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Watch batteries can help keep your business ticking

03 july 2009

Think there's no money in watch batteries? Wal-Mart Supercenters changed 18 million batteries last year, sources say. According to www.jckonline.com, at a wholesale cost of roughly 40 cents apiece, charging $4.24 retail for each battery delivers a gross profit of $69 million.

"There's definitely money to be made in watch batteries," says Henry Kessler, president and owner of Sy Kessler Sales in Dallas, the North American headquarters for Renata Batteries, Itingen, Switzerland. "Good-quality watch batteries cost on average about 50 cents each. Jewelers typically charge $10 or more for the replacement service. When you do this seven to 10 times a day or more, it doesn't take long to realize that the profit generated by offering watch batteries can pay the rent."

Keith Sessler, president of Star Struck LLC, Bethel, Conn., the exclusive North American licensee for Rayovac and the master distributor for Varta watch batteries, notes that customers usually return to the same location to obtain new batteries. "Many retailers offer free battery replacement in order to build customer loyalty," Sessler says. "Needless to say, a loyal customer will always return to his local jeweler when it is time to buy a gift or when a holiday approaches."

Certainly mass merchants have discovered watch batteries' potential. "Chains are starting to capitalize on this," notes Kessler. "If you have 200 stores, and you lose one battery sale a day, seven days a week, you've lost almost $700,000 in battery profits alone."

In addition, jewelers can use the watch battery business to build foot traffic and sell add-ons. Ronnie Arrington, of Douglas Jewelers, College Station, Texas, displays special merchandise near the battery display specifically for impulse buying. "We have chocolate pearls, pearl studs, and a lot of sterling and 18k for sales between $250 and $500," he says.

Arrington also displays Swarovski crystal fingernail files at the battery counter. They're priced at $14.95, and Arrington says women who visit the store to have a watch battery changed sometimes buy two or three at a time. "It all adds up," he notes.

"Typically every day in your average jewelry store, 10 batteries get changed," says Darrell Warren, vice president of tools and fabricated metals for Stuller in Lafayette, La. "Replacing watch batteries gets traffic into your store. And whether you change the battery while they wait, or have them come back later, they're going to shop in your store."

The battery business is not without potential pitfalls. Carlos Noriega, of Minebender Jewelers in Hollywood, Fla., notes there is always a chance of "scratching a dial, cracking a case, or cracking the crystal."

Roberto Fraga, second-generation master watchmaker for Precision Time, Sandy, Utah, which has 87 locations that service watches, says battery changing can hurt a jeweler who doesn't have the proper training or tools. "It's just not as simple as handing someone a knife and showing them how to open a case," he says. "You could end up scratching the back or breaking crystals. And especially on high-end watches, you need to make sure that they remain water resistant."

Says Fraga: "Falling short on the service side is the kiss of death. You mess something up, you could end up losing that customer forever."

Batteries have one more advantage some jewelers may not be aware of: They contain silver.

"We save the dead batteries and sell them back," says a retailer in the Philadelphia area. "You're losing money if you throw them in the trash. Once a year, a local refining company sends a rep to pick them up. We sold 15 to 20 pounds the last time. They pay 0.9 times spot silver."

Renata's Watch Battery Express ($129) has 150 batteries, cabinet, watch and battery analyzer (allows battery testing in a quartz analog watch without opening it), tool kit, polishing cloth, instructional CD, counter signs, battery size selector, and cross-reference guide. Bill Esslinger, Esslinger & Co., Saint Paul, Minn., calls the analyzer a "pulse checker." "If someone's wearing a $20 watch, comes in to have the battery changed, but the battery is still good, maybe it's time to replace it rather than get a new battery."

Star Struck LLC has a Rayovac battery assortment ($195.00) with 192 batteries and a Rayovac spinner rack; a 174-battery assortment ($99.97) with watch batteries in 36 sizes, nonmetallic battery tweezers, cross-reference guide, watch battery sizing gauge, and 36-drawer cabinet with preprinted labels; a 133-battery mini assortment ($49.97) with polishing cloth, plastic tweezers, and plastic storage holder; battery replacement tool kit ($34.95) with storage box, cross-reference guide, tester, bench knife, various tools, scratch brush, polishing cloth, and eye loupe; plus bench tools, watch tools, books, and other supplies.

Stuller has a starter kit for beginners. It costs $189 and contains an assortment of Energizer batteries, a 60-drawer cabinet, watch battery analyzer, cross-reference guide, battery size checker, store counter sign, training booklet and video, and a watch tool kit. "If you sell everything out of the kit, you'll have sold $1,500 to $1,600 worth of batteries," says Stuller's Danile Warren. "I call it a business in a box."