magine one store that carries batteries of all kinds, from cell phones to cars, plus a gazillion light bulbs and an assortment of chargers, and you begin to understand what one of the nation’s fastest-growing franchises, Batteries Plus Bulbs, is all about. But wait, there’s more: It also repairs cracked iPhone, iPad and iPod screens. All under one roof.
From a single storefront in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Batteries Plus Bulbs has expanded into 670 locations since 1988.
But there’s only one outlet on Long Island, and since 2012, it’s been run by Scott Palmer, a 42-year-old who was born and raised in East Northport, where he went to John Glenn High School. Palmer’s enthusiasm for the franchise is almost electrifying.
“I really, really, really enjoy what I do,” said Palmer, a large affable guy with an ebullient personality. “I love the store! I love the products that I sell! I love being able to give people something that they don’t necessarily know they even need!”
How Palmer got to run his own Batteries Plus is a “quite long and ridiculous” story, the proud owner explained recently. It started at a golf course in Florida where Palmer’s father-in-law was complaining that he couldn’t watch TV in the comfort of his home since his rechargeable remote’s battery had just died after he’d spent about four grand on his state-of-the-art entertainment system. First, he had gone back to Best Buy, where the expensive equipment had come from, but the sales clerks told him he was out of luck; they didn’t sell the battery or the remote. Then Palmer’s father-in-law called the manufacturer, who informed him that he had to buy a brand new one for $180 because they didn’t sell just the battery. His frustration is not hard to imagine.
“He went out of his mind,” Palmer recalled. “So he’s out playing golf with one of his buddies, who says, ‘Why don’t you just go over to Batteries Plus?’”
Talk about a fateful question. Palmer’s father-in-law had owned a chemical company in Long Island City and had recently retired to Florida. Meanwhile, Scott Palmer had been laid off from a cosmetics manufacturer in New Jersey, and he and his wife had begun looking into franchises so they could remain in the New York area. In Florida, Batteries Plus has more than 50 outlets, but few in the Northeast.
“Being from New York, he’s never heard of this before,” said Palmer. “So he goes over to Batteries Plus, and $17.99 later, he comes out with a new battery for his remote. So, he said to me, ‘This is the way to go. We’ve got to figure this out.’ That’s how I got into it.”
Palmer can’t claim credit for being the original local franchise owner on Long Island.
“I’m not the first, but I am the only,” he said. In 2009 another man had opened a Batteries Plus in a stand-alone store on Rt. 110 in Huntington across from the Walt Whitman Mall, but by 2010 he was gone because, Palmer explained, he couldn’t generate enough sales to support his family and pay his landlord.
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So these days, Palmer operates Long Island’s sole Batteries Plus. The nearest one in New York is in Tarrytown, although the store in Paramus, N.J., is closer as the crow flies. Palmer’s outlet is in the middle of a Commack strip mall along the north side of Jericho Turnpike between Larkfield and Town Line roads. Palmer doesn’t get much foot traffic there but the rent is “too good” for him to consider relocating. He’s open seven days a week, and he’s got three employees.
“My competition is spread out among 12, 13 different stores, which makes me unique,” said Palmer, who lists Radio Shack, P.C. Richard & Sons, Best Buy, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s and local hardware stores among his competitors.
“I compete with cell phone stores because I have cell phone batteries, and they pretty much don’t,” he said. “They want to get you in there so they can sell you a new phone.”
That kind of bait and switch drives Palmer nuts.
“If people need a battery for their car, they can go to Pep Boys and sit in their waiting room watching the Jerry Springer show for three and a half hours while someone puts a battery in their car and then tries to sell them on a transmission service,” said Palmer. “Or they can just come to me, and I’ll walk out into the parking lot and I’ll put the battery in, and 10 minutes later they’re gone.”
Now that may sound like an obvious solution but what happens when the battery in your key fob is about to wear out and soon you won’t be able to unlock your car?
“People start freaking out,” Palmer said. “They call the BMW dealer, or worse, they call their Audi dealer and the dealer goes, ‘Ninety-seven dollars and we’ll change the battery.’ I do it for seven-ninety-nine. The customers walk in, I fix it, and they leave. It takes all of seven minutes—if that.”
Palmer says he loves to be stumped by customers but so far the only problem he hasn’t been able to solve easily is brand recognition. The franchise requires him to spend 4 percent of his gross on promotion but the Long Island market is problematic, given Newsday’s expensive monopoly on advertising. His budget is limited and it’s hard to make an impact.
But things have been looking up. Once you google Batteries Plus Bulbs, it won’t leave your computer screen alone. Recently, its spots showed up during the ESPN broadcast of the New York Mets’ season opener in Kansas City against the Royals. Last year Forbes’ named it one of the best franchises to own in America, and that’s good publicity.
“Our business is all about making complex things simple,” said Russ Reynolds, CEO of Batteries Plus Bulbs in a press release last year. “As the retail industry evolves, so will our business so that we maintain our relevance in this competitive and constantly changing environment.”
Scott Palmer is glad he’s along for the ride.
“You go to Home Depot to look for a light bulb and you could stand there for 15 minutes looking through things,” said Palmer. “God forbid you ask somebody in an orange smock and they go, ‘Oh, I don’t work in this department.’ Nobody ever comes into this store without being taken care of.”
Batteries Plus Bulbs is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 6231 Jericho Turnpike in Commack; the store can be reached at 631-486-6697.