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SANTA MONICA, CA-As one of the country’s fastest-growing restaurant chains with more than 375 stores in place and plans to open 100 new locations per year, Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. needs to keep track of lots of real estate, lots of construction schedules, inventory delivery dates, design drawings, lease documents and a host of other details associated with each and every new opening. Chipotle, which is 90% owned by McDonald’s Corp., is hardly alone. Nearly every retail chain of any size seems to harbor ambitious growth plans these days, meaning the companies need to tackle the tricky task of tracking dozens or even scores of new sites at one time.

“You can manage 10 or 20 or 30 restaurants with spreadsheets, but when you are going to open 100 a year, you need something more,” says Rex Jones, director of real estate for Chipotle, who has been with the company since 1998 and has seen the chain outgrow the off-the-shelf spreadsheets that it once used to track the development of new stores.

Chipotle now relies on site-selection and project management software offered by Santa Monica-based Accruent Inc. The system Chipotle is using, developed in part by Dallas-based Lucernex Technologies and now licensed and resold by Accruent, enables the company to coordinate lease negotiations, construction schedules and virtually all of the other details associated with expanding in many locations simultaneously.

As soon as Chipotle has a letter of intent for a new site, it uses the software to create a new site file. From then on, every document and detail about the site becomes part of that file, which any of the far-flung members of the Chipotle team can access at any time via the Internet. Having a Web-based system is crucial to the timeliness and success of store roll-outs, explains Jones, who says that the lack of Web access was one of the big drawbacks of the company’s previous system. Another disadvantage of the old system was that it relied on stand-alone databases that did not integrate very well with each other. “Our people are spread out around the country, so it’s important for all of them to be able to turn on their computers and get live data, and for everyone in the field to have access to all of the same data at the same time,” Jones says.

By the time a new store opens, the site file typically includes everything from the letter of intent to the lease to construction cost projections and totals, complete architectural drawings and building layouts, aerial photos and demographic information about the surrounding area. By employing this system, Jones notes, Chipotle avoids the missteps, missed schedules and communications mistakes that can cause costly delays in store openings.

Chipotle is one of about 350 customers of Accruent, according to Mark Friedman, the software company’s CEO, who points out that while retailers account for about half of Accruent’s customers, they generate two-thirds of the firm’s revenue. That’s why Accruent, which has been undergoing its own growth spurt lately, is focusing on fast-growing retailers as a primary source of business for its real estate management software. Accruent recently acquired Toronto-based Tequila Software, which boosted the combined company’s customer count to 350 firms, including 42 of the top 100 specialty store retailers and 20% of the Fortune 500. Accruent initially focused on corporate real estate management, not retailers, when it launched in 1995. The firm soon realized, however, that retailers represented a huge opportunity.

“With big retailers spending $700 million to a billion a year in rent, and some companies opening three or four stores a day, there is a staggering amount of real estate volume and transactions that these companies need to track,” Friedman says. Because real estate “is mission critical and fundamental to the success of retailers,” he adds, “The retailers are far outpacing their corporate counterparts in how much they’re investing in technology to manage real estate.”

With the acquisition of Tequila, the licensing of Lucernex products and its purchase this year of Chicago-based real estate software provider National Facilities Group, Accruent now markets what Friedman describes as “a complete real estate life-cycle management suite.” Besides site-selection and management software like that described by Jones, the suite is designed to track all of a company’s leases to ensure that the retailer is paying the correct amount. “Simply enforcing the contracts that they negotiate can save substantial amounts of money for retailers,” Friedman says.

General accounting software is OK for ensuring that you pay the rent, he adds, but it doesn’t manage well when matched against the complex terms of retail leases with their rents based on sales, adjustments for seasonality, caps on expenses and other complicated agreements that retailers often negotiate. To illustrate the significance of tracking leases correctly, Friedman notes that Rite Aid, an Accruent customer, paid about $1 million for its software but recovered twice that amount when the system identified myriad instances where the drug chain had been overpaying its rent.

Most corporations and retailers alike start their use of real estate management software with the goal of “Let’s just make sure we pay the rent right,” Friedman says, but many companies are now moving beyond that to more sophisticated goals, including the tracking and management of expansions. “Just in the last six months, we’ve seen an explosion in retailers wanting technology to manage site selection, store acquisition, construction and project management–everything from dirt to balloons, as the retailers say,” Friedman observes. “A big part of it is that retailers are saying ‘We told Wall Street that we’re going to open 200 stores this year, and we damn well better do it, so how do we ensure that we do that?’ “

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