After InterSolar 2009: The Hamburger and the Solar Panel

When I was growing up in New York on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, there was a little hole in the wall burger joint called Diane’s on 72nd St and Columbus.

My high school friends and I would meet there almost every Friday night before catching a movie at what was then the 83rd St. Quad Cinema on Broadway. Although we were teenagers, the waitresses always treated us like adults, which was okay with us, because we thought we were.

At Diane’s, we feasted on half pound burgers. There were bacon burgers, mushroom burgers, grilled onion burgers, burgers with mozzarella and tomato sauce, and others, all served on an English muffin, which I believe was buttered. If it wasn’t buttered, it was the buttery juices running from the medium rare meat. Of course, there were the salted steak fries and large battered onion rings, washed down with constantly refilled glasses of pop. For dessert, we stayed in our little corner window table because we had Sedutto’s, an adjacent ice cream parlor owned by Diane’s. The same waitresses provided us with a menu of hot fudge sundaes and oversized freshly made waffle cones, dripping with a selection of cream based carbs and calories that I’d rather not recall for myself right now. 

Diane’s is no longer in business today.

So, what does this fond memory have to do solar PV? As you leave InterSolar 2009, think about all that you have seen and experienced as a solar pro. You can see the innovations. You understand them. You’re a professional. To the Street, the solar uneducated, a solar panel remains a solar panel. The Street just wants to know how much it costs. It’s always the first question. There will increasingly be the pressure for installers to simply get these consumers that lowest price. The commoditization of solar is upon us, but perhaps not quite set yet.

How can your solar company resist this commoditization pressure? Here are my suggestions. ::continue::

Gather your office. Everyone. Brain it out in the next few months. Think about Diane’s. This was New York City. We could have gone to any fast food place for our burger and fries, but we went to Diane’s. Why did we pay probably double the price for basically a Big Mac– plus 20% tip?  

Because of that corner window table. Because of that buttery English muffin. Because of that mozzarella and tomato sauce burger. The ice cream unmentionables. Because of how we were treated by the young waitresses who never expected high school kids to tip well, but we always did; their service was friendly, consistent, and attentive, even to a bunch of 15 year olds.

So I urge you, please, to start planning while the economy is still dormant. Think not only about your technological innovations, but your company’s “experience.” As your new solar products come on line, how will you better serve the solar installers that will be selecting these new innovative PV panels on the consumer’s behalf? Easier installation designs are obvious. Loan programs. Well vetted leads. Good training. What does good training mean? What does any of that mean? Define those things for you. Perhaps, if you create a unique Diane’s-like experience for your customers, whoever they are, you will be less susceptible to the 2010 fast food solar PV meat market to come.

Even if you have low-cost ambitions and you’re a 2007 meat and potatoes solar installer or PV manufacturer, don’t settle for blah. Give some kind of service or personality and integrity that can’t be compared. If you do, it will be the consumer or school or factory that will ask for your panels or your service.

I truly believe that if you make the effort to reach the Street through a unique, quality experience, the Street will reach for you, and may even pay more: Apple. Starbucks. Target. On the other hand: PC. Coffee Shop. Discount store. Commodities.

One final thought. Diane’s is no longer in business. I don’t know if it was the rising rents, Mad Cow, or if consumers just got tired of the same old, same old. I will tell you that I remember it and that if it were still in business today, I would be recommending Diane’s to my friends through an email, Yelp!, a tweet, or a comment on Face Book.

Thank you for reading. UnThink Solar.

Tor Valenza aka “Solar Fred” blogs about residential solar PV at and consults about ways to effectively reach solar customers through innovative messaging, branding, and social media communications. Follow him on Twitter @solarfred. See his REWorld profile for more contanct info.

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Tor Valenza aka "Solar Fred" is the Chief Marketing Officer of Solar at Impress Labs, a PR, marketing and communications firm dedicated to helping solar companies reach solar customers through innovative messaging, branding, PR, and social media communications. Follow him on Twitter @SolarFred.

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