Discount battery seller finds numerous ways to cut costs

chawes@bradenton.comMay 14, 2011 

BRADENTON -- George Hall is frugal to the max.

He drives a 1998 Taurus, tries to reuse every piece of cardboard that enters his store, and has yet to go through the full box of 13-gallon garbage bags he purchased when he opened his doors eight months ago.

“I’m the worst consumer in the world,” he says with a touch of pride.

Hall is trying to pass on that same mindframe to his customers with his new family-owned store, Discount Battery Supply. By keeping his overhead as low as possible, Hall aims to provide customers with the lowest-cost means to power up things like laptop and desktop computers, cordless and cell phones, cordless tools and watches.

“People right now don’t have the disposable income they had a few years ago,” says Hall, who started his business after a decade with a nationwide battery chain. “They need to save money. They’re always looking for cost-effective alternatives to getting their devices going.”

Discount Battery Supply is one of the only discount battery stores between here and Englewood. In his tiny storefront just east of the intersection of 53rd Avenue and U.S. 41, Hall carries 2,000 types of batteries, including 175 different cellphone batteries.

His highest-cost item is a laptop battery that runs $79; his lowest-priced, and most popular item, is a new watch battery (complete with installation) for $2.99.

It’s a special offer that epitomizes the niche Hall is trying to capture: Even discount giant WalMart charges about $5 for watch batteries (and won’t install them for you), while a jeweler will charge about $8 for the battery and installation.

“I’ve bought 15 watches over the years just because it’s easier to buy another one than get the battery changed,” Bradenton resident Shirley Miller said on a recent weekday morning, after watching Hall replace her watch battery in about 30 seconds. “And I’ve got a lot of watches with no backs on them” -- because she doesn’t have the right tools to reassemble those watches she tried to repower herself.

Another of his most popular cost-saving services is rebuilding batteries for cordless hand drills. Hall charges $37 for the service, while a replacement battery costs $82. Without his service, Hall says, many people choose to buy a new drill, about $150.

With his service, customers not only save money, they also end up adding fewer nonbiodegradable elements to area landfills. The service is so popular that Hall has begun providing battery rebuilds to customers in 25 states.

Other appliances that people tend to throw out and replace, rather than explore rebuilding the batteries, include hand mixers and can openers. “We try to encourage refurbishing as much as possible,” Hall says.

Hall’s emphasis on thriftiness comes from two sources: his upbringing in a poor family, and his experience as a manager at Aldi stores, which incorporate measures like lights that automatically turn off if someone forgets to flip the lightswitch, and freezer doors that automatically close to ensure conservation of cooling costs.

“I learned a big lesson there. They really minimize their expenses, and every little dollar and penny counts,” Hall says. “We’ve taken that concept into the battery business and look for every possible way to cut the costs of operating our business.”

His emphasis on cutting costs extends even to how he maintains the store: “How many CEOs of a company do you know that hand-scrub their own floor? I did that, just the other day.”

The care Hall and his family take in operating Discount Battery Supply is evident to their business neighbors, including nearby insurance agent Alix Perrault, who describes Hall as “a great potential contestant on Jeopardy.”

“He’s very knowledgeable in all kinds of things,” Perrault says. “Not too many people can launch a business and work at it seven days a week. That takes a lot of guts and fortitude.”

Christine Hawes, Herald business writer, can be reached at (941) 745-7081.

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