The Solar Energy Installation Business Interview
In Battle Plan Marketing episode #5 we interview Phil Edwards, owner and President of Jamar Power Systems, out of San Diego, California. Jamar Power Systems are electrical and solar contractors and have been in business since 1984.
Phil’s shares his secrets of what it takes to stay in business and thrive for decades.
So without further ado, let’s dive right in and see what golden nuggets Phil has that might help your home service business.
Mark Ambrose: Welcome to the podcast, Phil.
Phil Edwards: It’s great to be here, Mark.
Mark Ambrose: We appreciate you spending your time sharing your knowledge with our audience. So thank you for coming on board. So Phil, let’s start with your story. How did you become an electrician?
Phil Edwards: When I joined the Navy, they elected me electrician’s bank, set the path forward till today.
Mark Ambrose: I’m an old coastguardsman myself. So appreciate the service there, Phil.
Phil Edwards: Same deal!
Mark Ambrose: Thank you, and nice to see you take that skill set and bring it into the civilian world. So sweet. So on that note, how did you wind up at Jamar, and how do you wind up being the owner and president of Jamar?
Phil Edwards: I hired on from the Founder, James Salberg. His wife was Margaret. And that’s how the name Jamar came about.
Mark Ambrose: A mixture of their two names.
Phil Edwards: Yes. So I hired on in 1986 for Jim and worked with him for ten years. And after ten years, he decided to sell his company to myself and my wife, Sheila.
Mark Ambrose: Nice. That was nice reaching out to you instead of Just finding a strange buyer.
Phil Edwards: Yeah. It was a blessing.
Mark Ambrose: Very lovely. So tell us, what does Jamar’s Power Systems do? What are you doing now? Who’s your ideal customer, and how does your company help them?
Phil Edwards: Our company is several divisions, so we have a solar division which does retrofit, solar and new home solar. We have a residential production, which does residential production work, which would be housing, condos, apartments, those sort of projects,
Mark Ambrose: New construction.
Phil Edwards: New construction.
Mark Ambrose: Gotcha.
Phil Edwards: We have a service division that does service calls and general electrical work and maintenance for residential and commercial properties. And we also take on commercial work, but most of our commercial work is from existing customers. So we’re not publicly bidding on that type of work.
Mark Ambrose: I see. They also own a business. They’ve come to you after you did other prior work to them.
Phil Edwards: Correct. And when I say solar division, and our solar division does both residential and commercial solar projects.
Mark Ambrose: I see. And also on the new construction side, you do electrical.
Phil Edwards: We haven’t done new construction, solar. Everything that we’ve done is, has been retrofit on commercial.
Mark Ambrose: I see. But you are also doing the solar installation for new home construction, yes?
Phil Edwards: Yes. Yeah. New home residential. We’re doing that.
Mark Ambrose: Gotcha. Not new commercial buildings.
Phil Edwards: We just haven’t done one yet.
Mark Ambrose: I see.
Phil Edwards: We would do one if they asked to do so, but we’re typically not in the commercial space. Our businesses primarily work with residential developers and individual homeowners.
Mark Ambrose: I see. That’s a great market. And now in California here as of this year, I believe solar has to be installed on all new homes, correct?
Phil Edwards: Correct. Yeah. That’s a significant change.
Mark Ambrose: Right. Even with the tax credits going away in just a few years, solar will still have to be installed for years to come well for the indefinite future in California. And I’m sure it’ll spread to others. Yes?
Phil Edwards: Yes. California. I don’t know about other States, but in California, it looks like solar on a new home will be the new norm in California.
Mark Ambrose: That’s good for business.
Phil Edwards: It is. And it’s space that we’re in is a production electrician. So we have those relationships with the builders.
Mark Ambrose: Nice.
Phil Edwards: So we’re able to leverage that relationship to —
Mark Ambrose: Sure, you’re at the forefront of that and already in the door.
Phil Edwards: Yes, that’s correct. That was a pleasant circumstance to happen.
Mark Ambrose: So let’s look at overall business Phil. So I’m sorry, what year did you take over Jamar Power Systems?
Phil Edwards: 2006
Mark Ambrose: 2006. So you got 14 years or so of running that business yourself?
Phil Edwards: Yes.
Mark Ambrose: So, Phil, what would you say has been one of the essential ingredients to growing in your business?
