Values of the California Home Solar Value Leader
By Scott Gordon
SVP, Sales, HelioPower
When an independent study affirmed HelioPower as the low price leader in California among the top 100 or so solar installers (we’re consistently in the top ten by number of installations these days) we were ecstatic! When it then became apparent that ours are among the most efficient systems installed in California (according to CSI) we didn’t think the news could get any better. That was until a deeper dive into the CSI determined that HelioPower installs our customers’ solar systems faster than 75% of our competitors. Our hard work had really paid off. We hit the trifecta!
When I started at HelioPower in 2007, my goals were to make solar affordable to anyone who desired to install it; do a quality job installing our customers’ systems; and do it in a reasonable timeframe so our customers could begin enjoying the benefits of solar as soon as possible.
Of course, these were (and remain) lofty goals. I’m often asked how we are able to offer such great pricing to our customers and why more people don’t know about HelioPower and the value we bring to the solar marketplace. Let me begin by explaining how we tackle solar pricing and the rest will become evident.
Like any company, we need to make a reasonable profit in order to invest in growth, new employees, training, and provide warranty service to our installed base. To put it simply, if we don’t make a profit, we go out of business. The key here is that we need to make a reasonable profit in order to grow our business and support our customers, but in order to make a reasonable profit and offer the lowest solar price in the industry; we need to be vigilant on a number of fronts.
First and foremost, we maintain strict fiscal discipline in the day to day running of our business. This means we think long and hard about every dollar we invest in our business whether that dollar is allocated for marketing, trucks, facilities, travel, personnel, etc. Through the practice of fiscal discipline at all levels of the organization, we are extremely efficient in the deployment of resources and only invest in areas that improve our productivity, customer support, logistics, and talent pool.
As a result, one of the places we tend to invest in conservatively and with a very targeted approach is marketing. You’re unlikely to hear a HelioPower radio ad, see a HelioPower television commercial, or come across a HelioPower billboard as you cruise down the freeway. In fact, many of our marketing dollars are reinvested in our customers. That’s right; we reinvest it in our customers. Our referral program (Normally $500 to our customers for every contracted customer they send us. This summer we’ve increased our solar referral fee to $750) is an important part of our marketing effort and when combined with our great prices and high quality results in a business that has a very high referral and word of mouth rate. With so many great customers referring their friends, family, and neighbors, HelioPower is blessed with one of the lowest ‘cost of sale’ percentages in the business. This means our customers get more solar (and less marketing) for every dollar they spend. Let me ask you this: would you be willing to pay another solar company $10,000 more because they have a sexy radio ad? Me neither.
Next, HelioPower has a very high employee retention rate. I, myself, am enjoying my sixth year working at HelioPower while our SVP of Operations is in his tenth year and our COO in his twelfth. The gentleman who installed the system on my home in 2007 is still a lead installer today. You’ll find this pattern to hold true across HelioPower. Because we work hard to make HelioPower a great place to work, our employees make their careers here. Constant turnover and training of new employees is very expensive and time consuming and usually results in lower productivity, lower quality, and higher prices. Because our turnover is so low relative to many others in the industry, HelioPower enjoys reduced lifetime human resources costs and can pass the savings on to our customers.
In addition to these disciplines, HelioPower has sought to diversify its business so that we can buy equipment and services in bulk. Our residential customers enjoy savings because we purchase solar panels, inverters, and BOS (balance of system) for other HelioPower divisions as well. Thus, every time we install a large commercial system, or sell equipment through our distribution department, or do procurement for a large ESCO (energy services company) our customers (as a whole) enjoy significant savings. Our diversification strategy gives us the scale we need to continue our quest to make solar affordable to all.
When it comes to installation, HelioPower is considered to be tops in the industry. While holding highly regarded industry certifications from NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners) and others is a great start, the simple fact that we retain our installation teams for a long period of time allows us to reach an enviable combination of efficiency and quality. Simply put, we employ some of the most highly skilled technicians in solar and they take tremendous pride in their work. Additionally, our crews receive bonuses on jobs only if they are able to:
- Work quickly, efficiently, and neatly
- Complete a quality installation (which is audited by a project manager)
- Complete both of the above with impeccable safety
If any one of these critical items is missed, the job is removed from the bonus pool. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance for the crew to work in a timely, efficient, and safe manner if they are to earn their bonus. Longevity with HelioPower, a strict apprenticeship program for new hires, and high standard for quality and safety means we’re investing wisely in our people so that our customers have the best experience possible and a quality installation that will produce trouble free energy for decades to come.
As we continue to refine our business and processes in our quest to retain our title as solar’s value leader we applaud the efforts of others who seek to make solar affordable to all. These others include partners like Sunrun and 1BOG; suppliers such as Enphase, SMA, and ProSolar; and competitors such as Peterson-Dean, Solar Universe, and RunonSun. These visionary companies share our point of view that the price you pay for solar (price per watt) for a quality system trumps monthly lease savings as the key criterion savvy solar shoppers who are looking to get the best deal possible for their home solar system.
As I write this, HelioPower is working diligently to upgrade our fleet of trucks to the most fuel efficient available. As with everything efficiency we gain, our customers benefit. Solar should be affordable to all, and we at HelioPower work every day to bring affordable solar to the masses. We applaud like-minded solar companies who share our vision and look forward to a world where solar energy effectively competes against highly subsidized fossil fuels without subsidies of its own. “Grid parity” as it is called in the industry, is not impossible, it’s inevitable.
You can reach Scott Gordon directly at [email protected]