Roark Sells Batteries Plus Bulbs as Retail Heats Up
After several years of ownership by Atlanta-based Roark Capital, Batteries Plus Bulbs has been acquired by Los Angeles-based private equity firm Freeman Spogli & Co. Finalized at the beginning of July 2016, the acquisition’s financial terms were not disclosed.
For more insight on the deal, I spoke with Maria Watts, director of investment banking at Chicago’s Robert W. Baird & Co. for her take on Roark’s motivation for selling the successful brand and its implications for the wider franchised retail scene.
Watts, who was hired by Roark to market Batteries Plus Bulbs, said the private equity firm looked to sell solely because it had owned the brand since 2007—an eternity in the world of private equity.
“It was mainly timing,” Watts said of the transaction. “The Roark team said, ‘If we could own it forever we would, but that’s not what we’re in business to do.’”
Calling Batteries Plus Bulbs “the definition of a destination retailer,” she added that the Hartland, Wisconsin-based brand has successfully fended off “the Amazon effect” with healthy foot traffic, a thriving B to B market and diversifying its business by introducing light bulb sales and moving into electronic device repair in recent years. That, combined with an “asset-light” business model, made Batteries Plus Bulbs a desirable acquisition target, she said.
Watts predicted further M&A activity in the franchised retail space, and said she didn’t believe the category’s attractiveness to the private equity community has peaked—especially for brands that have held their own against the e-commerce onslaught.
“There’s always going to be investor interest when there’s a differentiated concept that has widespread appeal,” Watts said. “Where it used to be the Roarks of the world, specific firms that excelled at growing franchised businesses, there are more and more traditional consumer funds that are now looking at the space seriously.”