The Whispers Blog

Arkansas' breaking business news blog, with news and commentary from the Arkansas Business staff.
Send us tips.

Sam's Club, Dillard's Make Consumer Reports Naughty & Nice List

They've made their list and checked it twice. Consumer Reports has released its annual Naughty & Nice List, and it features a couple Arkansas-based companies, one on each list.

On the naughty side was Dillard's Inc. of Little Rock. Here's what Consumer Reports had to say:

The department store won't give price adjustments as a matter of policy, for either online or in-store purchases.

On the nice side was Sam's Club, which is owned by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville. Here's what Consumer Reports said:

Wal-Mart's warehouse club has a novel guarantee on its perishables — fresh meat, produce, and baked goods. If members don't love the food, the chain will refund double their money or exchange the product and still refund the purchase price.

This was the fifth year Consumer Reports has released its Naughty & Nice list ahead of the holiday shopping season, and this wasn't the first time an Arkansas-based company has been included.

Wal-Mart made the list last year on the nice side for bringing back its layaway program.

For more on the 2014 list, click here.

Dillard's Investor Advises Company to Pursue REIT Spinoff

One of the investors of Dillard's Inc. of Little Rock is advising the company to split into a publicly traded real-estate investment trust and an operating company.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Marcato Capital Management LP made the push after Caesars Entertainment Corp. proposed a similar split

Marcato, which has a 4.9 percent stake in the Little Rock-based company, said it thinks Dillard's could "unlock tremendous value" were it to pursue such a strategy, noting that in recent months several major companies with significant real-estate holdings have disclosed plans to consider a REIT structure in their strategies.

Dillard's shares climbed 8.5 percent in recent trading.

And as of this writing (around noon), Dillard's shares (NYSE: DDS) are up about 11 percent.

You can see Marcato's presentation on a Dillard's REIT right here (PDF).

There was no comment from the company in the Wall Street Journal article, which stated a spokesman was not "immediately available." Dillard's declined comment when contacted by Arkansas Business.

You'll remember that in 2011, Dillard's announced plans to create a REIT as a subsidiary of the company. In an Oct. 6, 2011 filing, Dillard's said it created the REIT "in order to enhance its financial flexibility by providing additional sources of liquidity." The company transferred about $135 million of assets into the REIT.

Right now, Dillard's — a $6.5 billion company — operates 278 Dillard's department store and 20 clearance centers in 29 states.

We've been hearing a lot about REIT's in Arkansas this year.

Windstream Holdings Corp. of Little Rock announced over the summer it would spin off certain assets, mainly its fiber and copper network, into a publicly traded REIT in an attempt to lower its debt by $3.2 billion.

More: Windstream Spinoff Hits Dividend Even More Than You Think

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that Sears Holding Corp. is also looking into spinning off as many as 300 of its 712 company-owned stores. The Sears case is among several Marcato cites in its presentation urging Dillard's to spin off its own REIT.

Video: ARK Challenge Concludes Fourth Run in Little Rock

The ARK Challenge startup accelerator last week concluded its fourth installment, and first in Little Rock, with Demo Day presentations of company pitches held inside the Clinton Center's Great Hall.

Spencer Jones and his Little Rock venture Jones Innovative Medical Solutions was the winner of $150,000 in additional investment. The seven teams selected for the Little Rock cohort of the ARK received $20,000 in seed funding to develop their products.

The ARK amounts to a three-month startup boot camp that aims to attract out-of-state ventures to Arkansas, plus retain and develop promising Arkansas ventures. 

The ARK's first two installments in Fayetteville were federally funded, while another Fayetteville edition earlier this year and the Little Rock run were funded by the state and private investment.

Check out Arkansas Business coverage of Demo Day here.

Above, videographer Barry Deere takes us look the ARK's fourth installment.

The Hop Diner is Closing; At the Corner Opening in Its Place

The Hop Diner is closing Nov. 26.

Little Rock Soirée, our sister publication, has news that The Hop Diner is closing its doors after seven years of business.

The last day of business will be Nov. 26. The Hop, known for its burgers and shakes, moved downtown to the corner of Markham and Scott in 2008, after its lease ran out on Cantrell Road. When it made the move, it left two tables and four chairs for a sit-down restaurant in the River Market.

In its place will be At the Corner, run by new ownership. The new restaurant, owned by Kamiya Merrick, is expected to open around New Year's.

At the Corner will serve the Americana favorites like burgers, salads, fries and onion rings. The modern diner will be open for breakfast and lunch, and will also feature daily chalkboard specials.

But here's one thing on the menu we're particularly excited about: poutine. What is this dish, you ask? It's only fries, cheese curds and gravy; nothing but a pure, heaven-sent delight.

For more, check out Soirée's story here.

Arkansans Saw 96k Political Ads Worth $41.1M

The dust has settled on the midterms and the GOP takeover that occurred in Arkansas, but more importantly, the political ads have ceased.

When it was all said and done, Arkansans were exposed to $41.1 million in ads, according to extensive research from The Center for Public Integrity.

That's 96,000 ads in all. 

It shows a big spending push on ads that ran in final weeks of the campaign. Remember that as of Oct. 24, CPI counted $33.1 million spent on 80,100 ads in Arkansas.

The U.S. Senate race — one of the most closely watched races in the country — was responsible for the majority of the money and ads. It alone flooded the airways with 65,700 ads worth $29.4 million. 

In terms of money spent, Arkansas ranked No. 8 overall, and jumped to No. 4 in terms of money spent per voter: $14. It trailed Iowa ($16), Alaska ($15) and New Hampshire ($15).

Republicans and their allies spent $15.5 million on 32,200 ads, while Democrats and their allies spent $13.9 million on 33,500 ads.

At the state-level, CPI found $11.7 million was spent on 30,300 ads, most coming from the gubernatorial race, which racked up $6.9 million worth of ads.

Republican Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson led the way with $2.5 million spent on 6,085 ads, while his Democratic opponent Mike Ross spent $1.9 million on 4,864 ads. Races for attorney general ($2.5 million) and lieutenant governor ($1.8 million) also crossed the six-figure mark. Not far behind were two ballot issues — Issue 3 and Issue 4 — that resulted in $936,200 worth of ads.

At the national level, the numbers are staggering. U.S. Senate races saw $477.4 million spent on 1 million ads. The money was split almost down the middle, with $219.9 million from candidates and $200.4 million from outside groups. Political parties kicked in the remaining $43.3 million.

In state races, there was $855 million spent on 1.5 million ads. Candidates outspent the competition, accounting for $536.6 million, while outside groups were responsible for $199.4 million and political parties spent $116.4 million.

Overall, that's $1.3 billion spent on 2.5 million ads, according to research from CPI.

Those hoping for some political downtime might be out of luck, as the next presidential election gains more attention each day. That's not to mention U.S. senators and representatives who are already back in the fundraising mode.

Those include U.S. Sen.-elect Tom Cotton, who according to CPI sent out an invite for a Washington, D.C. fundraiser the day after he was elected. Attendance required a minimum contribution of $500.