Stock versus customized solar offerings

How you arrange your design resources can affect soft costs, build and maintain a competitive edge and reduce risk for in times of fluctuating sales volume. But let’s look at another design-related strategy straight out of the pages of kitchen and bathroom remodeling that can affect your bottom line: developing tiers of offerings.

Why are we customizing everything?

Residential solar contractors have customized everything as a standard offering claiming that each roof and site is different and each homeowner has different needs or desires. This situation is no different from when a contractor submits a bid on a kitchen or bathroom remodel. But the approach the remodeling contractor takes is different from our default in the solar industry.

The contractor will look at square footage, logistical obstacles, water and electrical feeds and listen to the customer’s wants and desires. However, they will also get an understanding of the kind of experience the customer will actually pay for. The contractor will offer stock, semi-custom, custom and premium lines of appliances, tiles, countertops, finishes and even workmanship depending on the final price and experience the customer values and is willing to pay for.

The customer may want a premium product and premium experience, but is only willing to pay for a semi-custom line of cabinets. They won’t get the master cabinetmaker in their home for the semi-custom price, so why should solar installers offer custom premium experiences without establishing the value of that level of service?

Establish value

Offering stock and premium tiers is more than just choosing products; it’s about designing a customer experience and orienting your people, process and tools appropriately.

By establishing “stock” roof layouts—or even standardized systems and financial packages ahead of time for common roof configurations, you can reduce the time necessary for design staff to spend working on permit packages. Spend the time to do analysis on the designs of proposals and compare them with sold projects. You will learn a lot about what roof areas are most common, what design layouts are most common and what customer preferences cross-cut these areas.

Design staff can assemble templates covering 80 percent of the permit package ahead of time and customize with jurisdiction-specific, customer-specific information, as well as interconnection details. This dovetails nicely with operational strategies that employ design requirements, databases and CRMs.

Of course, design staff will always need to customize interconnections during retrofits where main service panels are different brands and filled to different capacities.

Overall, this strategy will put a price premium on custom work and time-consuming jurisdictions while lowering costs on the “stock” jobs. This strategy will allow greater velocity for “stock” jobs so you can plan your business to better work on and deliver custom or premium offerings. Or even refuse to offer these options at all and focus on streamlining a few standardized offerings.

By simplifying and standardizing “stock” jobs, customers can take a different, shorter path through your company than custom jobs, which need more hands-on attention and specialized staff time.

Define tiers

You should carefully assign value to your products to align with your tiered system, like higher levels of aesthetics, energy production per square foot or dollars/watt cost. Learning what features associate with what value for your customer can help you price your offerings accordingly, develop premium offerings and help control costs around custom work that often take up a lot of time for small installers. This can help you simplify your supply chain while developing a continuous learning cycle about marketplace preferences and willingness of consumers to look at solar energy more like remodeling projects.

For example

  • Sales staff could present stock systems as a choice of two or maybe three pre-designed layouts that can fit within the customer’s available roof space while on-site.
  • Custom offerings could involve more options for the customer to review or different products.
  • Premium offerings could include specialized design work like awnings, carport or ground-mounted structures complete with landscape architecture that often requires the input of professional engineers or at least senior designers.

Your website and sales materials can help customers see themselves in the different end results and help them choose the path that will work with the outcome they want to achieve and help them correctly value the services and effort that accompanies that product.