Different tactics in staffing a design team can impact soft costs, build and maintain a competitive edge, and reduce risk for a solar company in times of fluctuating sales volume. But let's look at another design-related strategy straight out of the pages of kitchen and bathroom remodeling that can affect your bottom line: tiered stock, custom, and premium offerings.
Custom Everything: Why?
The common operating philosophy of residential solar has been custom everything as a standard offering because each roof is different and each homeowner has different needs or desires. This situation is no different from what a contractor called in to submit a bid on a kitchen or bathroom remodel will face. However, the approach the remodeling contractor takes is different from our default in the solar industry. The contractor will look at square footage, logistical obstacles, water and electrical feeds, and listen to the customers wants and desires. However, they will also get an understanding of the kind of experience the customer will actually pay for.
The contractor will offer stock, semi-custom, custom, and premium lines of appliances, tiles, countertops, finishes, and even workmanship depending on the final price and experience the customer values and is willing to pay for. The customer may want a premium product and premium experience, but is only willing to pay for a semi-custom line of cabinets. They won't get the master cabinetmaker in their home for the semi-custom price, so why should solar installers offer custom premium experiences without establishing the value of that level of service?
Stock to premium tiers are more than just choosing products, it's about designing a customer experience and therefore orienting your staff, process, and tools appropriately. By establishing "stock" roof layouts ahead of time for common roof configurations, you can reduce the time necessary for design staff to spend working on permit packages. Spend the time to do analysis on the designs of proposals and compare them with sold projects. You will learn a lot about what roof areas are most common, what design layouts are most common, and what customer preferences cross-cut these areas.
Design staff can assemble templates covering 80% of the permit package ahead of time and customize with jurisdiction-specific, customer-specific information, and interconnection details. This dovetails nicely with operational strategies that employ design requirements databases and CRMs. Of course, design staff will always need to customize interconnections during retrofits where main service panels are different brands and filled to different capacities.
Overall, this strategy will put a higher value on custom and premium work and time-consuming jurisdictions while lowering costs on the "cookie cutter" jobs. This strategy will allow greater velocity for "cookie cutter" jobs so you can plan you business better to work on and deliver custom or premium offerings. By simplifying and standardizing "stock" jobs, they can take a different, shorter path through your company than custom jobs, which need more hands-on attention and specialized staff time.
You should carefully assign value to your products to align with your tiered system like higher levels of aesthetics, energy production per square foot, or $/watt cost. Learning what features associate with what value for your customer can help you price your offerings accordingly, develop premium offerings, and help control costs around custom work that often take up a lot of time for small installers.
This can help you simplify your supply chain while developing a continuous learning cycle about marketplace preferences and willingness of consumers to look at solar energy more like remodeling projects. For example, sales staff could present stock systems as a choice of two or maybe three pre-designed layouts that can fit within the customer's available roof space while on-site.
Custom offerings could involve more options for the customer to review or different products. Premium offerings could include specialized design work like awnings, carports, or ground-mounted structures complete with landscape architecture that often require the input of professional engineers or at least senior designers. Your website and sales materials can help customers see themselves in the different end results and help them choose the path that will work with the outcome they want to achieve and help them correctly value the services and effort that accompanies that product.