Picking up the Pieces (Until Next Time)

Illustration, Tom Miller

Illustration, Tom Miller

Amid the recent solar industry shake ups it seems like a good time to reflect on the difficulties of mimicking market leaders, what the small to mid-size installers are doing right, and where to find new opportunities. 

At the 2017 NABCEP Continuing Education Conference, Pam Cargill (Chaolysti), cited a hard-to-resist tendency:

"Just in the last decade...a lot of you saw these market leaders start to take off and thought, 'Hmm. These guys are doing something right. I better hurry up and do what those guys are doing if I want to stay in business.'"

In eight minutes, Pam covered ten years of roads taken: third-party ownership, the rise of content marketing, the advent of the solar calculator, canvassing, robo-calling, fast growth with fast, venture-backed growth, and third-party lead and deal origination.

Once a solar installer herself, Pam asked, "Did any of you copy these tactics?" Raising her own hand, she continued, "I jumped into third-party ownership. I'll admit it. I thought it would be the future of the business."

Nearing the end of her presentation, reflecting on the shrinking of market leaders across the country and the corresponding opportunities, Pam pointed to a quote on the screen from an installer in New York and read, "They're all gone and we're left serving their contracts." 

Turing back to the audience, she continued, "The patient guys go and take care of those customers. This is an opportunity for you," said Pam. "A lot of you are doing an amazing job a picking up the pieces...and this is what we're going to have to do as an industry—pick up the pieces—as things realign." 

Mistakes can and will be made. Some paths might not work out—and that's okay. But many of the smaller companies are still around because they stick to the essentials: investing in quality; a strong commitment to their customers; and not getting (too) distracted chasing market leader "innovations"—i.e. building a solid business strategy and sticking to it.  

And with bigger companies charging more than local contractors, more customers choosing loans over leases, and preferring to go local, solar contractors are still playing with a strong hand.


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