SolarUniverse franchises the business of residential solar

Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

There are franchise models for pretty much every kind of business you can think of, so why not residential solar installations? That's the focus for a three-year-old organization called SolarUniverse, which is hoping to spark up the deployment of solar technology projects typically between 10 kilowatts and 200 kilowatts in scope.

In that time, SolarUniverse has developed approximately 20 franchise locations in Arizona, California, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

When I spoke with him several weeks ago, SolarUniverse CEO Joe Bono said he hopes to double those numbers over time, targeting residential contractors and electricians seeking to build new skills. Bono's rationale for franchising the business of residential and smaller commercial solar is that the local approvals and financing programs for these projects can be difficult for homeowners or small-business owners to navigate. "We continue to concentrate on the concept of the one-visit close," Bono said.

SolarUniverse seeks to make the process easier by support installers with more structured lead generation, financing, sales and marketing, and product distribution resources. SolarUniverse acts at the distributor for projects, getting technology from manufacturers to the construction site. "Franchising is unique to the solar business, but it is a business model that has been around for a long time, so we hope it will make people more comfortable," Bono said.

The timing appears fortuitous, if recent deals signed by the large home improvement retailers is an indication. Earlier this month, residential solar technology developer Sungevity signed Lowe's, which is providing access to Sungevity's iQuote fast-quoting system that helps people figure out the cost of installing a system. Home Depot teamed up with BP Solar some time ago to help make the residential solar process easier.

The fragmentation of the current industry, as well as consumer confusion over their technology options both make the timing right for a franchise like SolarUniverse, according to Bono. "Most consumers probably can't rattle off a brand, which is where we come in," he said.

Bono said many of the residential and smaller commercial deals that SolarUniverse franchisees are closing center on lease arrangements, typically ones that allow the homeowner to stretch the payments out over a 15-year timeframe.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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