• WisBusiness

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

GreenBiz: Batteries Plus hits milestone

By Gregg Hoffmann
The Packers are not the only organization to have a humble beginning in Green Bay and go on to national prominence.

Batteries Plus opened its first store in Titletown in 1988, an offshoot of what had been Packerland Automotive. Since then, the company has expanded into 46 states and Puerto Rico.

The company recently opened its 500th store, at 12560 W. Capitol Drive in Brookfield. That store is one of 33 in Wisconsin -- counting company-owned stores and franchises.

Batteries Plus is now listed as the largest and fastest growing battery and light bulb franchise. “We started by selling car batteries and some other car accessories,” said Jim Lauterbach, chief retail officer for the company. “Because of the complete explosion in portable power, we have expanded to carry just about every kind of battery there is (an estimated 40,000 batteries). We handle everything from a phone battery to a forklift battery.

“We include consumer electronics and batteries used in industry. We will customize specialty batteries and will assemble packs for industrial needs. We also have become a green store with recycling services for batteries and light bulbs.”

Batteries Plus began franchising in 1992. Since then, the Hartland-based company has seen years of growth. In 2011, it opened 55 new stores and signed 47 franchise deals to open 67 new stories.

Franchise Times lists Batteries Plus as the fifth fastest growing franchise in the world in terms of unit growth. Entrepreneur Magazine ranks the company No. 1 among retail battery franchises.

Lauterbach said the franchise structure of the company has been a big factor in its growth and has drawn entrepreneurs from other fields of business. “We have an extensive training program for our franchisees,“ he said. “We have a school they attend and offer online courses that keep them up-to-date. You need not have a technical or engineering background to open one of our franchise stores.”

The company has been very adept at “piggybacking off consumer electronic trends.”

“Just five years ago, many electronic products we use today did not exist,” Lauterbach said. “We have done everything we can to keep up with the trends and add to our products and services.”

Batteries Plus carries light bulbs for recessed lighting, track lighting, incandescent and CFL use to the more specialized bulbs for cars, health care equipment, aquariums, projectors and much more.

Lighting experts can show customers the value of switching from incandescent bulbs to CFLs or LEDs when lighting their homes or businesses.

“In addition to our franchise owners and their employees, we are linked to certified contractors who are very knowledgeable in batteries and light bulbs,” Lauterbach said. “They have the expertise to help with retrofitting, technical problems and many other things.”

CEO Russ Reynolds said, “Batteries Plus can fulfill virtually any light bulb or battery request from consumers and businesses alike. If we don’t have a battery you need, we can often build it.”

Lauterbach said he notes increased demand for recycling and green services from customers. “They are genuinely concerned about mercury content in older bulbs and how to recycle them,” he said. “The same can be said for batteries. They want to do what is right, because often it also makes business sense.”

Batteries Plus has worked closely with the state Focus on Energy on green projects, retrofitting and conversions to cleaner forms of technology.

The company uses both the internet and its physical stores in marketing and sales.

“As is the case with other companies, we have found many of our customers want to do comparison shopping on the internet, but then want to come into a bricks-and-mortar business to see the product, get assistance and make purchases,” Lauterbach said. “Once a customer knows what he needs, he often will make subsequent purchases over the internet site.”

As for the future of batteries, light bulbs and portable power in general, Lauterbach expects devices and the portable power to run them to keep getting smaller and lighter. “We’ve gone from a desktop where your computer might have actually been on the floor, to laptops, now to tablets and smart phones,” he said. “I expect that trend to continue.”

Extending the use of portable power -- through recharging and reconditioning -- also likely will grow, as more consumers and businesses watch their budgets. Batteries Plus already provides those services.

Lauterbach said the company was excited about hitting the 500th store milestone, and was glad it was in its home state. “In an age of increased portability and more complex devices, our society is depending on finding the right batteries and light bulbs. I look forward to meeting the ongoing battery and light bulb needs of the Brookfield community.:

Batteries Plus is based in Hartland and owned by Roark Capital Group, an Atlanta-based private equity firm.

The U.S. battery replacement market has surpassed $30 billion and is estimated to reach $34.6 billion by 2014. The light bulb replacement market is estimated to reach $14 billion.

You can learn more about Batteries Plus by going to http://www.BatteriesPlus.com/franchising.

-- Hoffmann, a veteran journalist, writes the Green Biz feature monthly for WisBusiness.com.


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