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Asian Retailers Want To Grow In The U.S., And This Texas Firm’s New Division Will Help Them

NewQuest Properties is stepping up its efforts to bring more Asian retail and restaurant concepts to the U.S. The Houston-based firm announced in November that it had launched an Asia-Pacific Retail division, expanding further into a niche segment that is experiencing growing demand from overseas venture firms.

NewQuest Properties' Asia-Pacific Retail lead executives Yoshihide Murata, Naoyuki Kondo, Heather Nguyen and Jay Sears.

The new division is being spearheaded by NewQuest Development partner Heather Nguyen, who has been with the company for more than two decades and has already established strong relationships with many Asia-based clients seeking to enter the U.S. retail market.

“So many of these companies that we are working with have really reached the maximum growth, really, in Asia markets and need to look at other markets to grow into. And they're established, they're very well-funded, and so the U.S. is their next big growth market,” Nguyen said.

In particular, the firm is aiming to bring popular Asian brands and concepts to a greater swath of the Texas market, specifically through the construction of specialized Asian-focused retail centers.

Firms that are looking to develop retail concepts in Texas already have strong brand recognition in their region, which means there is a specific need to expand in markets that have a certain amount of Asian population density, Nguyen said.

Texas has about 1.5 million people who identify as part of the broader Asian community, or about 5% of the Texas population. That number could rapidly increase over the next few decades to nearly 6 million people by 2050, according to projections from the Texas Demographic Center.

The largest groups identify as Asian Indian or have roots in Vietnam or China. That is followed by Filipino, Korean and Pakistani people, according to the center. And in Houston, the Asian community is the city's fastest-growing group, the most recent census data showed.

The new team consists of brokers and affiliates spread out across China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam. NewQuest Managing Partner Jay Spears is also involved and will spearhead capital investments.

“I've really just taken what I've learned in the past years, working with NewQuest on these developments, and now applying it to a niche market that has a huge demand and an underserved demand, focusing on Asian concepts that really appeal to everybody,” Nguyen said. “Not just the Asian consumer, but to the mainstream audience.”

Nguyen has experience in bringing major Asian brands to Texas, having worked with a wide variety of retail and restaurant venture firms. Some of the big names include H-Mart, 99 Ranch Market, 85C Bakery Café and Daiso. Her involvement with these companies and others has shown her that there is a huge appetite for expansion in the U.S. market.

“Now that we've brought them to Texas and other markets, they're telling us, hey, we need more,” Nguyen said.

Dun Huang Plaza in Houston's Chinatown area, which has many popular Asian retailers and restaurants.

The majority of Nguyen’s Asia-Pacific clients have already made an entry into the U.S. on either the East Coast or West Coast, but are looking to expand their retail footprint. Nguyen said that in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Texas’ “open for business” attitude and fewer barriers of entry have garnered attention.

Nguyen’s clients are also seeking to expand in growth areas with young families. That means suburban markets, but also areas that have very high foot traffic. Nguyen pointed to areas like Katy and Sugar Land, which have both seen significant growth.

“Most of the companies that we work with, they want to go into growth markets that they can invest in and be there for 15 to 20 years and still see continued growth,” Nguyen said.

The expanded Asia-Pacific Retail team includes Development Director Jason Wang; Development Senior Consultant Yoshihide Murata; and Kaishu Okada, a business development consultant who is based in Tokyo. Nguyen noted that having representatives across several Asian countries is beneficial in generating business.

“It's helpful to have the local boots on the ground to be kind of a representative, to help build those relationships,” Nguyen said.

NewQuest’s new division will also include Naoyuki Kondo, a retail leasing specialist who joined the brokerage firm earlier this year. Rounding out the Asia-Pacific group are NewQuest’s Rebecca Le, John Nguyen and Grace La.

NewQuest is also looking beyond Texas to cater to clients from Asia-Pacific. Developments are underway in Arizona, with the potential for more expansion beyond.

The pandemic put expansion plans for many overseas firms on hold, but Nguyen said she has already seen things begin to ramp up, and she believes in 2021, companies will be playing catch-up on filling out their development pipelines.

“I actually think it's already starting now, because ... there [were] a lot of plans for these companies to grow within the past year. And due to the pandemic, everything was put on hold, whether it's from travel restrictions or from growth restrictions,” Nguyen said.

“There still is the need for them to continue to grow and expand. And the desire for them to grow in the U.S. has not changed. If anything, it's ... even grown more to diversify.”