- American suburbs saw a revival in 2020 as people fled cities at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Now, chains like Just Salad and Smashburger are following their customers to new suburban locations.
- Suburban-based companies like Tractor Supply Co. are already reaping the benefits.
- See more stories on Insider's business page.
In 2020, many professionals living in cities seized upon the opportunity to relocate. Many Americans decided to become homeowners at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, seeking more space. The housing market in suburbs and exurbs boomed, helped out by the Fed lowering interest rates to prop up the economy and companies telling employees to work from home.
After more than a year of remote work for millions of people, many companies are expecting flexible work arrangements to be the norm. Restaurants, retailers, and co-working firms that thrived in urban settings are now looking to follow their city-dweller turned suburbanite customers who gave up comforts such as shorter commute times, convenient and close-by dining options, and dedicated office space.
Just Salad, a popular fast-casual restaurant whose storefronts are normally located near large office buildings in cities like New York and Chicago, is planning to grow its suburban markets.
"Wherever you see a fast-food row-- McDonald's, Chick-Fil-A, Panda Express, Chipotle, Starbucks-- there is an opportunity for Just Salad," Nick Kenner, CEO of Just Salad, told Insider. "We believe we have the best product and the most accessible price point among competing concepts so we think we are well-positioned in most suburban markets."
Just Salad currently has around a dozen successful locations in the suburbs, Kenner said. Without setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenner explained that Just Salad would have had even more growth in these suburban markets.
Other fast-casual and restaurants like Smashburger are also planning suburban expansions.
Smashburger is currently planning an expansion of 40 new restaurants in the suburbs of Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC. For these new locations, the focus is on replicating a dine-in style experience even for customers who choose to dine at home, Carl Bachmann, Smashburger's president, told Insider when their expansion was first announced.
As some companies saw new opportunities in the suburbs, those already located outside cities saw great success early on during the coronavirus pandemic.
Tractor Supply Co., the largest operator of rural lifestyle retail stores in America with nearly 2,000 stores across the US, saw unprecedented sales last summer and this year. The company saw 2.5 million new customers, or an increase of over 30%, and strong customer retention in its first quarter compared to last year. In Q2, those same trends remained as more of Tractor Supply Co.'s customers purchased pets and started hobby farming and gardening, the company shared with Insider.
Tractor Supply Co attributes much of this growth to young millennials moving into rural areas at the start of the pandemic, a market they were already tapped into before their now-customers fled their former cities.
Serendipity Labs, a company that offers coworking and flexible office space, saw similar results in the past year with an increase in member utilization of their suburban locations compared to pre-COVID visits.
Serendipity Labs has over 30 locations in the US and is currently planning to expand, including to the suburbs of London.
Since the pandemic, Serendipity Labs has also seen an increase in the number of owners of office buildings looking for flexible solutions to keep their tenants while many companies are working from home, John Arenas, CEO of Serendipity Labs told Insider in an interview.
"Creating that footprint for customers is a competitive advantage," Arenas said about the suburbs. "Our customers need us."