Racing to the Bottom
Solar keeps getting cheaper all the time. That sounds like good news for customers, with solar becoming more affordable. Lower prices will help installers do more work too. But there are obvious problems with ever-lower prices.
As solar installers cut prices to keep up with competitors, the installers’ profit margins are squeezed. To make up for that, installers will seek to cut costs — and they may cut corners too.
In the worst case, making everything cheaper can lead to low-quality equipment, shoddy work and unresponsive customer service.
That can add up to solar installations that don’t work as promised and don’t get fixed in a timely way. Or at all!
Bad solar is bad for customers, no matter how cheap it is. And it’s even worse for the industry’s reputation, as word gets around that, when it comes to going solar at home, the buyer has to beware.
This is the infamous race to the bottom that all businesses try to avoid.
In General, Be More Like Apple
One company in another industry that’s seen big price drops in the last few decades has found a way to leave the race-to-the-bottom and actually start raising its prices.
That company, of course, is Apple. Their latest iPhone X costs about $1,000, twice as expensive as competitors’ new phones. Reviews have been mixed so far, but surely some die-hard Apple fans will insist on the iPhone X just because they must have anything new that comes from the company whose stuff they love.
While competitors are all lowering their prices for phones, laptops and other electronics, Apple keeps raising theirs. How can they get away with it?
In a recent piece in PV Magazine, “Solar Fred” Tor Valenza writes that Apple does three things differently. He advises solar companies to do the same:
- Promote a reputation for top quality and customer service: empower your customer service reps to treat every customer as your best customer.
- Keep it simple without sacrificing on features: offer faster installations with better equipment. Do more marketing and outreach to build a reputation for quality. “The idea here is for customers to remember your brand for X, not for $X/watt.”
- Act like an industry leader, not an apathetic industry follower: Get involved in public policy for better solar and find ways to get involved in other issues important to your customers too.
Specifically, Be More Like ION Solar
Putting those lessons into action in the solar industry, one installer active in several states sets a good example. Based in Provo, UT, ION Solar does residential installations in eight states from California to Colorado to South Carolina.
Its website immediately shows that this company is not just another me-too solar installer that offers always-low-prices. Instead, they offer something else: “A Truly Premium Solar Experience.” Both the words and the classic look send the message of thoughtful, intelligent service.
But they don’t just say that they’re a “premium” solar provider. They back it up by describing what that means: “We handle every detail of your switch to solar- from start to finish. It’s the details that make all the difference. From your custom designed system using the highest quality equipment, to your dedicated Project Manager who’s with you every step of the way, to our in-house teams of designers, surveyors, installers and more- this is how solar should be done.”
Then, you don’t have to take their word for it. The company offers a generous Customer Stories page. It starts with videos like the one below. Then, it includes dozens of short testimonials, all from customers who agree that ION Solar offers a different — and better — solar experience.
Now, I haven’t double-checked Yelp or SolarReviews to see how the company rates there, but their website does a pretty good job of setting a visitor’s mind at ease. ION Solar does not look like a fly-by-night solar installer using cheap modules that will break after two months but whom you’ll never see again.
Finally, ION shows that they go beyond just installing solar panels, to getting involved in issues that matter to their customers. In their case, the company’s ION EARTH program helps Habitat for Humanity include solar in new homes that they build for low-income families.
All to say that ION Solar is not just another installer offering to beat their competitors’ bid and throw in a free T shirt if you sign up for an installation within 24 hours of getting their proposal.
Instead, ION builds both trust and likability, the two qualities that a solar installer needs to stand out from the crowd. Who knows, perhaps ION is like Apple, and in some of their markets, they may be able to charge more than competitors?
Not for Everybody
Just like Apple, judging by its website, ION Solar is apparently not for everybody.
For someone who wants the cheapest solar, ION’s upscale branding will probably not have much appeal. And someone who wants the reassurance of a cookie-cutter approach — sort of the McDonald’s of solar, where you know exactly what to expect — may find one of the big three national installers more to their taste.
But for a very attractive kind of homeowner, one who clearly has money to spend and also values quality, then ION Solar may be just the ticket.
Does your solar company have any way to stand out from the competition? Or are you all about just offering the lowest price?
If your marketing is all about low price, you may want to consider giving yourself an upgrade. And why not start online? Download our free checklist on how to build a brilliant solar homepage to give yourself an online upgrade right away.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group