Independent Solar’s rapid growth in the solar industry driven by integrity, compliance and transparency

Transparency and integrity are important in every single industry. But as Randy French, CEO of Independent Solar, has found, those values are of particular importance in the solar industry. “There are many customers that won’t go solar just because of what they’ve heard,” he says. “There’s a lot of misrepresentation.”

Randy’s been in the business of solar power for more than 20 years, and he’s witnessed the evolution of this environmentally friendly (and often wallet-friendly) technology. While solar is still growing, its success in some markets has been stymied by customer mistrust of solar companies — a mistrust that Randy says is rooted in the disjointed (and sometimes dishonest) business model used by many solar companies.

“The industry consists of installers who have licenses,” he says, “and if you ask the installers to go sell some solar, they would be dead in the water. They wouldn’t know what to do. So what they do is hire third-party sales teams that aren’t even a part of their company. The problem with that is they aren’t technicians — they’re sales guys, and they want to just go sell solar.”

“You’ll find that most of them have an extremely elementary understanding of solar at all,” Randy continues. “If they have any training, it came from a sales meeting. For them, it’s more about getting the sale than about equipping the homeowner and walking them through the process so they understand.”

The knowledge gap between salespeople and the people who actually install solar panels is one thing. But Randy notes that the erosion of customers’ trust in solar companies also comes from some companies’ deliberate lack of transparency.

“The challenge is the malfeasance,” he says. “They hook people. They get them in the wrong size system. They’re down-selling to get headroom in the price so they can raise the price on a smaller system and gouge the homeowner. And all of a sudden, the customer’s got a system on their home that doesn’t do what they were told it was going to do.”

“The victim in the whole thing is the customer,” Randy continues, “and it is a virus in the industry. It is how the industry runs. And there are a handful of great companies out there, but they’re not the norm.”

Randy’s mission is to make Independent Solar one of those great companies — not just for the sake of his own business but for the industry as a whole. “If you’re doing it right, you create this wonderful wave of credibility,” he says. It’s a wave that extends far beyond a single business. When customers see honest, credible solar companies, they start to regain trust in the industry itself.

What’s the best way to start that wave of credibility? Randy says it begins with regulatory compliance and clear, open communication with customers. “We are immensely proud of the high level of compliance and disclosure and transparency,” he says. “Those are really important words. Our customers are well informed. We hold their hand. There’s a huge amount of customer satisfaction.”

The importance of keeping customers informed goes far beyond that initial sale. One of the challenges new solar customers often face is not knowing who to turn to if they have questions or issues during or after an installation. Independent Solar has found an easy, efficient solution for that.

“We have our own app,” Randy says. “Our parent corporation is called Positive Synergy, and we have our own Positive Synergy aftercare app. It texts and emails customers. They can chat with their salesperson. They can chat with our tech people. The app sends them an email and a text every step of the timeline through the permitting, the design — the whole chronology. You can monitor your solar system after the fact to see what it’s producing every day.”

Randy points out that companies like Independent Solar have the opportunity to prove their credibility each day. He notes that legal shifts — like California’s recent changes to net metering laws — are making it so customers aren’t getting reimbursed as much for unused solar power as they once were. It’s a critical change in the industry, but some less-than-scrupulous solar companies are trying to keep potential customers in the dark.

“The days of zeroing out your bill and making your bill go away are gone, but those companies still say it,” he says. “It’s buzzwords people like to hear.”

The sad part about that lack of transparency is that it’s not necessary. With Independent Solar, Randy has found that customers still choose solar when his salespeople tell them the truth. “With the changes to the law, you’re always going to get a bill, but it’s going to be a reduced bill. Your cost per watt at the end of the year is always going to be less,” he says, “and that’s why solar is good.”

VentureBeat newsroom and editorial staff were not involved in the creation of this content. 

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