Batteries = Bucks

Think there’s no money in watch batteries? Wal-Mart Supercenters changed 18 million batteries last year, sources say. 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.”

For jewelers who want to get started, a variety of kits are available (see Resources sidebar).