Rayovac, the battery with its headquarters in the Madison area for more than 100 years, is no longer a locally based brand.
Spectrum Brands, the Middleton parent company of Rayovac, said Wednesday the $2 billion cash sale of its global battery and lighting unit to Energizer Holdings, of suburban St. Louis, had been completed.
“We extend our thanks to both the Spectrum Brands and Energizer teams for working nearly a year to bring this global transaction to a successful completion,” said Spectrum Brands CEO and executive chairman David Maura.
Brief news releases issued by the two companies gave no information about what will happen to the jobs of as many as 700 people in Wisconsin affected by the acquisition.
About 200 battery division employees work at Spectrum Brands’ Middleton headquarters. A hearing-aid battery plant in Portage employs 210 and an alkaline battery factory in Fennimore has 280 employees.
Energizer spokeswoman Jacqueline Burwitz had no news Wednesday on plans for those workers.
“We have not finalized integration plans at this point, so I have no information to provide regarding colleagues in Wisconsin,” Burwitz said.
But officials for the cities of Portage and Fennimore are upbeat about the chances that the factories in their communities will stay open.
Portage Mayor Rick Dodd said Energizer contacted him when the Rayovac purchase was announced in January 2018, but he has not heard from the company since then. “No news is good news,” said Dodd. He said friends at the plant have reassured him that they are “happy with what’s going on.”
Steve Sobiek, director of business development and planning for the city of Portage, said he has been working with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to stay in contact with Energizer.
“We feel really good that the plant will remain open for a variety of reasons,” Sobiek said. “Rayovac has really invested big-time into that plant. It’s a very productive plant.”
The Portage factory celebrated 50 years of operation in 2014.
Sobiek also said the plant is in a designated “opportunity zone,” and under the new federal tax law, if Energizer improves the facility, it could qualify for a capital gains tax incentive.
In Fennimore, city promotions coordinator Linda Parrish has been in touch with the Rayovac plant manager and said she does not think it will close.
“What I’ve been told over the years is that they have very, very low turnover; they have very hard-working employees that show up for work. We feel that we shouldn’t be concerned about major changes,” Parrish said.
Parrish said the Fennimore battery plant has been operating for more than 40 years and has been expanded repeatedly. “They’re our anchor in our business park,” she said. Known for offering “good, steady hours” and “good benefits,” the factory is considered “an employer of choice” by many area workers, she said.
“We bring people in from all over the region,” Parrish said.
A leader of Teamsters Local 695, the union that represents more than three-fourths of employees at the two plants, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
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Rayovac’s long local roots
Rayovac started as the French Battery Co., incorporated in Madison in 1906. It has been the core, legacy business of the consumer products company that changed its name to Spectrum Brands Holdings in 2005.
During World War II , the company had 15,000 employees as it stepped up production to meet demands to supply the U.S. Army and Navy with nearly half a billion batteries.
Over the years, it has operated battery plants across the U.S. and around the world, including Venezuela, Thailand, Iran and Zaire.
But employment, production and company finances have had their ups and downs.
In Wisconsin, factories in Madison, Wonewoc and Appleton ended production by 2001 and a Madison packaging plant and Middleton distribution center were phased out in 2003, as the work was shifted to a new facility in Illinois.
Also in 2003, the company began to expand its scope with the purchase of Remington shavers and hair care appliances, then added lawn care, pet supplies, small kitchen appliances, hardware businesses and, most recently, car care products in 2015. At the same time, it began trying to sell some of those divisions.
Attempts to sell the pet unit and part of the home and garden division did not go through. In 2009, Spectrum Brands filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, eliminating $840 million of its $2.6 billion in debt, and emerged from bankruptcy later that year with restructured finances.
Now, nearly a decade later, with more acquisitions under its belt, Spectrum Brands will use the $2 billion it received from Energizer to pay part of its $4.8 billion debt, spokesman David Prichard said.
“Significant debt paydown and balance sheet strengthening are the clear No. 1 goal for David Maura and the board,” he said.
Plans to sell the Remington unit last year were called off when the company said it wasn’t satisfied with the bids. And the auto care division will be sold to Energizer for $1.25 billion in about one month.
With the sale of the battery and lighting division and the pending sale of the STP oil and Armor All car care products, Spectrum Brands will have 15 remaining brands, Prichard said, and the focus will be on building those brands.
“The company, in fiscal 2019, will be stepping up its total selling and marketing ... bringing new innovations to the market, at a level of tens of millions of dollars more this year, in the aggregate, than we did last year,” Prichard said.
It will show “a real commitment by the management to get even further behind our major brands,” he said.
Prichard said Spectrum Brands will keep its headquarters in Middleton, at 3001 Deming Way, where it moved in 2013 after being housed for decades on Madison’s West Side, property purchased in 2017 by cancer diagnostics company Exact Sciences Corp.
Spectrum Brands now has 14,500 employees worldwide, including 470 in Middleton.
Energizer has said it expects cost savings of $55 million to $65 million within three years resulting from the battery division purchase, but it’s not clear yet how the savings will be accomplished.
Energizer has not said yet what its plans are for the Rayovac name — dating back to the early 1920s, as Ray-O-Vac, and adopted as the company moniker in 1934.
Rayovac has been the No. 3 battery maker in the U.S. for many years, behind No. 2 Energizer and Duracell, which is No. 1. As a combined company, Energizer is now expected to have more than 40 percent of U.S. battery sales.