2/27/2021 | Authority Magazine
Not all solutions can be taken from a text book. There will be things that need to be solved that cannot be addressed by pulling a book off a shelf. It’s more about using common sense, leveraging what you know and asking the right questions to get to the root of the problem. When the pandemic hit, there wasn’t a manual for how to host daily war rooms. We knew as a team we needed to quickly offer solutions and resources for franchisees. No matter the severity of the new circumstance, it’s the leader’s responsibility to lead. Don’t wait for the playbook, make the playbook.
As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Williams of Batteries Plus.
Scott is a highly accomplished executive with over 25 years in retail and e-commerce, who joined Batteries Plus as the company’s CEO in January of 2019. Scott was selected due to his perfect combination of experience, expertise and vision. Prior to Batteries Plus, Scott held a number of positions at Cabela’s, including President of Cabela’s Inc., Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer. During his six-year tenure, Scott’s achievements included driving significant results by improving retail operations, revamping marketing, as well as many others. Prior to Cabela’s, he held senior management positions with Fanatics, Samsclub.com, and OfficeMax.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Igrew up in Kansas and graduated from the University of Kansas in Lawrence. Eventually, travelling north to Chicago to pursue my MBA at Northwestern. During business school there wasn’t much being said about retail, e-commerce and omnichannel capabilities, so I didn’t anticipate that I would become focused on this sector.
However, a pivotal moment in my career was being tasked to run all the marketing, e-commerce, and direct-to-consumer messaging for Office Max. I transitioned from serving as the SVP, of Marketing with Boise Cascade to the SVP of Marketing for Office Max, the newly acquired company. It was a Top-6 e-commerce site and I was thrown into the deep end based on my propensity with CRM experience and background with successful advertising campaigns, such as The Rubberband Man. At that point in 2000, e-commerce was still seen as small and emerging.
Can you share an “Aha Moment” that influenced the success of Batteries Plus?
As I joined Batteries Plus my analysis focused primarily on the question “What’s our moat?” — meaning what protection can we build or fortify to avoid attacks on our castle — in this case the castle being the company — from competitors aka primarily online retailers. Despite the articles written about the difficult future for retail and those public failures and store closures, I saw early-on that Batteries Plus had a lasting competitive advantage. We’re a specialty retailer with a real niche as our categories are primarily product plus service — hence the plus differentiator. For example, we install auto batteries that cannot be shipped to homes (as they contain lead) and are challenging for most to install. Also, our key fob business reduces the hassle of any at-home programming and saves consumers time from having to schedule an appointment at their auto dealership. Service in this case is both knowledge and installation. In fact, 97% of our e-commerce orders are ordered online and picked up in store or serviced on-site (BOPS or buy online, pickup in-store), compared to single digits for most omnichannel retailers — this is our moat!
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were hard?
When I joined, sales were a bit sluggish, franchise owners were seeking momentum, and new franchise sales were relatively flat, causing me to explore the root of the challenge. Interestingly, we had many of the fundamentals in place — but we weren’t telling our story or getting credit for all the services we provide. Some customers didn’t know about our device repair business or key fob programming and some were confused by the Batteries Plus Bulbs naming, which limited our scope to consumers. That was another pivotal moment internally as we recognized that our greatest brand story was not being told. Fast forward two years, we are now no longer positioning Batteries Plus as the best retail franchise opportunity, but rather the most predictable investment opportunity due to the multiple revenue streams, essential products and growth potential with commercial, national accounts and ecommerce. We found our mojo.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
We have the momentum we were seeking, as evidenced by the nearly 40 new store signings over the last year and start of Q1. Also, our existing franchise owners have reported returns of comp of +5% over the last eight months of last year and the sales growth has been across a variety of commercial categories including transportation and customers seeking more hands-free technologies. In fact, a handful of our owners have signed on for expansion agreements to open new stores based on the business stability throughout the course of the pandemic.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
As the pandemic hit, many would ask ‘Hey, how are you doing through this?’ as they saw much of retail closed, adhering to shelter in place, and stay home orders. We never closed based on the essential nature of our categories (another competitive ‘moat’) as each of our core offerings are fundamental to people’s lives. This includes batteries for everything from wheelchairs and mobility scooters, to thermometers and flashlights, as well as lighting, cell phone repair and key fob replacement.
In fact, we rebounded so quickly that June of 2020 was the largest sales month in the history of the company. I felt we needed to find a way to describe this segment of retail in a very understandable way so I coined the term S.A.L.E.
S — Small box (limited crowds, personal service)
A — Assorted (not relying on just one category)
L — Local (growing call to support small business owners and communities during this time)
E — Essential (never closed, and resilient through all challenging times)
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
As I was graduating from undergrad, I was racked up in student loan debt. I had one suit from my dad that I was wearing for all my interviews. Once I landed my first job, I was informed that I had to wear a suit every day, and I realized I was not going to be able to afford four more. To work around that, I purchased two different color shirts and five ties to disguise it that I wasn’t wearing the same shirt/suit jacket and I’d take the jacket off as soon as I got into work. That lasted me long enough to wait for a couple of paychecks.