Phil Edwards: We focus on the customer, so we want to make sure that at the end of the day. What nowadays would be called a five-star experience.
Mark Ambrose: Right.
Phil Edwards: So if anything happens, things do happen when you’re doing service and construction work. If anything happens, we are careful to listen to what the homeowners are saying and make sure that we respond to their needs to be happy at the end of the day.
Mark Ambrose: Is it always the most profitable way to go about things?
Phil Edwards: No. There are times where you’re right. But at the end of the day, being right isn’t necessarily the right thing to do. The right thing to do is to take care of the customer.
Mark Ambrose: I love that, Phil. That’s a great lesson for every business out there. But as you say, especially service contractors, and if we take that into this digital world, if you get a bad review that can hurt business.
Consumers go on to Yelp and search for some home service contractors. And they will scan and look at the negative reviews. If you have a negative review on Yelp, you’ll see how many people clicked that they found that review was “helpful”. And that’s a minimum of how many customers you’ve lost. Many others read it but didn’t click on that button.
So every negative review is losing you business. So I think that’s a wise decision that you’ve set there to, even at a loss, to take care of the customer, to their satisfaction, at least. And even if you’re in the right and they are not, just to prevent a negative review and negative word of mouth coming out of that customer.
And that has worked because we’ve looked at your reviews, you’ve got a lot of excellent reviews and ratings and a great history of them. So congratulations that you do great work, and your philosophy of taking care of customers is working great.
Phil Edwards: That’s what we aim to do.
Mark Ambrose: Customers are number one, we are all in the customer business. Okay. So, what’s one thing you wish you knew when you started the business or started taking over the company anyway, Phil?
Phil Edwards: One thing I wish I knew early on was to be a little bit better with dealing with marketing issues. Initially, as a production electrical contractor, we didn’t do any marketing, and sales were mainly word of mouth. So somebody would ask you to submit a bid, and you would give them a price, and you’d give them your estimate. And then you’d wait to call for them to call.
Mark Ambrose: I see. So your sales calls were bids for production work.
Phil Edwards: Right! And we took that same philosophy to service work. And when we started our solar division to our solar division. And what works well for, say like a general contractor or a builder doesn’t necessarily work for the consumer.
Mark Ambrose: On the marketing side.
Phil Edwards: Yes. We spent a lot of time creating bids.
Mark Ambrose: Right.
Phil Edwards: You waste a lot of time estimating jobs, bidding jobs, but not getting them because you didn’t show up with the right person or the right energy and the right attitude to make a sale.
And I say, make a sale and that it’s not just like selling the product, but it’s also selling your company. Your company’s ability to do the job is making sure that you do have good reviews and an online reputation and that you’re able to refer the customers to that.
Because you could promote yourself, but if you have many other people who have testimonials that promote you, you don’t have to try so hard to promote yourself—you just kind of referred over to what other people have said about you.
Mark Ambrose: Yes. They want to hear third party testimonials that are not coming from the company they’re thinking of doing business with.
Phil Edwards: Right. Anybody can say they’re great.
Mark Ambrose: Yes, we all do, right. We’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. So it sounds like there was a sales educational process that had you had to go through when solar started, it was a new division, new product, new kind of customer, everything.
Phil Edwards: Oh yeah. That’s it, so we thoroughly failed to try to sell solar to the consumer. And so what we did at that time, this was ten years ago, 12 years ago, we were pretty good installers and good electricians. So we started doing installations for a sales organization. They did all the selling, and we did all the installing, and frankly, they probably made more money than we did at it.
But we learned a lot. We saw that there’s a difference between a project manager, an estimator, and a salesman.
Mark Ambrose: Right.
Phil Edwards: And there’s a different skill set involved, and everybody has their part. And so once we got to that point where we’re able to have the consultative salesman onboard that worked well with our team, things started moving forward.
Mark Ambrose: Man. I liked that story there. There’s a bunch of lessons in there. So one is letting go of your ego and understanding what you’re not good at yet. There’s no skill, pivoting, adjusting, going to organizations with that skill, but lack your skill and make the perfect marriage between sales and installation.
And then, during that process, learning the skill that you guys didn’t have so you could train your force and eventually sell. And so you have gone on to sell now solar, yourselves.
Phil Edwards: Yes, we have.
