Powering a Turnaround for Batteries Plus Bulbs

CIO Michael Lehman has injected tech into every initiative in his fifteen years at Batteries Plus Bulbs, leading a reset in popular thought toward IT along the way

I started at Batteries Plus Bulbs fifteen years ago, and at the time it felt like stepping back into the dark ages. The company was behind the times, with the IT and accounting departments at an off-site location, instead of functioning as an integrated part of headquarters. I did not have personal email, voicemail, or Internet access, and there was only a single email account for the whole company. The business was still in growth mode, and as a result, there was basically no technology infrastructure in place.

Yet thanks to my previous role implementing IT solutions in the grocery industry, I was not going in blind. I knew the environment and the challenges ahead, which is what was attractive about the position. I wanted to make a difference. Today there is not a single initiative that the company undertakes that doesn’t have an IT component. It’s been a complete about-face.

There were three major milestones where my team and I used technology to elevate the business. The first was switching to a new point-of-sale (POS) system. I was initially hired to save the existing model, but quickly discovered the system wasn’t salvageable. At the time, we had 135 stores under sixty franchise groups, meaning I had about sixty bosses to convince the switch was necessary. Not every franchisee is technologically minded, so I had to campaign to help everyone understand why this was needed. It was important to get everyone aligned toward the same direction.

“Today there is not a single initiative that the company undertakes that doesn’t have an IT component. It’s been a complete about-face.”

After that groundwork was complete, we turned our attention to our fragmented supply chain. We contracted with a third-party logistics provider to put in our own warehouse-management system and started sourcing product directly from the manufacturers. This consolidated about seventy to eighty vendors into one central warehouse, which revolutionized the company. It lowered acquisition costs, made us more affordable for customers, and in turn made the stores more profitable.

In 2005, Integrated Solutions for Retailers magazine (now Innovative Retail Technologies magazine) awarded us with the best supply chain and logistics solution for the automation solution that we put in place.

The other major initiative I’ve overseen is the new e-commerce solution. Our website had historically existed primarily to drive traffic to stores. We just went live this past July with a completely redone website which incorporates store inventory with the options to buy online and pick up in-store. Website traffic has increased, and the buy-online functionality has been a major hit with our customers. We significantly revamped our capabilities from an e-commerce standpoint, moving the needle forward in terms of technology utilization and helping ensure the future success of our company.

Franchises By the Numbers


Rank by Forbes of best franchises to buy in 2015


Growth rate


Locations throughout the United States


Average initial investment

During all of these transition periods, communication was key. In a franchise system, you must communicate often and succinctly, especially because a number of our initiatives have been large, requiring franchisees to either share in the costs or face training burdens. To assure franchise owners that we are listening and understanding the perspective of the store, I turn to several solutions.

First, I have leveraged a technology committee made up of key and influential franchise owners and employees to get into more finite details than I ever could with a larger audience. They are my sounding board for what the store or franchise owner is asking for, as they bring any pain points to the surface and at times help to influence our priorities.

I also participate in the National Retail Federation CIO Council, which allows me to be a sponge and absorb knowledge from many other technology leaders who have different experiences. It’s helped me jumpstart initiatives and leverage the collective knowledge of many other successful people.

Looking back now, it’s interesting to think about how far the company has come since those early days. We’re the nation’s first, largest, and fastest-growing battery and light-bulb franchise, with a nationwide network of over 650 stores, serving both retail customers and business accounts at the local and national levels. We would not be the largest or fastest-growing if not for the technology decisions we have made and implemented.

As a company, we never rest on our laurels. I’ve been here long enough that I need to replace systems I’ve personally created and installed, and I see the need to keep advancing our e-commerce tool set increasing. To do that will require an ongoing evolution of the functionality of our systems, while also incorporating customer demands and hopefully enhancing the store experience and continuing to drive profitability for each store. I look forward to the challenge.”