Solar Builder

MAR-APR 2018

Solar Builder focuses on the installation/construction of solar PV systems. We cover the latest PV technology (modules, mounting, inverters, storage, BOS) and equip installers/contractors with tips and tools to make informed purchasing decisions.

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SOLARBUILDERMAG.COM | 23 A s the story goes, solar system costs came down, which drove up demand. But this story is a bit too simplistic because the price drop and demand rise allowed the solar market to mature. In those years where module, mounting and inverter manufacturers drove down costs, quality increased, better sales and marketing con- cepts emerged and overall project econom- ics and design strategy became better understood. As a result, there are more ways for savvy solar installers to build their brands based on quality, strength and value than ever before. Over the next few pages we want to explore the value of these services — both intangible and tangible — from manufac- turer driven certification programs to third- party bidding sites to new financial vehicles that can empower regional solar installation companies to grow their own businesses and evolve the solar industry right along with them. Strengthen your brand Manufacturer installer programs can be a win-win for both sides — a symbiotic rela- tionship — in which solar installers deliver quality systems and strengthen their place in their markets, and manufacturers ensure their products and brand names are installed far and wide and synonymous with the best installers in the business. Since its start in 2008, Sunrise Solar, a moderately sized solar integrator in upstate New York, has built its brand over the years by only installing qual- ity systems and not making decisions to chase price. Its current point of differentia- tion is being a SunPower dealer. "In a competitive market, price can be a differentiator, but if that's your only differ- entiator, then you will start to see your competitive advantage fall apart, either through a lower service level or price ero- sion," says Rand Manasse, COO with Sunrise Solar. Along with a proven product, SunPower provides comprehensive training workshops and courses that cover all aspects of the solar business, from sales and installation to design and marketing. Manasse has found the SunPower sales training to be most valu- able, which is split up into two different courses for residential and C&I. "It allows me to establish a template on how the sales process should occur, and then they allow me to make changes to meet my my own process," he says. "It allows for my way of doing business but within the frame- work of what they do. To me, that's more important than the technical training." RevoluSun, a solar company based in Massachusetts, is both a SunPower dealer and a certified Panasonic Premium install- er for similar reasons, and president Doug Pierce is a big fan of the services built into the Panasonic certification program. "The marketing is a big tool for us," Pierce says. "We have a co-op fund with Panasonic, and for every dollar we spend we get a percentage back from them. That goes into a marketing fund, and then we use that money to purchase leads to do co-branded marketing, events or whatever promotes both of our brands. It generates revenue for both of us. They've really saddled up next to us at the table and done a good job collabo- rating with us on ideas to help generate revenue for both of us, like co-branded videos and co-branded leave-behinds for customers that substantiates both of our brands." Manasse says this type of support is factored into any of its product decisions: "When people are pitching their products to us, I ask if they have something to help us position their product. If they don't, we don't take that product on. Or, if we do, we factor that into the cost of selling their product because we will have to develop our own sales and training program around it one way or another." The intangible marketing benefits can be just as powerful. A certification from a brand like Panasonic can be its own sales tool — a stamp from a well known outside source that vouches for your work and also stands behind the system that's been installed. Usually, that stamp of approval comes with additional quality assurances for the customer as well, such as a better warranty, which is a huge win for the installer and its customers. For example, roofing manufacturer CertainTeed recently expanded its solar installer program by creating a second, high- er tier — the Master Solar Installer. In addition to upping lead generation, market- ing support and other benefits of the pro- gram, Master Installers are covered by a 25-year workmanship warranty on the installation of the system. "Our program requirements allow Master Installers to offer a longer warranty, while our Credentialed Installers can continue to offer our 15-year workmanship warranty. Both tiers benefit because they can differen- tiate themselves in the market which reduces the pressure to compete on price. We've seen our installers winning more jobs at greater profit margins," says Chris Fisher, product manager at CertainTeed Solar. "The benefit to the homeowner is that they get all system components and the installation workman- ship warranted directly by CertainTeed. We still honor the warranty even if the original installer is no longer in business." All of the manufacturer programs fea- tured in this article carry robust warranty coverages on their products. If there's a product defect, that truck roll and labor cost is often covered. What makes this possible is the criteria of these certification programs. Every program is different, but certified installers need to show a track record in the business, have up-to-date insurances and often must maintain a high standard to keep their status. "They do surveys every time we install a system, then they check how happy our cli- ents are," Manasse says of SunPower. "It's kind of like a dealer satisfaction survey. We have to maintain a score of a certain level to stay in the program." Manufacturer programs usually include leads as a value proposition too — those that come in through their website or sales chan- nels and are funneled through their partners — but any leads that do come in this way are usually seen as a bonus and not a real driver of growth. " Price can be a differentiator, but if that's your only differentiator, then you will start to see your competitive advantage fall apart, either through a lower service level or price erosion. " - Rand Manasse, COO, Sunrise Solar

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