Retail

Forgot cell phone charger? Bradenton resident hopes vending machine helps travelers

MANATEE -- The brothers Balot want to make traveling with a smartphone a little easier.

Whether it's a dead battery or forgotten cord, a new vending machine Rich and David Balot created called PWRStop aims to supply the components travelers need for their electronic devices.

"Everybody that I know, they realize they forget car chargers and house chargers," said Rich Balot, an east Bradenton resident and co-founder of PWRStop.

If it's not forgotten, there's always a chance of dealing with bent or frayed wires while on business trips.

"With Murphy's Law, your cord always breaks," said his brother David Balot of Sarasota.

The challenge was getting it to people the easiest way, thus a vending machine selling chargers, cords, batteries and more for Android and Apple products.

The brothers are targeting 19 locations from New York to Florida, primarily hotels and fixed-based operator at airports, similar to Dolphin Aviation and Rectrix Aviation at Sarasota-Bradenton

International Airport.

"We're trying to expand it nationwide, similar with what Redbox has done with videos," Rich Balot said.

Their knowledge of smartphone and tablet accessories can be found in the brothers' main business as a franchise operator for Verizon Wireless.

In 1996, they started ABC Phones and transformed the business into A Wireless -- one of the top six largest Verizon Wireless franchises in the nation.

"We started that company mainly to give our dad a job because nobody wanted to hire a fat, 50-year-old Yankee living in Greenville, N.C.," said Rich Balot joking about their father, Ed Balot, who passed away last year.

They started with one store in Wilson, N.C., and against their father's advice, snuck out and signed a lease for a second store and continued that pattern to the seventh store when he finally gave in.

The conversation went something like this, Rich said:

"I think that's a fantastic idea," Ed Balot said.

"Really?" the brothers asked.

"No, but what difference does it make? You're going to do it anyway," their father told them.

The Balots proved their business acumen to their father. Today, they have about 260 locations and more than 1,500 employees.

After growing up on the New Jersey shore and living in North Carolina, David Balot opted to move to Sarasota with his four children and Rich Balot soon followed with his four children to be close to each other. An uncle has since relocated to the area.

Relocating to Florida

"We're kind of bringing the whole family down to the market, if you will," Rich Balot said.

As the family grows locally, so does the Verizon business. The brothers are close to finalizing a deal to open a Verizon store at State Road 70 and 30th Street East near a Dunkin' Donuts under construction.

As for the machines, they ordered the first 10 machines and are working to beta test them. They are asking for business locations to volunteer to test the machines, Rich Balot said.

"Our machines are smart in the sense that when they sell product, we'll be able to tell what the sales are remotely so we know when to restock them," he said.

Travelers probably won't see the machines in passenger airliner terminals because the rental cost is too high, Rich Balot said.

"We'd love to do that, but we don't know if we can get it to an affordable area," he said. "We do think it's convenient for customers. Even those Best Buy machines don't sell car chargers ... they need to put higher dollar items in there to get the highest margin. We're looking at a high volume, low margin product."

The brothers are also partnering with Sarasota-based Zip Cord Manufacturers that makes chargers and batteries for electronics to help its PWRStop supply.

While the brothers have their own office for A Wireless and also manage a "buy and hold" rental home business called ABC Family LLC in Greenville, N.C., and Sarasota, they want to establish a Florida office for PWRStop.

"North Carolina was my home and Florida is now my home, and so we want to build it here," Rich Balot said. "The two of us want to build something. Whether it's in Sarasota or Bradenton, we'll have to arm wrestle for it."

For information, visit pwrstop.com

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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