Monday, March 21, 2011

SolarUniverse_Final_product_2The dramatic rise in energy costs from non-renewable sources has made alternative energy sources such as solar an intriguing option. Many homeowners however, have been weary to jump into this still evolving market. In the past, the startup costs alone have outweighed the rewards in the eyes of many potential customers. But by applying a tried and true business model, knowledgeable and well trained sales people and installers can walk consumers through the process, apply government incentives and show them that solar not only makes sense but is affordable.
That tried and true business model is the franchise, which contrasts with stand-alone solar companies that have their own sales representatives and technicians or those that outsource the installation to third-party installers. The franchise works by seeking out local contractors and entrepreneurs who want to get into solar. Then it trains them and provides them with the software, branding and sales leads they need to get started. The key differentiator is the training and marketing provided to the franchisee– from learning about the local building and fire codes to the local, state and federal programs that offer rebates and tax incentives for building solar electric systems.

The entire process gives customers a much more cohesive and reliable initiation into solar than current offerings.

One of the first to jump into the solar franchise business is Solar Universe, which currently has 22 franchisees across California, Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Louisiana (up from zero in early 2008), and hopes to expand to other states this year.

Valley Unique Electric, a thriving electrical contracting company in Fresno, California saw the benefit of getting into the solar market, which led them to join forces with James Vumback and Solar Universe in 2009.

"We went from zero to 220 installations in a very short time, making us the number three installer of solar projects in the Central Valley," said Vumback. "The Solar Universe franchise model allowed us to seamlessly enter the solar market and see results immediately."

The future of solar continues to look bright. From federal, state and local programs that provide rebates and credits for solar investments, to the continuing decline in the cost of solar materials and installation. Applying a proven business model to solar installation provides franchise owners with the knowledge and tools they need, and streamlines the process for the consumer.

"Most people don't understand how little it takes to get started," said Mitch Katz of Ventura County. "For $500 down you could have a solar system installed at your home and you can actually lock in lower electricity bills for years to come. The startup costs have dropped dramatically."

In 2008, in an effort to decrease his $1,500 monthly electric bill, Katz began looking into solar.

"I had 8-10 different companies come out to quote the job," said Katz. "And I was unimpressed because no one was able to explain how the process worked, what kind of savings I would be getting and why. The entire experience left me asking more questions."

Katz went with the Solar Universe franchise and was impressed with the solar knowledge of the representatives. So impressed, in fact, that he not only bought a solar system for his home, but he purchased his own franchise.

Joe Bono is founder of Solar Universe.


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