Congrats: you own/run a solar installation business. Now where do you go from here? How do you get there? On this episode of Power Forward! we ask Tiernay Marsh, regional sales rep with BayWa r.e. Solar Systems all about solar installer “growth.” What are the questions to ask? What are typical stumbling blocks? What are examples she’s seen of successful growth strategies?
Check out the full episode here or breeze through part of the transcript below:
SB: I wanted to start today by focusing on growth. Obviously I imagine growth is different depending on the solar company you’re working with and what their goals are. If a customer says ‘I want to grow,’ what are the things you’re talking about?
Marsh: The first thing that I want to say is that growth is not one size fits all … so I’m not going to take a cookie cutter approach. I am going to start talking about specific aspects of how we can help them grow. Can we look at your product match? Can we look at your line of credit? We want to make sure that we’re looking at holistic pieces so that we can help you grow in a really sustainable, healthy way. It doesn’t help anybody if we’re growing in such a way, and then we run into roadblocks that could have easily been moved aside or organized around.
What are some of the typical or most common challenges that you then see customers facing?
Marsh: One of the things that people don’t consider, but is the most impactful, is really what is your cash flow situation, and what kind of line of credit do you have available to you. If you’re planning on growing X amount over the course of the year or in the next couple of months, you need to make sure that you are working with a partner that can help you secure the line of credit or work with you and your current cash flow needs to make that growth happen.
We’re in this volatile industry — we call it the solar coaster for a reason — so we’re trying to look ahead at what kind of product shifts might be coming because when there’s a module transition and a wattage transition, even if we know that’s coming in three months, we want to make sure that we’re matching your current sales with what that is going to be.
Do you recommend a certain type of growth, if that makes sense, in terms of the speed or the scale?
Marsh: I wouldn’t say fast or slow is going to be the best way. I would say make sure it’s healthy for you. Make sure you’re working within your boundaries, and make sure you’re working with partners that have your back so that you can kind of grow in that healthy way.
Is there a certain growth trend you’re seeing in terms of business model? Is the opportunity just trying to do more sales and expand your regional territory – doing more jobs in a week? Or is it getting more into commercial now, or adding a new location in a different state?
Marsh: I’m seeing two macro trends. One is consolidation. We’re seeing the Lumio partnership that’s happening in the Western portion of the states, where five to seven installers have kind of come together, and they’re joining forces to figure out the best way to grow, and to use the tools that they’ve developed individually to conquer the market. Consolidation is kind of happening not only there but it’s happening across the country. People are bringing together best practices and growing together, so that’s a really interesting thing to see.
For smaller organizations, especially like long-tail customers, one of the things that i’ve seen for a long time is just incremental growth of adding an additional crew and growing in a way that is slow and steady within your means. Not taking extreme risks. That’s a really great way to build expertise and establish yourself in the market and gain market share.
There’s a third piece in here. One of the customers that I work with is focusing really steadily on entering new markets. They have a strategy where every time they exceed an install threshold, they open a new warehouse in that same region so that they can support and grow in a reasonable way. So there’s lots of different ways to approach growth. It depends on how big you are, what kind of focus you have, and how you want to grow. But whatever way you choose, your partner should be able to support you in that.
At BayWa r.e., we are growing ourselves too. We recently acquired the solar division at Beacon Roofing, and we’re bringing that division on board. So … we’re adding 10 warehouses or so, and that’s going to give us the opportunity to actually do some jo site delivery and some more specific services. It’s really exciting to be able to have that opportunity and gain that — like we were talking about with Lumio — where they are combining forces and working on best practices, and we’re doing that with Beacon. So we’re really excited about that opportunity.
Watch the whole episode above for more, including:
- Solar installers getting into roofing (and roofers getting into solar),
- Navigating industry-wide supply chain challenges
- What to look for in a distribution / purchasing partner
- The big issue to watch in 2022
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