Power couple

Michael and Norma Riley

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

When it comes to love and business, Michael and Norma Riley are in it for the long haul. The couple, who married before their last year at Chico State 47 years ago, went into business together in 2002. After decades in the Bay Area, they longed to return to Chico, and they found an opportunity to do so with opening a franchise of Batteries Plus Bulbs (previously Batteries Plus). In 15 years, they’ve grown from one store to four, opening locations in Redding, Yuba City and Vacaville. Specializing in batteries and lightbulbs that you can’t find easily at other stores—a battery for your laptop or a lightbulb for your microwave, for instance—the Rileys take pride in their ability to help people find what they need and, more often than not, having it on hand. They recently sat down with the CN&R to talk about their business, the benefits of owning a franchise and how technology has changed over the years. Find Batteries Plus Bulbs at 2500 Zanella Way.

What’s changed since you opened?

Norma: When we opened, it was cordless phones—and we still sell some of those batteries. Then it moved to cellphone batteries. And now, because of embedded batteries, we’re doing repair of phones and devices. So, the business has to move with the technology.

Michael: Lightbulbs have changed from incandescent bulbs to CFLs to LEDs. Now LEDs are everything.

You can also custom-manufacture batteries?

Michael: One of our good customers is Ease Seating [Systems] up in Paradise. They manufacture cushions for medical use—it’s for people who sit in wheelchairs, or people who are bed-ridden—they have this special cushion that deflates and inflates to where it moves the person around so they don’t develop bedsores. We custom-made the battery packs and helped them make that.

You have the freedom to do things like that, even though this is a franchise?

Norma: People are often confused about what franchising can do for you. Franchising gives you a business plan, and some infrastructure and support that you can’t get on your own. They provide us with a lot of training. But it comes both top down and bottom up, where if we see an opportunity, we work together with the franchisor.

What are the benefits to owning a franchise versus starting a business from scratch?

Michael: It saves you a lot of trial-and-error headache. Plus, we have about 200 vendors. Just developing the vendor relationships and then getting enough volume to get pricing—even with four stores we couldn’t get the pricing. But being part of this network, there are almost 700 stores across the country.

Norma: If you’re going to go into a franchise, you have to have some entrepreneurial skill, in that you’re risking your own money, you’re going to take a lot of responsibility you’re not used to. On the other side of things, you have to be willing to take some direction. It’s not right for everybody, but it can be very fulfilling. You’re not buying a job; you’re building a business.