Mark Ambrose: See, that’s brilliant. That’s a massive lesson, and a huge obstacle for many business owners out there is getting past our ego and recognizing what we don’t know, and then going out and getting professionals to either help us with that or move on to a different product or service.
Phil Edwards: I love that.
Mark Ambrose: That’s a golden nugget right there. Thank you, Phil.
What was one of your best decisions that helped grow your business? What do you think?
Phil Edwards: Deciding to do solar systems back in 2006, when we tried it in 2001, it was like a science project, but we got serious about it in 2006.
That decision kind of set the path forward for the last 14 years. And also, knowing what your core is. So there were times during the previous 14 years that people had come to us and said, well, why are you still doing electrical work? You should be all in with solar.
But why even bother with electrical work, and then there are times where you think, Oh, why am I bothering with electrical work?
That’s our core. And that’s what we’ve always done. It’s still two-thirds of our business. And it’s worked out very well because being diversified when there were electric rate changes, and our local utility and solar seems to be more of a business that runs hot and cold.
And there’s nothing you can do about it when utility rates change or if there’s a tax credit deadline, and everybody wants to get their solar system installed before that date. So it naturally creates a prolonged slow period after that day.
And so running your business and if you don’t have other things to fall back on or another business to keep your business viable, it could easily wipe you out. And I have seen that with many other solar companies that were solar-only, then the six-month drought that occurred after changes the local utility rates and they couldn’t survive.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. You have third parties greatly influencing your industry, the solar industry. There were, so you have tax credits that are decreasing and going away. And then as you say, you’ve got the utility company and their rates. And then you have tax credit deadlines.
So you have these rushes at the end of the year, and then a slow void into the beginning of a year. And so once again, so here again, I like this, so you didn’t get caught up in the shiny new stuff. And then, even when it was booming, you did not get blinded by it. You saw that your core has and always will be electrical services.
So another great lesson for our listeners out there, beware the shiny stuff. Maybe dip your toe in the pool, but don’t give up the ship for a little dinghy that looks like a carrier initially. Good stuff Phil.
Phil Edwards: Good nautical analogies.
Mark Ambrose: Once we’re on the water where we’re forever on the water, right? So earlier you mentioned the customer is number one, we’re all in the customer business. So what’s a good way for our home service company listeners to improve their customer’s experience, would you say?
Phil Edwards: I would say embrace technology. So we currently use House Call Pro, which is it’s a local company here in San Diego that has an online platform where you enter your customer in there. It will automatically text your customer before you’re showing up at a job to remind them that you have an appointment. It has a platform where you can collect payment on a mobile device, phone, or iPad.
And then it also has a system where it follows up with a review request and allows sharing it on social media. So it’s mainly your internal process to make sure that your technician has done an excellent job for your customer.
Mark Ambrose: Your internal watchdog.
Phil Edwards: Yes.
Mark Ambrose: So it’s a CRM, customer relationship management software that’s allowing for marketing and billing and customer feedback to you internally.
Phil Edwards: Yes. It’s been beneficial.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, I bet that’s cut many hours out, removing a lot of duplication of data entry in different software systems, etc. Yes?
Phil Edwards: Yes. The customers like it because they’re used to walking into the Apple store and getting everything done on a phone and a receipt email to the cutting edge.
And when you’re in our business as electrical or doing more technology type installations. They like to see that your technicians are cutting edge. If you’re doing smart home installations, but you have a dumb business, it doesn’t click. You have to embrace the technology and go forward.
A good example would be if somebody had decided somewhere along the line that fax was good enough and that’s how I’m going to communicate with all my customers is through fax. It was good at the time, but those times are gone, and in our future, where the digital device is King, and we have to use those devices as much as we possibly can as part of our business.
Mark Ambrose: I like it. Yeah. Stay up with the technology for increased efficiencies and to show the consumer you’re in tune with the times. And a lot of what you’re doing is already technological, right? So you have home automation, lighting automation, I suppose all those things were going on in these homes. Yes.
Phil Edwards: Yes.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. If you’re communicating by fax, that’s not going to go over too well. Walk the walk. Don’t just talk the talk.
So let’s take a look at the business challenges and how we overcome them. So, was there a big business challenge in your history that you faced and what did you learn from it?
Phil Edwards: There have been many business challenges. I think we’re going through one right now.
