At the recent SPI 2012, I participated in a Renewable Energy World video roundtable on big box retail stores going solar with a representative from Walmart and another representative from SunEdison. (You can see the two part videos below.) There’s a lot of great information here, but I’d like to summarize a few of the points, and also make some suggestions for harnessing the power of other mega brands like Walmart for solar marketing and solar advocacy.
1) They’re not just going solar for “greenwashing.” Walmart has been routinely criticized for many business practices, and some have said that its going solar is just a way to green wash the company. Wrong.
As noted in our SPI video panel conversation, they’re going solar because it saves the company money. It makes business sense first. On top of that, there are environmental advocacy benefits, but it has to make financial sense first, and then you can add all of the other advantages, such as corporate sustainability and positive PR.
2) There’s no cookie-cutter way to make 100 stores go solar. Anyone in the solar industry knows that no two commercial projects are alike; although it may be a single company, big box stores are also different. On top of that, cities, utilities, and states all have different rebates and permitting requirements, and that fact is not likely going to change, although some like ASES with industry veterans Barry Cinemon and Ron Kenedi are trying. Add to that a PPA provider or the various financing options for each location, and you no longer have anything looking like a cookie cutter project for 10 to 100 stores.
The point here is that pilot solar projects for big box stores are only useful, but can only scale so far. There will be synergies, but if you’re going to approach these companies about solar projects, be prepared to be adaptable to every location as if they were an individual client...with different local managers. At the same time, have a list of some commonalities that can be applied to every location and assuage common local concerns. (When will this be done? Will it interfere during business hours? Is it safe? Etc)
3) It’s a long process, and you better find supporters within the company. As was revealed in the video, there was a top-down advantage for Walmart. A Walton family member and corporate executive wanted solar done. So, if you can get to the ear of the top or near the top, your solar sales efforts will be that much easier. Just as important is getting a buy-in from others inside the company, especially if you don’t have top-level support. You must find company advocates, and you must be prepared with numbers and solutions for all objections, including PR and political solutions. (Have you seen the latest solar poll, by the way? Be sure to include that.)
Those are the main points that solar marketers and business development people can take away from this round table conversation. The only other point that I’d like to emphasize from a solar marketing and advocacy perspective is that solar companies — regardless of size, should do everything possible to harness the Solar Walmart Effect.
What’s the Solar Walmart Effect? Essentially, it’s solar energy authority. That is, it says, “Hey you, solar business prospect! The biggest retailer in the world went solar, and they didn’t do it to hug polar bears. There's something to this, and it can cut costs for you too. Let's discuss.”
In fact, it’s not just Walmart. We briefly discussed this in the video, but SEIA and Vote Solar released a huge report about this, and they included free marketing materials that you can use to make your case to others. Use them.
Use these 20 major retail brand examples to convince homeowners and businesses that solar isn’t just for tree huggers. By stating that companies like Walmart and Ikea are going solar to save money, you’re making the case that solar is affordable and going mainstream, and so are solar PPAs and solar leases. So, let’s run the numbers and find out if it’s right for you, too.
If you're fortunate enough to get the contract, try to work with the companies to make co-branding and educational materials available for customers that may notice the panels. Even better, offer a discount code in a co-branded brochure and give the company an agreed-to fee for any completed sale. Win-win.
Bottom line, with these major retail brands going solar, the industry seems less “far out” and just for the rich and famous. If you can make the case that these companies are going solar because it makes financial sense, then residents and businesses will question their pre-conceived notions about solar and open the door to exploring it for their own businesses and properties.
So, watch these two videos below, use the above resources, and of course...UnThink Solar.
Tor Valenza a.k.a. “Solar Fred” advises solar companies on marketing, communications, and branding. Want more solar marketing info? Sign up for the Solar Fred Marketing Newsletter, or contact Solar Fred through UnThink Solar. You can also follow @SolarFred on Twitter.
The information and views expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of RenewableEnergyWorld.com or the companies that advertise on this Web site and other publications. This blog was posted directly by the author and was not reviewed for accuracy, spelling or grammar.