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Competitive Socializing Concepts See 386% Increase Over 2 Years, New Report Finds

A niche segment of the retail industry is exploding in popularity as cravings for togetherness climb in the wake of the pandemic.

Competitive socializing, an emerging trend that combines dining and competitive games like bocce or ax-throwing, has grown by 386% since the beginning of 2021, according to a new report in Cushman & Wakefield’s The Edge magazine. The segment is grabbing the attention of landlords looking to breathe new life into underused spaces, especially in properties with large-format vacancies.

A Puttshack location

One burgeoning concept is Puttshack, a tech-driven mini-golf experience co-founded by the brothers behind Topgolf and backed in part by a $150M investment by BlackRock.

The debut of Puttshack put Atlanta mixed-use development The Interlock on the map, Justin Latone, senior vice president of leasing for SJC Ventures, told Cushman & Wakefield. The location spans nearly 25K SF and includes four mini-golf courses, a full bar and a rooftop patio space, according to Puttshack’s website.

“The property as a whole has dramatically benefited as well as ancillary revenues, and a large part of that is attributed to Puttshack’s early and continued success,” Latone said. “We have found that people come to experience Puttshack and stay to experience other parts of the project, with dwell time being well over an hour on location.”

Competitive socializing venues tend to have a domino effect on the centers they occupy by attracting more foot traffic and increased sales at nearby businesses, per Cushman & Wakefield. 

There is often a learning curve when educating landlords and developers about the benefits of including a competitive socializing tenant, Cushman & Wakefield Executive Director of Retail Services Jason Greenstone said, but the proof is in the pudding once the property’s performance metrics roll in.

"There are many instances where landlords at first blush do not understand the draw and impact a concept like Swingers can have on a neighborhood, but once they see the concept in person, the reaction is almost unanimous,” Greenstone told C&W. “They can't believe how amazing it is both as an amenity and draw for the neighborhood.”

Pent-up demand for socializing in the wake of pandemic shutdowns has spurred activity, but the trend dovetails with a hunger for experiences that predates the coronavirus. More than 75% of millennials opted for experiences over things before the pandemic, according to a Harris Poll survey. While competitive socializing venues attract a wide range of customers, the concepts typically target adults between the ages of 25 and 36, per C&W.

Owners are responding to demand with rapid expansion plans. Social golfing experience Puttery, backed by PGA Winner Rory McIlroy, has at least four new locations in the works. Chicken N Pickle, a Kansas City-based company that offers indoor and outdoor pickleball courts alongside wood-fired chicken, has rippled through the Midwest and Texas with plans for at least five new locations in the coming months, according to its website.