Last Updated on April 13, 2022 by Summer Rain Ursomarso

This article is republished courtesy of Solar Builder Magazine.

NABCEP’s 2022 Continuing Education Conference was one for the books! BayWa r.e. was the Platinum sponsor for the conference where over 700 attendees, vendors, and sponsors joined together in Phoenix for a week of learning and networking.

BayWa r.e.’s VP of Operations David Dunlap and VP of Sales Keith Ostwald joined Chris Crowell to recap the event highlights in this new edition of PowerForward!

What lessons are resonating most with solar installers amid today’s solar marker uncertainty?

  • Sales vs. operations and building a company culture
  • Are solar products commodities now? And why does it matter?
  • What does it mean to be “agile” and “resilient”?
  • Defining short-, medium-, and long-term procurement strategies
  • How else to think about product mix and working with distributors
  • Selling products based on company values
  • Product categories to watch going forward

A Few Key Takeaways:

On Building Company Culture

Keith Ostwald (02:59) “David and I got up there to talk about our experiences with BEWA and everything we’ve been able to do to share with the audience that culture is not a one and done that. It’s not ‘Hey, let’s have a happy hour on Friday’ or what have you. And then to really explore with the audience what we’ve done over the last eight to ten years. And let them understand that it’s never too late to start.” 

On Growing a Business in 2022

David Dunlap (04:42) “The two biggest things for me are agility and resiliency. I look for every opportunity to bring those up and talk about them and ask installers the tough questions. Have you thought about your contingency plans? What if your primary plan doesn’t go well? What if you can’t get a hundred of your plans, your supply, whatever? Where do you have built into your process… If anything, in the last few years of COVID and the supply chain challenges have taught us that we don’t have certainty.

“I also ask people about their trusted partnerships. Are you actually leaning into those partnerships? This is a time when deep partnerships that are built on a foundation of trust and transparency and mutual benefit really, really shine.

“I encourage installers contractors to focus on selling their core values and their service rather than a particular product or brand. Brands are going to come and go. We’re entering a commoditized kind of state of our industry. And most of us are not ready for that… It’s a form of the resiliency I’m talking about. The brands they’re still important, but they’re not the cornerstone. And I think contractors need to differentiate on their core values and their service.”

On Riding the Solar Coaster

KO (08:45) “There’s a level of security and planning that we’re very used to having with our customers and given the trade situation, given even the manufacturers themselves, it is very, very difficult to plan on for those that haven’t been planning. It’s a very rude awakening. And for those that are used to planning it’s just increasingly difficult week to week, month to month. We get tons of questions each and every day.”

On Partnering with a Distributor

DD: (10:10) “We’re looking ahead at credit constraints across the business. So move away from just being a transactional basis… to more about what are all the aspects of what we can support you on your business? And do we have all of those aligned and supporting the same volumes, the same expectations of that business?”

KO: (10:37) “There’s some really honest conversations happening too where people that we’ve worked with for years we are encouraging them to seek that a resilient supply chain… for them to understand that we’re still friends and still partners, if you have to buy module or something somewhere else. And so I think that is one way that is a significant way to build trust, to build the partnership and know that when things settle down we’ll find a way to come back together and do more meaningful share together if we lose any in the short term.”

On Medium- and Long-Term Challenges

DD: (11:51) “…short term I tend to think of is just what’s your next months’ worth of transactional business.

“The long term is kind of outside the bounds of whatever their sold backlog is. So, if they’re currently selling into a six month backlog, then I would say long term starts seven or eight months. So, what am I thinking about comes next from a sales cycle? Do I need to change the way I’m selling? Do I need to change the product mix? Do I need to offer more storage attachments in my portfolio? You’ve got to be further out than that sales cycle in order to make changes that are going to know that you have time to train your sales team on and put into place.

“…The midterm is everything in between. So, if I need a more immediate change to my sales that are at the back of the hopper maybe there’s still time to do non disruptive change orders.”

On What a Solar Installer Should Be Selling

KO: (14:09) “…whether an installer likes to hitch their wagon to a popular brand or not. I think we’re just going to see more that the brand is going to slide a little bit. It really is where I would say that a vast majority of manufacturers in our space are in a challenging situation, and it is not directly their fault.

“..focus on history and trends and things that have worked for the installer in the past and where we may be able to substitute or build upon that.”

On New Products to Pay Attention To:

DD: (15:14) 2022 is definitely about a product landscape standpoint. It’s about some shifting sands and some resetting of foundational capabilities. I don’t think this is really a year for massive regime change or even new major change in product technology. We’re at the front end of a commoditization of solar. So, price gaps in PV shrinking so that the range is a little narrower. I think the idea of brand premium, price premium, everything probably is going away. And it’s just a little bit more of a narrower band or a range where it’s about things other than just an output or an efficiency.

“So maybe there’s a tieback here too, for contractors thinking about where are their core values, driving them to align with the solutions in products and technology. And thinking about, I want to offer these products because of what they offer the consumer, what the warranty and the long-term backing is versus an upfront cost or a name recognition or an efficiency.”

KO: (16:24) “I think in the inverter space you’ve had a duopoly for a long time – two great companies that own 90 plus percent of the market share. I wouldn’t be surprised in the next six to 12 months that we don’t see some new entrants that are pretty exciting in that space.

“In modules: I mean, LGs exit left a big hole in the residential space that a lot of manufacturers are clamoring to fill. And I think that that was also a duopoly. I mean, if you think [of LG] and SunPower being the sort of the two premium brands, SunPower has become more like more like SunRun and LG is of course leaving the market. So, you know what previously was mid-tier brands probably looks like the new premium, but I think that the whole market shifts a little bit and flattens out as David mentioned across the broad spectrum of PV module manufacturers.”

Chris Crowell (17:17) “Things that stood out to me at, at the show tie in to the beginning conversation about sales versus ops: just interesting software solutions that are emerging to really tie the sales to the operation side together a little bit more; customer experience solutions that stay in touch with the homeowner in a more automated, efficient way.”

Learn More Solar Builder Magazine (Free Subscription)

BayWa r.e. Solar Systems LLC supplies residential and commercial solar installers in the United States with quality solar + storage components, forecasting, business planning advice, and a community of experts. Visit www.solar-distribution.com to read our industry insights articles and stream our Solar Tech Talk and Solar Town Hall podcasts on YouTube and Spotify. Follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook to stay connected. Ask us about our Split Pay financing program and use our industry-leading Webstore to save time, get gear shipped, and get jobs done! Part of the BayWa r.e. Global family of renewable energy companies.