Russ Reynolds' leadership has helped Batteries Plus Bulbs push boundaries and create enhancements that not only are keeping the brand relevant, they're also are expanding its product and service offerings and creating sustainable growth. Under Reynolds' direction, the brand has seen system revenue more than double in the past 5 years, along with maintaining double-digit system sales growth and store opening rates during this period. Today Batteries Plus Bulbs is the country's largest battery and light bulb franchise and is looking to expand the $30 billion battery and $17 billion light bulb industries.
Following retail management experience at Target and GNB Technology (a consumer and industrial battery manufacturer), Reynolds arrived at Batteries Plus in 2000, serving as president and COO for two years until he became CEO and put the brand on the fast track.
"We began to think beyond just batteries," he says. "We were thinking about becoming a one-source stop for our retail and commercial customers by providing batteries, light bulbs, and repair service in our stores." The initiative, rolled out in 2011, was a redefining category expansion that included a name change from Batteries Plus to Batteries Plus Bulbs. The stores now offer a wide variety of batteries and light bulbs, as well as basic repair functions on devices such as smartphones and tablets. A consumer with a cracked smartphone screen can make a quick trip to a Batteries Plus Bulbs store and be back in business in no time. Plans are in the works to expand to repair of headphones and laptops.
"Our franchisees have loved the changes and the opportunities to offer more products and services to their customers," he says. "It's in our DNA as a brand to be able to fix people's problems."
The brand is experiencing healthy growth and system-wide numbers right now. "We've experienced 9.5 percent sales growth over the past 7 years, and I expect to see same-store sales growth remain at those levels." He says system revenue has doubled in just the past 5 years alone.
Reynolds describes the brand's culture as "a network of family farmers." About half of the franchisees are single-unit operators, but he says there's a place for multi-unit franchisees as well. "We have successful franchisees who started out as single-unit operators, love the model, and want to grow beyond one unit. They do very well."
In the past 2 years, the company has opened more than 100 new stores and has signed agreements to open nearly 150 more. "We've had significant growth throughout the Midwest and South and are now targeting areas like the Northeast and California," he says. The brand now boasts more than 650 locations, and he projects continued growth of around 45 to 55 new stores a year.
Looking ahead, Reynolds says the brand is continuing to expand its offerings to customers by developing its "omni-channel platform," an online ordering service that allows customers to order exactly what they need online and then pick it up at their local Batteries Plus Bulbs store. "This is in response to consumer demand for easy and timely access to products they need," he says.
Reynolds, who's "never met an idea I didn't like," has shown an uncanny ability to turn many of those ideas into success for the brand, its franchisees, and its customers.
Name: Russ Reynolds
Company: Batteries Plus Bulbs
Family: Lisa, spouse of 25 years; 4 children ages 7 to 22, Nicole, Kylie, Matt, and Ty
Years in franchising: 15
Years in current position: 13
What is your role as CEO?
I have three primary roles. First, I carry the torch on strategy for the brand, our stores' model, and the company. Second, talent development and building strength and succession in our team is a critical function for the future growth and success of the brand. Third, I spend a fair amount of time challenging and questioning our functional leaders, seeking to improve and refine what we are doing and how we are doing it.
Describe your leadership style.
I would describe myself as a conversational leader. I lead, learn, and adapt by having discussions with our people. Sometimes this is through regular reviews and management meetings, but often it is in the ad hoc conversations that you really discover an opportunity or issue. I also believe in being open about your shortcomings, and poking fun at yourself to make sure the team feels comfortable doing the same.
What has inspired your leadership style?
My dad was a coach and a teacher and was a tremendous role model for me. He worked hard, had uncompromising integrity, and had strong faith. These assets served him well and I attempt to lead using these same fundamentals.
What is your biggest leadership challenge?
I have never met an idea I didn't like. As I have matured, I try to make sure that an idea doesn't become a project without some discernment and thought. Our COO, Tom O'Hare, knows this is a weakness of mine. Since he and I have worked together for more than 20 years, we have become adept at coordinating and filtering these ideas to best determine what is next for our team.
How do you transmit your culture from your office to front-line employees?
In a retail franchise business you absolutely have to keep it simple and leverage your franchise owners to "own" culture development. Our message to our system is pretty simple: our value proposition is built on breadth of assortment, filling immediate needs, and offering high-touch service to our customers. We do this with urgency and consistency.
Where is the best place to prepare for leadership: an MBA school or OTJ?
Without a doubt it's OTJ. I have an MBA and a strong educational foundation, which is very important, but it does not trump life experience. We all are products of our own experiences and most of that occurs in a work environment, not a classroom. That said, being a "business junkie" naturally means that you'll continue to be a student throughout your career.
Are tough decisions best taken by one person? How do you make tough decisions?
It depends on the decision. Whenever possible, you want your leadership team involved and aligned on all key decisions. There are times, however, when the CEO has to step up to make the call and set the course forward.
Do you want to be liked or respected?
Respected. Do the right things by the business and do them the right way and things usually work out fine. I enjoy sustainable relationships as much as anyone but would rather have our franchisees like the result than like me and not like the result.
Advice to CEO wannabes:
Be your own leader. Be Bold. Be willing to admit mistakes. Be focused on developing talent and having it grow with you and past you to make your company better.
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