Battery stores find fertile ground on South Shore
by Steve Adams | The Patriot Ledger | January 5, 2013
They are businesses primed for growth in an unplugged world where smartphones, laptops and tablets are indispensable tools for business and leisure.
Batteries Plus, a national chain of retail franchises, opened a store in Hanover in October.
In Pembroke, BatteryPrice opened its first retail store in September, selling merchandise from its East Bridgewater factory and outside suppliers at prices designed to undercut discount chains.
Jim Vaughn of Marshfield, a former Federal Emergency Management Agency employee, bought the Batteries Plus franchise rights for the South Shore last year. His brother and business partner, Michael, thought the company's business model was a natural, given today's consumer trends.
Michael called him one day last year and asked him to count the batteries in his home.
"I said 17 and it ended up being 24," Jim Vaughn said. "I was surprised when he told me his son had almost 30 in his bedroom between paintball guns and MP3 players and cellphones and telescopes."
Analysts say this is just the beginning. The global market for consumer batteries is expected to hit $55.4 billion by 2017, according to Global Industry Analysts of San Jose, Calif.
Retailers are gauging the demand for stand-alone battery stores. The 1,500-square-foot Batteries Plus on Route 53 is the seventh Massachusetts location for the Hartland, Wis.-based company. Five other franchisees operate the other Massachusetts stores.
Each outlet carries or can order thousands of battery models for digital cameras, cordless phones, smartphones, cordless tools and vehicles.
A tech-center counter has equipment that analyzes the condition of laptop batteries and can extend a battery's life by realigning the battery with the computer's power chip.
Batteries Plus franchisees buy their stock from Ascent Battery Supply, a subsidiary of Batteries Plus, and a list of approved direct vendors.
The next step in the store's growth will be a business-to-business campaign. Competitors in that arena such as equipment suppliers are carrying fewer batteries to reduce overhead, Vaughn said, while Batteries Plus has the advantage of a lean inventory system.
"Instead of me filling up this back room with inventory that I tie up cash with, my latest battery is six days away. It allows me to carry a broad array of products not too deep on the shelf," he said.
Meanwhile, an East Bridgewater battery manufacturer is finding a new source of revenue at its own retail venture, BatteryPrice in Pembroke.
Owner Brian Kmito bought the Connecticut-based company in 1993 and moved it to Massachusetts. Its main business was manufacturing batteries for handheld emergency radios. As cellphones and the Internet became widely available in the 1990s, it added more consumer batteries, selling them from a small counter at the East Bridgewater headquarters.
And as competition from overseas manufacturers intensified, Kmito saw the need to change the business model.
"We know other companies are doing well with the retail sales of batteries," he said.
Despite growing Web-based competition, the brick-and-mortar model can compete, Kmito said.
"You don't have to pay shipping, and I think consumers like the face-to-face sale," he said.
Cellphone batteries and remote car starter batteries are the shop's top sellers. BatteryPrice sells both name brands and aftermarket merchandise from overseas manufacturers that produce generic batteries at discounts.
That enables BatteryPrice to undercut the prices at discount chains on many models, including popular cellphone batteries.
"The big stores, they get more for it because they can," Kmito said. "People don't shop around for it. They go back to the people who provide the cellphone service and they assume that's the only place you can go. And they're discovering that folks like us have a much better price."
Steve Adams may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.