We’re right in the middle of the coronavirus, and it’s a tough time to be in business.
Mark Ambrose: It is indeed. A lot of them are not.
Phil Edwards: Because there’s an excellent example of the 2008 financial crisis. Was it a tough one to go through?
Mark Ambrose: There have been several other financial crises.
Phil Edwards: And then, of course, every company has their personnel issues or maybe a key person becomes ill or leaves the company or something happens where this is entirely unexpected. Even though the rest of the world is doing great, you’re going through your crisis.
And what I’ve learned is that you have to plan for the future, but you can’t let it dominate you and make you worry. There’s not much you can do from the past except learn from it.
Mark Ambrose: I agree.
Phil Edwards: It happens. And you just have to make good decisions at the moment, and good choices are going forward, which can’t change the past. So we’re in the moment, and we’re going forward trying to make the best decisions.
Mark Ambrose: As to what’s going on right now.
Phil Edwards: Right. Yeah. There are times that you long for the past, like the best you ever had, you remember that remarkable year. Perfect. But that was the past. It’s not today. Today is reality. And that’s when you’re running a business; you have to run your business based on what’s happening today.
Mark Ambrose: Yes, don’t have the blinders on just racing towards your goal because life happens, and we all have to pivot on it. So there are two; you mentioned two significant actual challenges. Everybody out there. So in 2008, the economy crashes; we’ve got several years there. And so housing here in California pretty much came to a screeching halt.
So you all your production work, I imagine I did so as well, but because you kept the core of your electrical services. And I guess now solar was starting to take off about then too. Or did solar get hammered in a way it also?
Phil Edwards: Actually, solar was the bright spot after that because people were looking to save money, and it was a novel idea at the time. It was something new, and it wasn’t widely accepted, but the customers that you were able to educate and that had extremely high power bills. Those people have all gotten solar, but those customers were readily available.
And the ability for you in a tough economic time to save them money, you were. So it was just a very positive experience.
Mark Ambrose: You were helping their budgets, so it wasn’t money unless they paid cash. It wasn’t money coming out of their pocket. Correct. So that you were saving that money.
Phil Edwards: Right.
Mark Ambrose: So here we are again, and I’m going to guess that this will happen again now with solar. Maybe if we’re going to enter a recession, perhaps due to this coronavirus and a recession seemed like it was long overdue anyway. So here at the expect solar to become another pivotal player for you over the next year.
Phil Edwards: I think it’s going to be more of a pivotal player for us, not because of the current situation, but because of the new home mandate.
Mark Ambrose: Oh, okay. On the builder side.
Phil Edwards: Comment side, we’ll do more in that, on a wholesale basis. I also see in the retail side of things that, as I had earlier mentioned, the big systems, the people who have the thousand-dollar power bill, they figured out that they needed solar several years ago and got their system installed.
Mark Ambrose: I see.
Phil Edwards: What I see now is much smaller systems. So, people that before were told I, you don’t need it. Your power bills, less than a hundred dollars, you’re fine. Move on with your life and pay your bill. Now, what you’re seeing is, as the rates keep climbing, unseen people requesting solar systems only need eight panels.
Al’s and those smaller systems are much more prevalent. And then you can see as a contractor, and it’s challenging to have a salesman come in and try to sell, go through the whole process to sell a much smaller item. So you have to think of ways to be a little more efficient at the way you deliver your sales process and the type of systems you’re quoting, and the components in it that would appeal more to somebody who has a much tighter budget.
And it is the consumer. So they’re not looking for necessarily that contractor that has the track record or is the name brand. They’re out there going online and going on portals and getting multiple quotes. And so you have to think of your business as to how do I deliver my product to the masses competitively while maintaining your standards and your service ratings and still maintaining your integrity as a contractor.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. That sounds like quite the challenge. So I’m going to imagine your fixed costs to the same on every solar installation, but because the systems are smaller now, two are your margins, and your response was to increase efficiencies.
Phil Edwards: Correct. Yeah.
Mark Ambrose: So I liked the way you’re pivoting. So the last three questions and answers when we’ve gone through, it’s all about lead ego behind adjusting to what is not biting into all the shiny stuff and maintaining quality while trying to increase efficiency. So there may come a day where solar, residential, solar is not potentially worth it for you non-production to the consumer. Is that possible, you think?
