintage summer camp aesthetic for Camp Pickle because he “needed something that appealed to Generation Z, boomers and everyone in between,” he explained.

“National Park culture and summer camps are nostalgic to an older generation and kitschy to younger consumers,” he said.

Camp Pickle requires between 50,000 and 75,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space, but Thompson said he is working on suburban, infill and repurposed big-box buildout profiles. Thompson plans to open four to five Camp Pickles in 2025, and four to six in 2026, plus offer franchise opportunities.

Inside a Chicken N Pickle in Kansas City, Missouri. (Chicken N Pickle)

Chicken N Pickle is already established after debuting in 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. The emerging chain now has six locations, with three more planned this year and three others planned in 2024. Garrett Stutz, the company’s senior adviser of logistics & expansion, said Chicken N Pickle is targeting all major metropolitan areas with a population of more than 1 million.

“We love to be in active areas of the city and ideally would be next to other concepts. We truly believe the rising tide lifts all boats” Stutz told LoopNet. “That said we are large enough to be a destination and anchor the development around us.”

Other pickleball restaurant chains are popping up throughout the country as well.

A New Brick-and-Mortar Platform for Online Brands

Another trend to watch is “the next generation of online retailers looking for physical space,” said Anjee Solanki, a San Francisco-based national director of retail services and practice groups at Colliers.

“I know inflationary issues are going on, but certain sectors are still seeing nice, steady growth. It’s very competitive online, and there are just so many different channels that merchants, retailers, brands are just getting lost,” she said. “It’s easier if they can identify key locations where they can have their brand highly visible, even in a pop-up scenario.”

At least one platform is offering that opportunity to fledgling online brands that may not be comfortable negotiating the specifics in their brick-and-mortar leases. Leap is a tech-driven platform that links merchants with brokers and landlords.

Leap says on its website that it uses a proprietary scoring system called “Predicted Performance Value” to identify locations for online retailers based on their shopper profiles, local demographics and seasonality, among other factors. Leap then handles lease negotiations with the landlord once the merchant approves a location.

Another benefit to this arrangement, Solanki said, is that Leap builds out the space for the retailer.

“So the retailer just walks in and ‘boom,’ the [point of sale] starts and kicks off,” she said. “Then the landlord benefits because they can do three or four deals in their project or across their portfolio.”

‘Dog Bars’

Nearly one in five American households adopted a dog or cat during the pandemic, and a growing number of businesses from doggie daycares to ‘pet spas’ are trying to meet rising demand. The American Pet Products Association said Americans spent nearly $124 billion on their pets in 2021.

Another concept emerging due to “pandemic puppies” are “dog bars,” which are exactly what they sound like.

“People can go there and drink, and you can just let your dog run free in this little area,” said Nicole Larson, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based national retail research manager at Colliers. “There are bartenders to serve you, and there are attendants to help your dogs and make sure they’re not fighting with anybody.”

Larson pointed to a few of these concepts in Florida, but ‘dog bars’ are becoming more prevalent across the country. Many of them operate as “clubs” requiring memberships that, unlike public dog parks, vet pet guests and owners. Food and drinks are a bonus.

Honorable Mentions

Of course, there are many other retail concepts on the rise, too.

On the experiential front, TopGolf is rolling out a smaller, indoor concept. TOCA Social , an England-based soccer and dining concept, is debuting locations in the U.S. ahead of the 2026 World Cup.

Other honorable mentions include ethnic grocery stores coupled with food halls, high-end popup shops and supplementary education for children.

Otherwise, look for more retail automation in general. And, if anything else, know that drive-throughs and curbside pickup are only becoming more critical for groceries, department stores and quick-service restaurants.

Sixty percent of Chipotle’s sales come from digital channels, as do 40% of Jersey Mike’s, explained Larson. “I think those are huge, ‘holy cow’ numbers.”