The takeaway is that people are often more self-conscious than they need to be. It’s more important to put in the thought and effort versus focusing on the outward appearance.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Most people believe that if an employee isn’t showing immediate signs of success that it’s important to cut ties sooner than later. Sometimes true, but I’ve found most cases to be situational. For instance, a person might feel that the job is beyond their current capabilities. In that case, I’ve found it worthwhile to invest in them and training, which often converts to gaining their loyalty and appreciation.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Have Integrity — this is №1 and non-negotiable including doing the right thing when no one is watching. I remember early in my career discussing discipline for someone who had cheated on their expense account but it was only for $100-$150 — and the question came up ‘what is the amount that is ok to fudge?’ This had an impact on me as an absolute.
- Provide Inspiration — leaders need to find ways to get others motivated to follow — and it can come from storytelling (sometimes at your own expense). At Batteries Plus we have drawn on this from using stories of our franchise owners who have relocated halfway across the country and raised families in new locations based on finding a great territory. We want to use the success stories to provide inspiration to others in the system who are looking to do the same and/or scale their own business to new heights. This is their career — and we owe it to them to be the best in class franchisor.
- Tell an Inclusive Story — my management style has always been about making the story about the team as a whole, not just me. I’ve been a part of growing the network for two years but we didn’t become the nation’s largest and fastest-growing battery, light bulb, key fob and phone/tablet repair franchise because of a few people. We’re a nationwide network of more than 700 stores with a leadership team dedicated to supporting our franchise owners who are serving communities across the U.S.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Part of managing a franchise is making sure to manage the energy in the room. Part of team building is managing your energy as the leader while also being mindful of the energy of others and all relationships involved. In good times and when the company needs to navigate through difficult situations, it’s the leader’s role to ‘keep the locker room.’ If there is conflict within the team or the dynamic is off, it must be addressed ASAP and move forward. It’s also important to address concerns and feedback. If team members love coming to work except for X. Then it’s worth addressing that, as its likely impacting others on the team who are unwilling to share. When people look forward to coming to work it breeds better performance.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The biggest most fatal mistake leaders can make is ignoring market forces and refusing to make changes to the business model by assuming consumer behavior will ‘go back to normal’ or remain the same. Some examples include the catalog industry believing that direct-mail would remain unchanged or that consumers would always buy cable TV. Rather than leaders of companies being stuck in their ways, they should believe the evidence that ‘the times are changing,’ and worth evaluating future trends.
It’s easy to look back now at how blockbuster was done in, but what can we do in the here and now to spot the trends that are right here in front of us — like what’s the future of movie theaters and dining rooms of dine-in restaurants? For us, we’re looking at the future of contactless curbside delivery and navigating commercial sales across growing industries like transportation and hands-free technology. We’re also monitoring to see when schools and church re-engage with our offerings. It’s a disservice to any company to ignore the world around it. Leaders need to be forward thinking and position the company for what’s up ahead.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Growing up in retail and e-commerce, there is an art and a science to running a great retail store. People think you just open the door, hire people, and it all takes care of itself. If it was that easy, everyone would do it. In our case we have 700 stores, multiplied by six employees, which equates to roughly 4,000 people that franchisees need to train in order to deliver at a high superior service.
The main experiences that dictate a customer’s retail preference often boil down to how well the store is run, how fast they were able to get what they needed and if the product they were looking for was available.
You want to get yourself to operate well in all stores all across the nation, so that folks will get outstanding service every single time. It’s an ongoing challenge to keep people’s training up to par, and easier said than done, but important for consistency. There is a lot that goes into training, reinforcing and driving superior standards. To have a great retail story, the journey is never finished.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- The pronouns change as you progress through your career. When people are talking about management it’s often said that “they need a better strategy or they need to communicate more.” As the CEO, you learn that they means you.
- Not all solutions can be taken from a text book. There will be things that need to be solved that cannot be addressed by pulling a book off a shelf. It’s more about using common sense, leveraging what you know and asking the right questions to get to the root of the problem. When the pandemic hit, there wasn’t a manual for how to host daily war rooms. We knew as a team we needed to quickly offer solutions and resources for franchisees. No matter the severity of the new circumstance, it’s the leader’s responsibility to lead. Don’t wait for the playbook, make the playbook.
- It’s not a popularity contest or about being liked. There are times that the best decision is a difficult one. There are times when I might have an 80/20 split of overall approval, it’s more important to make the right decision versus waiting for 100 percent collective agreeance.
- You’re the protector. As a franchisor, with 280 franchise owners who decided to invest in Batteries Plus as their livelihood, and in many cases uprooted their lives to open their stores — there is a great deal of responsibility. I don’t take that lightly, the team and I do everything in our power to protect the system and provide them with everything they need from quality product, PPP guidance support, innovated technology and more. I’m always blown away by the amount of franchisee testimonials we have, and what they’ve been able to do long before I arrived.
- The golden rule of making sure to get the right people on the bus and in the right seat as soon as possible. It’s important to navigate the culture and people need to be able to feed off of one another. I learned early-on in my career and its helped me ever since, that it’s not always what you work for but who you work for.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Thru my personal circumstances, we’re all motivated by what we’ve experienced in our lives. In my greater family, there’s adversity such as members having autism, ADHD and depression. I’d love for us as a country to have an opportunity to not judge a book by its cover and to think you know what’s going on in a person’s life at first glance. People deal with challenges that are not evident to the naked eye, and acknowledge that there are greater traits on the inside of a person. I’d like to live in a world where people are slow to judge and lead with more compassion and understanding.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!