Phil Edwards: No, I don’t think so. I, I think there’ll be fewer people that do it because the market’s less.
Mark Ambrose: That makes sense.
Phil Edwards: So you’ll have less competitors over time. And I believe the free market forces everybody to be a session one way to be efficient.
And it kind of ties into what we’re doing here. If it’s difficult for a company to have a 10% marketing budget and then be competitive at the same time, you may have quite a bit of opportunity coming in.
Still, that’s the basis of operating costs of having that large budget. You might have a household name when you’re all said and done. You might have this great huge sales team and all these leads coming in.
But if that salesman has to go to the table with a much higher price to pay for that marketing budget, then you’re going to battle disadvantaged.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, you’re doing a lot more work for a lot less.
Phil Edwards: Right. Yeah. You’re not keeping your profits; you gave the animal a way to make a name for yourself. And that’s fine. It works for many companies, but it’s interesting how you’ll see these companies’ household names on a local market.
They’ve done a great job of marketing and getting their name out there, and everybody’s heard of them, but then you’ll listen to a year or two later that they’re struggling or they’re out of business.
It takes a lot to maintain that type of marketing level. When you’re starting by spending a million dollars a year on marketing, you have to sell—a lot of products.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. If the margins are shrinking, and that’s all you do is solar. You’ve got some problems on your hand. I get a better year and a half, and the tax credit goes away.
And I imagine solar takes a big hit after that, as far as fewer sales.
Phil Edwards: Yes.
Mark Ambrose: All of those solar-only companies, they must feel the weight of that clock ticking away on them. I hope they do.
Phil Edwards: Yeah. And we even see that it’s like, how deeply are you going to invest to building this massive team of the sales organization and installation crews and the equipment for a business that at this point has maybe a two-year horizon.
Mark Ambrose: Right.
Phil Edwards: And we want to maintain ourselves as a viable company. We were going forward. We have 10-year warranties on our systems. Some are even longer with extended warranties. So we want to be around to service our clients in the long run, and we’ve run our business in the past to make sure that we stay around.
So that’s, that’s our goal to keep it at a level to where it’s manageable so we can continue.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, I liked that. And the fact that you kept your core, your electrical, commercial, residential production for home builders. Now you have solar for home builders. So you’re not in the same position. You’ve positioned yourself very nicely here.
So this falloff for whatever may happen, they may extend the tax credit. Who knows what’s going to happen. But as it’s written right now, the clock has taken on, on those solar-only companies. And I do feel for them. I hope they’re prepared. There’s a lot of, a lot of jobs out there.
Phil Edwards: Yeah. Yes. And what we have also done over the last several years, we haven’t done it. It’s just kind of came our way as we get a fair amount of calls for service on solar systems.
Mark Ambrose: To repair?
Phil Edwards: To repair, to upgrade, to add on to. It’s very similar to the electrical service work. You don’t send a salesperson out to sell your service.
Mark Ambrose: Right.
Phil Edwards: You send somebody out to repair, and then you bill for the service, and was solar repairs pretty much the same thing. You have to have service techs familiar with solar, or they’re familiar with the various and burger brands, the technology that was installed over the last decade.
Plus, and be able to service those components. Then also, what’s available in the marketplace for people like a great program that’s out there right now that I’ll kind of tell is if somebody has an old in phase system. In phase has a great program where you can upgrade the systems to their modern IQ inverters.
Deep discount. And for us as a company, it’s not a large ticket item because the homeowner buys the in burgers directly from Enphase, and then they have to find an installer to install the components. So for us, it’s the main labor with some very miscellaneous materials.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. I see.
Phil Edwards: You have thousands of these systems that have been installed. Over the years, by various contractors. Uh, many of which are no longer in business.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. Half of the solar companies are gone in the last ten years, solar contractors.
Phil Edwards: And in phases has always been a wise option. And so you have all these customers out there that have these systems that are slowly but surely having components fail, and they need a new solar company to be their go-to guy to fix their system.
Mark Ambrose: Nice. So these are like service calls for you—no salesperson involved in that transaction at all.
Phil Edwards: If it’s sales, it’s strictly an in-house thing where my solar manager will just quote over the phone. What cost would be to take care of that project? And then we’ll just go ahead and do it.
