The Photovoltaic Buffet: Choices, Choices and More Choices05/04/2012
Imagine walking down the cereal aisle in the grocery store. You’re looking to buy a box and don’t have a clear idea of your deciding criteria. Price? Nutritional value? Sugar content? Fun toy inside? Ability to stay crunchy in milk, dairy or soy?
Now imagine a similar plight for a solar electric design and installation firm. You’re wanting to offer your customers choices in module brands. Twenty years ago, the choices could be counted on one hand, maybe two. And now? It’s that overwhelming cereal aisle again.
What will you take into account in order to make the best choices to carry in your inventory? Pricing? Performance? Monocrystalline or polycrystalline or maybe even thin film? Manufacturing origin? Financial strength of the company? Smooth schmoozing from the PV module co. rep and an expenses-paid trip to the factory complete with stylish t-shirt, cap and a fancy pen?
As the owner of a modest PV contracting company here with more than 30 years experience in the U.S. and Asia, I’ve struggled recently over the question of what to offer my customers during these turbulent times of rock-bottom prices, industry consolidation, fierce competition and shrinking margins.
Until last year, I had been offering two choices: the top-performing, highest efficiency mono product on the planet and a solid, more economical American-made poly, what I called my Best and Better module options. I have been providing the Best option since 2005 with the majority of my overall revenue coming from selling that product to top-quality-desiring and performance-oriented home and business owners. A premium choice at a premium price is how I’ve pitched it. The Better option has appealed to those more price-conscious purchasers or those for whom a Made in the U.S.A. label was important. But I was losing sales to hungry competitors who were peddling a lesser known or no-name module brand at seemingly unsustainable pricing.