Leveraging Roofing Experience to Find Success in Solar 2014-04-07 Roofing Contractor

Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing

A few short years ago, we made the decision to leverage the experience and business model from our roofing business in order to start a residential solar company. At first glance, we did not immediately see a lot of synergies between the two. Obviously both involved roofs, but the selling, financing and construction of a solar energy system were all new territory for us. The decision was not an easy one, but we knew we had a strong business model prioritizing customer service that we believed could be a formula for success. We felt that we knew the residential market and that our strengths in roofing would be applicable to solar; essentially we jumped into the deep end head first.

The risk paid off. In just a short period of time, we have seen explosive growth that put us among the top five companies for residential solar nationwide. We have expanded to nearly 500 employees and topped $58 million in revenue, making a potentially risky move well worth it.

Embarking in Solar

After discussing the move internally, there was overall excitement about the potential opportunities in solar; we believed it could be both good for our business and beneficial to the environment. Similar to going home from work knowing you successfully fixed a leak or replaced a roof, it was nice to know that installing solar on someones roof helped them get cleaner and less expensive energy.

As we embarked into solar, we quickly discovered that the core strengths of our roofing business were also key advantages for the new company working with solar energy systems. Our focus on excellent customer service, quality control, project management and intensive employee training positioned us perfectly to sell and install solar energy systems. Granted we needed to bring in some additional electrical expertise, but we were able to accomplish that pretty quickly.

We also focused on developing strategic partnerships, which has been another key to our success. These important relationships were a perfect complement to our business model and provided some of the missing pieces of the puzzle. With a financing partner and a strong sales channel partner, we were extremely well positioned to leverage our core customer-oriented strengths.

We knew from our roofing experience in working with homeowners that we wanted to prioritize simple solutions, and as a result decided to work exclusively with leases instead of cash purchases. Our financial partner was helpful in developing this model, but our knowledge of homeowners and their sensitivity to rising electricity prices convinced us that leasing rooftop solar panels could offer an appealing solution that would allow homeowners to lock in cheaper energy costs for 20 years.

Building on Our Expertise

As we made this transition, we knew it would be key to leverage our strengths as a roofing company in order to be successful in this new territory. We thrive at diagnosing homes for our roofing business and used that experience for solar.

In the roofing business, we understand that a roof is not a well understood aspect of a home for most customers. This is very similar to dynamic in the solar business, and as a result we found we were able to implement the same educational method that includes a detailed proposal to guide our customers through the process. In roofing, its important to help a customer understand the functionality of the roof system. With solar, you are helping them understand functionality along with the financial benefits of including solar panels on their home.

Another key part of our success is a result of placing a high priority on customer service and project management. We believe this is central to a successful business model and have seen results in terms of customer satisfaction and high referral rates, something very similar in both roofing and solar. As our business continued to expand, we continued to hire more high-quality customer service employees in order to maintain that same level of satisfaction. We also put procedures in place to ensure that all of our past, present and future clients knew they were valued. Quality control and training are two other important aspects to our business that were important for the successful transition. The same quality control checks we had developed for roofing were applicable to solar projects and were key to driving high customer satisfaction rates. Training also continued to be important for the new business; this included increasing our technical capability in electrical engineering, but also the core areas of customer service, quality and project management.

Optimization

In order to continue to be successful, we found it was essential to optimize our core business and our specialty. It was important not to get distracted by commercial and utility scale projects as we continued to grow and optimize our residential business. Instead we focused on complementary products for homes that include generators, home automation and smart energy products. We also continued to optimize our partnerships and alliances that were central to our growth model.

In our roofing business, we were already integrating new technology (including digital cameras, tablets in the field, automated field forms and a paperless office), which was very helpful background getting started in a tech-dependent industry like solar.

In order to keep up with the strong market demand, we knew we had to be willing to go all in for solar. We were quickly able to get to the scale where we could hire specialists within our solar operations including permit specialists, system designers and site inspectors, which led to exponential results. Ultimately it was this strong commitment to solar, along with our expertise and experience in the roofing business, that helped us lay the groundwork that led to explosive growth for the new company.

In hindsight, we could not be happier with our decision to go into the solar market. However, what has also become very clear is how important our core strengths in roofing were in order to start a successful solar company. While we needed to expand in certain areas and develop new relationships, the key ingredients for success were with us all along.

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