Mark Ambrose: I see. And so Phil is these upgrades from Enphase are to combat power outages. So you have power even when the utility goes out or what are these upgrades about?
Phil Edwards: It’s basically upgrading the microinverters so that the old generation microinverters which some of them are experiencing some failures.
And so, rather than try to piece mail, fix the system one micro-inverter at a time. What Enphase has done is they’ve offered a deep discount. So just go ahead and replace all the microinverters on the solar system.
Mark Ambrose: Oh, I see more efficient.
Phil Edwards: They’re, they’re more efficient. It’s a new product instead of the old products on your roof.
And then that, of course, resets the clock for the warranty on those microinverters. So you install a new system with new microinverters, the same solar panels, just new microinverters, and you’ve extended your warranty out 25 years.
Mark Ambrose: Nice, does the increased efficiency of the microinverters produces a little bit more power for them?
Phil Edwards: I wanted to make that claim, and you’re going to get more power. If you’re swapping out a new microinverter for one that stopped working, then the point is going with a more recent, more reliable product into the future.
Mark Ambrose: I see. So let’s talk about power outages. If you don’t mind, I’m springing this on you. Last summer here in California, I think it was just summer. We had all these planned blackouts or power outages from the utility companies up and down the state, all three public utility companies. And so I see some of the solar manufacturers now promoting solar backup power, where you have batteries, and your home keeps running.
So solar, evidently the old version, goes out when the power goes out. So the power doesn’t go into the grid and kill one of the workers. But modern solar seems to be a little different. Maybe you can walk us through that real quick if you don’t mind. Is this a market like power outages, and now people perhaps have medical equipment, maybe they’re running businesses in their homes.
Maybe they just don’t want the inconvenience of a power outage. There are new solar answers to that. Yes.
Phil Edwards: Yes, there are new answers for people that are installing the new system. And there are retrofit answers for people that have an existing system.
Mark Ambrose: Oh, great.
Phil Edwards: So what you have to be concerned about? If the audience here is contractors, you do your due diligence upfront to understand what the customer had installed when they installed it.
What the warranties are. Is that a lease? Is it a bot? What are the rules around that? As a lease, can you alter the system? You don’t want to be the guy going in there and exposing yourself to long-term liability. But yes, there are many options, battery or battery storage as it’s called or storage for the industry calls.
It is the future. It’s a bright spot for quite a few contractors. It’s a fairly high ticket item. There’s quite a bit of talk around it. And some companies are very successful selling it and installing it. So I would be careful how you represent it. It’s a splint. I don’t believe it’s a huge dollar saver.
It’s more of a reliability item. So you would want to sell it to your customer for what it does, which keeps your solar system running. When the lights go out during the day, it will provide some backup power into the evening, but you have to be very clear about its capabilities.
You’re not going to be necessarily running an air conditioning unit all night long on your 10 KW battery with a 20 amp output. So you have to make sure the customer manages those expectations.
Mark Ambrose: I see, so you’re not living on whatever you can turn everything on and enjoy the life that like you were is you’re just keeping the refrigerator, the freezer, basic essentials. Right?
Phil Edwards: Right. The basic essentials, there are systems out there that you can install a system where you can do more. You want to make sure that you. I understand what your customer wants going in, yet that you have to. It’s less of a high of a product to sell.
Let me sell it to you. What are your needs? What are you trying to accomplish? And let’s see if we can design a system that will work for you based on what you’re looking for. Is it going to be with them? A budget that you can be willing to spend on it.
Mark Ambrose: Right? Which are sales that are sales for everything. And most salespeople don’t start that way. So ask questions, find out what, what is the need. And then can we provide a solution within your budget? I like that.
Phil Edwards: So if I wanted, if I was a customer and wanted just to run everything, I want my pool. I want everything to be running. If the utility goes out, I can accomplish it. It sounds like it’ll cost me if I want that.
Mark Ambrose: But. Uh, that also sounds like I can pull that off also. You guys can help me pull that off.
Phil Edwards: I can help you pull anything off with the budget to do it
Mark Ambrose: Right.
Phil Edwards: But is it practical?
Mark Ambrose: Exactly!
Phil Edwards: Is that something you want to do? We have installed systems where they were designed upfront for the sun to not shine for two days. So the home would continue to operate on a battery, backed up a solar-powered system where the solar runs during the day charges of the batteries and the batteries take you through the night.
