How Batteries Plus Recharged During the Recession

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HARTLAND, Wisc. ( TheStreet) -- Batteries Plus seems an unlikely place for business owners to learn lessons about managing through a recession.

Yet the 500-plus franchised chain, specializing in retail-sold and business-to-business battery and light bulb products, was able to ride out the recession better than other franchise systems by choosing to invest in its business. By spending the last four years improving its infrastructure and business model and focusing on "controllable outcomes," Batteries Plus has been able to grow same-store sales, on average, by 12% over the last five years.

Batteries Plus deserves a AA grade for its recession strategy.

Last year the company opened 59 stores and signed a record 49 franchise agreements that would put an additional 71 Batteries Plus stores on the map.

It helps to have the backing of a private equity firm. Batteries Plus is one of two dozen consumer-focused companies owned by Atlanta-based private equity firm Roark Capital .

One of the biggest maneuvers Batteries Plus implemented was to expand its product line during a time when many other companies were retreating from the market. The company made the decision to expand into light bulbs in 2010.

Light bulbs? Yes.

The light bulb industry is growing rapidly, particularly because of the incandescent bulb phase out laws initiated in 2007 that are intended to spur the adoption of more efficient bulbs by consumers, Batteries Plus says. More than 300 of its stores now sell light bulbs.

CEO and President Russ Reynolds shares more lessons from the recession.

What is it about your product line that allowed it to be recession-proof?

Reynolds: We're all familiar with the fact that we're more reliant on portable energy. Whether it's a tool or how we communicate over the phone -- today we carry it with us. It requires rechargeable batteries. We can't take credit for the fact that the demand drivers have been strong, but as we headed into the recession the first thing that we needed to do was focus on our industry and the controllable outcomes in the business.

What were the key lessons Batteries Plus got out of the recession?

Reynolds: We urged our franchisees to work on the elements of their business that were in their control.

For example, we encouraged stores to have the right depth and breadth of inventory assortment so they could serve any customer need. Stores expanded hours of operation in order to be open when customers want to shop. Franchisees accelerated commercial or business to business sales activity in their markets as area businesses looked for ways to save money and be more efficient. It was also important to have the right staffing in the store at the right time of the day to be able to engage the customer and not just ring transactions.