The Sky Is Not Falling: How Small Solar Contractors Are Winning


By Pamela Cargill
PV Solar Report Contributor

Challenges mount in the solar industry, making it look like we’re taking a steep dive in the solar coaster. In the last few months we’ve seen layoffs (SungevitySpruceEnphase), companies going out of (or exiting) business (The Solar Company, OneRoofNRG Home Solar, etc). 

In the midst of these high-profile issues at the larger companies in the industry or amongst the more creative business models, many of our industry’s finest contractors are working away like unsung heroes.

These are complex times and this industry is still maturing and finding its footing. Here are some of the keys to success I’ve seen at the “unsung heroes.”

They know people are everything – you need a strong culture to succeed. And you need to invest in your people. See our article on company culture about how to invigorate and inspire your employees to get great results.

They don’t over-leverage – If you’re using deposits on one project to pay down procurement for a different project, you are running a little too far ahead of your revenue and need to examine your cost assumptions. The minute you start to have cash flow problems, you will fall on your face. Cash flow problems can come from anywhere, even the weather.

They’ve considered how to diversify their business – Contractors who perform electrical service, HVAC, or other trades and services will be less susceptible to weather-related issues and will improve their customer acquisition cost because they have other products and service to co-market or re-market to their client base. Consider service. Solar has been focused on growth alone and performing service work is a great way to generate referrals. Running a service division to generate referrals will cost less than many of the crazy marketing ideas you’ve tried.

They have someone looking ahead – Someone needs to be in charge of your business plan. They should be watching the policies, products, and industry dynamics and make sure that you are adjusting when needed to based on your what your client base wants.

Don’t let bad press fool you. Solyndra was not “the end” of the solar industry and these “realignments” happening at the bigger companies in the industry only point to a readjustment that will favor contractors who focus.

I’ve seen several articles recently celebrating local solar contractors. I’m excited to see more voices celebrating the backbone of our solar industry.

Originally published on Chaolysti

Pamela Cargill, Principal of Chaolysti, specializes in process improvement and operational effectiveness in the residential solar sector. She has developed new programs and rapidly scaled some of the largest national brands in residential solar on the East Coast (Alteris Renewables – now RGS Energy) and West Coast (Sungevity). Her decade of experience spans the entirety of residential solar operations strategy, from marketing to sales streamlining, design to installation, project management to customer experience.


Disclaimer: Any opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of PV Solar Report.

Image: Contractors review plans by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers via (CC BY 2.0)