Mark Ambrose: I see for a two-day power outage, basically.
Phil Edwards: For our two-day power outage, but the owner also realized it was clearly communicated. When that happens, you do have to alter your usage.
Mark Ambrose: Right.
Phil Edwards: You have to start shedding load.
Mark Ambrose: Gotcha.
Phil Edwards: Yeah, it’s just, it’s just not going to be business as usual.
Mark Ambrose: Gotcha. Turn off the pull pot, shut down the wine cooler.
Phil Edwards: Turn up the thermostat, reduce your heavy loads even to make that happen. And that was a very expensive system to make that happen. You see, the typical system for the storage of a battery is a fairly small system with a low output. It’s strictly for emergency purposes. If you have your load shed down to the bare necessities, you can charge yourself on, watch your TV and keep the fridge, right. Those are available fairly simply.
Mark Ambrose: That’s great! That’s a great option for people. And then again, there are probably people. I mean, there are certainly people out there with medical equipment and other essential needs that they have to have something like that. If blackouts are going to continue, we’ll see what happens this summer. I guess. I appreciate you going down that road with me, Phil.
So let’s get back to some different kinds of questions. So how about common myths? Or belief about your field that you’d like to bunk Cerny dominating myths out there. That’s false.
Phil Edwards: The solar guys are making a ton of money. It’s like anything, and your margins are fairly low. The price you get for the work, the overall prices, and all your profit. It’s just the price you get. And the profit margin is pretty small when you’re selling something to somebody that most source systems are somewhere in between 10 and $20,000.
So when a person buys something, a consumer buys something between 10 and $20,000, your cruise shows up, and then a day or two has the entire system installed on their house. And there was a limited amount of interaction before that and after that, No. I think the consumer can look at it and go. But, holy cow, that was a lot of money for what I got there.
And they must be making a ton of money, but that’s not necessarily the case. It’s a very competitive market. There are some very—significant hard costs to run the business.
Mark Ambrose: And as you say, systems are getting smaller. Margins are getting squeezed. So.
Phil Edwards: Yeah, I think many people did think just solar companies are booming out there. However, I think if you look at the income statements P and L’s of the public manufacturers, you can see nobody’s making a killing in solar just yet, or maybe they were in the past, but they’re not anymore.
Mark Ambrose: Okay. So if somebody’s just starting a home service business, what advice would you lend out to that person?
Phil Edwards: My advice would be to make sure that you see on the internet working with somebody that knows what they’re doing with SEO and can help you with your marketing is a big item. My philosophy has always been to keep your marketing budget below 1%.
Mark Ambrose: Wow.
Phil Edwards: I try very hard to do that.
Mark Ambrose: That’s good. You’ve been going for 30 plus years, so you’ve, you’ve done well.
Phil Edwards: The way you do that is you constantly analyze what you’re doing, and whether it’s working, it’s not working. Don’t keep doing that.
Mark Ambrose: Right.
Phil Edwards: Stop and move on to something else because you only have so many discretionary dollars to spend out of your profits to keep your business going.
The other thing is, regardless of what happens, regardless of what you think about a person about your customer, or whether they’re straight up with you or they’re trying to get one over on you in the end. They’re right. They’re wrong. They’re right. You can’t afford to be the guy that runs around you’re not going to win every situation every single time there, once in a while, you’re just going to have to bite your lip and do something for somebody that is they’re taking advantage of you, or they’re just not being fair.
Mark Ambrose: Asking for too much.
Phil Edwards: Right. And sometimes you have to do that for the better. Good.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. That’s such a powerful message right there. We touched on it earlier. I can’t stress it enough. Now, this doesn’t happen a lot to you. This is whatever one out of a hundred customers there’s something correct?
Phil Edwards: Yeah, no. I tell my guys here at the shop, and anybody can handle 90% of the people that are easy to work with.
Mark Ambrose: Right.
Phil Edwards: It’s that 10% that is more difficult. Sometimes become your best customers, and sometimes they are your best refers.
Mark Ambrose: Right.
Phil Edwards: There’s always that one that you’ll take care of them and probably not ever really want to do any business with them in the future because that this is going to be the same story the next time around. But overall, most people just don’t want drama. They just want you to go in, do your job. They’ll pay you for it. And if you do that, then you do a good job.
