It’s been two years since Glen Koedding started Green Sun Energy Services in his Middletown basement. He’s tapped into a market in New Jersey (second only to California for solar energy) for third party energy supply; high-end solar; energy efficient improvements; and after Hurricane Sandy hobbled the state last year, home generators.
Koedding anticipates doubling his already healthy revenue by year end. I interviewed him about why he’s revamping his website, why there’s no such thing as “free solar,” utilizing the cloud, and what California is taking from New Jersey (hint: it’s not retirees).
Interview With Glen Koedding
Question: Did you get any sleep during the month Sandy hit?
It wasn’t that bad because we had most of the upfront stuff ready. I took a walk after Sandy with my family and a neighbor asked me if we were doing generators yet. I said ‘no, but give me two weeks.’
At home I called my business partner to say we needed to step up this generator thing, which was in the business plan already. I was able to launch a full blitz marketing campaign by the time the lights came back on.
We had the website, our lead capture form was up, pricing models in place, subcontractors contracted, and we sold close to $300,000 worth of in-home generators in about two months.
We did one email blast saying that folks who’d already opted in to our list would get a special price. It’s not something I could do without the Internet or without an understanding of email marketing and how to tie that into a good solid landing page. I can press a button and send emails out with a customized estimate with a contract attached to it. That’s pretty neat.
Question: What’s your biggest challenge in marketing Green Sun?
Misinformation about solar. Solar is the biggest of our four solutions, although whole house emergency backup generators are currently a hot commodity.
Quite a few companies are marketing this thing called ‘free solar.’ You see kiosks at Home Depot. I haven’t figured out how they haven’t been indicted because it’s really not free–it’s a zero down lease. It’s a bait and switch. My Google ad says, ‘Is free solar a scam?’ We provide leasing that we’re transparent about. A lease should be lower than your electric payment and then it makes sense.
The other misinformation is cultural. Leasing is viewed as risk-free and cheap. But when you lease anything, it shows up on your credit report as a liability.
Our focus is to leverage the good credit rating of our customers so they can borrow at a much more competitive rate than with a lease and make a profit. I focused on this when starting the company because our state is giving millions away to leasing companies that are mainly in California. Solar is supported by a tiny portion of the rate you pay for electricity. Out-of-state leasing companies take those benefits, which were designed to support New Jerseyans for investing in solar. Consumers don’t understand this.
Question: In business today, how important is it to meet people face to face?
There’s no substitute for face to face. Web gives credibility, depth of research and reach, but in my market I depend upon reputation, so having both makes all the difference.
I get a good deal of business from a couple of business networking groups. They help our online marketing too. We help each other out on Facebook and LinkedIn. I have links on my site to local partners where I’m basically providing an advertising space and a backlink for people who I know have superior service.
Facebook has been the most important social media platform for us. On LinkedIn I have a tremendous amount of contacts, but we haven’t seen that translate into business. What it may do is provide credibility. You can see my connections and my history. But I think Facebook’s where referrals happen.
We do some pay-per-click advertising that’s highly targeted. We post installations, new products and solutions, and photos of clients. Prospects can see that people enjoy interacting with us and can get ideas. Clients post their electric bills! Getting that kind of interaction is huge. We’re building community.
Question: Are you bringing solar to the masses?
No, we’re a boutique company with a focus on long-term relationships with high-end clients. There’s alot of Kmarts in my industry. We want to be the local Nordstrom’s of solar, generators, third party energy and home energy improvements.
We’re highly segmented, very focused on high-end residential homeowners who want a long-term relationship and care about the aesthetic look and feel of the system—they want it to blend into their homes’ architecture. They’re more likely to buy than lease solar because they want a return on investment.
Our other focus is what I call ‘owner-occupied small businesses.’ Like a home that’s converted into a funeral home, a vet, maybe a small manufacturing facility where they see solar as an investment, to not only reduce energy prices but profit. They’re also seeking that relationship and often, aesthetic appeal. If you go to a funeral home you don’t want to see gaudy solar panels! Architectural precision and tastefulness make a big difference.
Question: Tell us about your upcoming website facelift and what lessons you learned from your first two years.
I’ve learned to balance what I can do myself and what I can outsource. I come from a business, marketing and IT background. The website looked good when I was managing it, but didn’t have all the stuff in the back end right.
We use a third party application, Salesforce.com, for all our operations except finance and to manage our website and client portal. I became a jack of all trades and taught myself HTML. The pages I added were good from a look and feel standpoint and okay on SEO. But I knew the code was dirty, so part of the relaunch was to include our new solution portfolio in a more organized manner, to clean up the code and get it optimized. I did some organic search first time around, but Version 2.0 will be better.
Video has not helped much despite the ton of statistics about how important it is. We have four videos on the homepage that have had less than 100 clicks after almost a year. Two are TV ads we abandoned because they gave us exposure but not conversions. I learned the first place people go to learn about and to buy something complicated is the Web, not TV or the phone book. The other two are a company video and one done by Brookdale’s continuing ed program. I was on the cover of the catalog. I did a 40-hour noncredit training course.
Part of the revamp was to ditch Flash and get a medium that works across all platforms. I can see on Google analytics that we get alot of mobile devices. I’ve limited my advertising to computers and tablets and excluded cell phones, but that’ll change. If the site’s not optimized at minimum for a tablet, you’re losing 50 percent of your potential market. My wife, for example, doesn’t use her laptop anymore.
The average cost to acquire a solar customer is approximately $1,000. For solar, it’s 50 percent referrals, 25 percent pure web leads and the rest is installer referrals. We have a referral bonus program.
We’re poised to double our revenue this year. We’ve got great teams, great subcontractors, all managed remotely. Everything’s in the cloud. It all goes back to the technology.