They’re going to tell other people about you. And the more that you can promote. Referrals because it’s the best freest marketing out there.
Mark Ambrose: Without a doubt.
Phil Edwards: The more you can promote referrals within your base to keep your customers close. To reach out to them with information to stay engaged with you, they call you the next time. Most of that stuff, very inexpensive to do. Email marketing list and once in a while sending an offer or doing a blog or doing that basic stuff, it’s worth your time. And it will result in a good relationship with your customers and repeat business.
Mark Ambrose: I like how you’re pivoting once again to the changing market. So SEO, digital marketing, and yet keeping your core and again, keeping the core of quality. Even if the customer may not deserve it, let’s say I also liked how there’s a lot of tough characters out there. They will come back to you and ask for more. But if you deliver, they become some of your biggest advocates.
Phil Edwards: We have customers that have been our customers since day one. So customers that we worked with for over 30 years, customers, that the next generation as our customer. You have to treat people the way you want to be treated.
Mark Ambrose: Perfect. That’s it in a nutshell. I love that. Thank you. Phil, you’re an expert in it. You’ve been doing it for 30 something years. So tell me, what makes you roll out of bed? Put your feet on the floor and inspires you to get up and attack the day. What inspires Phil Edwards today?
Phil Edwards: As far as me, I’m like one of the seven doors. I’m teasing, but after work, I go.
Mark Ambrose: Gotcha. Oh my gosh. I almost forgot that song.
Phil Edwards: What inspires me is we’ve built a business. It’s what I’ve done my entire working life. It’s my routine. I enjoy the people that I work with. I enjoy the interaction with the customers. It’s always fun when you get a new customer that appreciates what you do. Solar is a great thing to work in because you are helping people save money.
I mean, it’s that simple. So at the beginning of the project, they’re showing how they’re saving money and a year or two later. When you talk to them, they’ll tell you; they’d say nice, they’re happy about it. And that’s a good feeling, kind of be able to do something helpful to people.
Mark Ambrose: I love that. So your customer inspires you. That’s awesome. Okay. So let’s see. How about what’s meant the most to you about owning a business, owning a business, running a business tough. So over 30 years, reflecting backward, what would you say has meant the most to you about owning and running Jamar’s Power System through the year?
Phil Edwards: It’s mean the most has been the camaraderie you’re able to build up with the people you work with and your long-term customers. It’s something that you just can’t create in a day. The relationships that you’re able to establish. The good people you run across and can work with the good people who work with you and for you, it’s the human side of things where you’re able to live your life and do some good in the World.
Mark Ambrose: I love it. I’m sure it depends on the season, but you’re up to 50 employee ranges, so that’s a lot of lives. And if you branch that out to their families and stuff, that’s a lot of lives you’re affecting. So that feels good.
Phil Edwards: It does.
Mark Ambrose: We’re, we’re getting the, wrap it up a little here, Phil. I like to ask every guest. Is there a book you would recommend to our contractor audience on any subject?
Phil Edwards: I reckon I recommend to anybody “The Bible” would be the number one book that I would recommend it.
Mark Ambrose: There you go.
Phil Edwards: There’s a lot of wisdom in there.
Mark Ambrose: Nice! Appreciate that. Is there something I did not bring up that you think could help our listeners run a better business?
Phil Edwards: I really can’t think of anything. We’ve talked about it a lot.
Mark Ambrose: We have, we have, I’ve gone outside the bounds a little bit, so I appreciate you going with me there on that then. And you’ve given some great golden nuggets there. So I understand that. Phil, where if our listeners want to contact you or get ahold of you, or just look up your website and stuff, can they connect with you online?
Phil Edwards: Our website is jamarpower.com. And our office phone number is (619) 448-7770.
Mark Ambrose: Great. I appreciate that. And hopefully, some people will connect with you, Phil. I can’t thank you enough. That was some golden nuggets stares shared with the audience. Hopefully, they felt the same way and got some value out of this interview.
Thanks to the listeners for sharing your time with us today. And Phil, thank you very much for sharing your time, skills, knowledge, expertise, and history with us. We appreciate that. Thank you.
Phil Edwards: Thanks, Mark
Mark Ambrose: Thank you, sir. Okay. We’ll see you all in the next episode and, in the meantime, create a great day.