• Mark Lampman

Marketing Solar's Marketing Value

My wife, son and I went into our local outdoor store , Travel Country Outfitters©, not long ago to inquire about what kind of hammock camping equipment we would need to defend against Florida’s abundant heat, bugs, and rain. We were also there to fawn over fishing kayaks with foot pedals, and relaxation-inducing stand up paddle boards. Many of us Floridians consider proper camping gear and watercraft to be a baseline necessity.

We soon reached the point in our shopping experience in which all the questions had been asked and answered, every isle explored and my son was attempting to regain his freedom by performing acrobatics in my arms. It was at this moment Travel Country Outfitters’© sales lady Tina stopped over to say hello. I had come to know Tina over the years, so we started right in exchanging tales about my son and her grandson. We told her about our crazy plans to hammock camp during Florida’s summer, and she updated us on her mountain biking adventures. My wife took part in our exchange for a while but then started sending me not so subtle signals that it was time for us to head out to our day’s next appointed round.

I acknowledged my wife’s not so subtle signals by initiating a new conversation with Tina about Travel Country Outfitters’© recent LED lighting upgrade. LED lights for the uninitiated are the blood trail solar salespeople, like me, follow. The first step anyone even remotely interested in saving money on electricity takes is changing out their 1800’s era incandescent lighting technology for LEDs. Consequently, if you’re ever in Florida and see a large bald man inexplicably peering into light fixtures at a café, bait shop or someone’s house, there’s a good chance you’ve found me.

I wrapped up my LED lighting conversation with Tina and liberated my foot out from under my wife’s size seven hint that it was time to go. We all headed over to the cash register where I claimed the fruits of our shopping adventure. It took us a mere 60 minutes to find yet another Florida hiking guide to add to all the rest already haunting my car’s trunk. We also bought a replacement bungee cord to fix a broken tent pole, but sadly no Kayaks or paddle boards would be coming home.

I took the opportunity this sales transaction presented to keep talking with Tina about energy efficiency and solar. Tina was handing me my receipt and telling me that she would pass on our conversation when the store’s owner Mike appeared just over my right shoulder. Mike recalled right away a brief conversation he and I had had about solar outside by the kayaks well over a year ago. I was there trying to will a fishing Kayak into my car when we met and started discussing clean energy.

I knew my afternoon’s health and welfare was hanging in the balance as the wife and baby waited not so patiently in the car, but Mike’s eagerness to discuss solar easily convinced me to cast my fears aside. We started talking about where panels would be able to be installed, how much electricity he used and even upgrading the store’s A/C to a high-efficiency Japanese technology. Mike then started talking about his interest in adding car charging stations as a service for his customers as well as potentially incorporating a sun tracking solar array that would capture passersby’ attention.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Everything Mike was telling me that he wanted to do and why he wanted to do it took me four years and two graduate degrees to grasp. I have been looking for just such a visionary for a long time, and here he was! Mike was just the kind of eager clean energy enthusiast that I have been looking for to help me prove out the economic and marketing value I know solar offers businesses.

Every type of business realizes a benefit beyond electron production when they convert to solar power and adopt affiliated clean energy technologies, but no enterprise is better positioned to leverage that advantage than an outdoor store. Travel Country Outfitters’© clientele is decidedly more attune to and therefore value more clean energy’s benefits. I fully expect that these clean energy admirers will carry their positive impressions up TCO’s front step, past the kayaks and paddle boards and on through to the cash register.

My focus in designing Mike’s system would center around maximizing his investment’s brand and marketing value as well as its total energy production. The piece of land that is available for a ground-mounted solar array is located behind the store so it would be out of sight for his customers. Solar is exceptionally adept at fading into the background and quickly being forgotten, so it is essential that companies share with their customers how they are making investments in and contributing to a healthier community.

I would compensate for much of the system not being visible by installing prominent signage at the store’s entrances that celebrates the fact that Travel Country Outfitters© is 100% clean energy powered. Next, I would set up a TV to display an aerial view of TCO’s clean energy infrastructure along with its real-time electricity generation output. Customers will make noting Travel Country Outfitters’© electricity production part of their shopping experience every visit. Looking at the system’s production as Orlando’s seasons, weather and time of day changes are engaging and habit forming as I, a solar array owner, can attest.

Car chargers are just a natural extension to the solar revolution especially if your clientele is more likely than most to drive all-electric or hybrid cars. These chargers will say a lot about Mike’s values as a business owner all while committing people to shop at his store longer than would otherwise. The chargers would be featured prominently at the front of the store, and their location would be publicized on several electric car charging location apps. Bubbalou’s Bodacious Barbeque which is just two doors down may find that it too starts serving many more hungry electric car owners thanks to TCO’s investment.

SmartFlower Solar™ Art, Marketing & Electrons

The last and perhaps most audacious marketing and clean energy solution I would like to see Mike incorporate is the SmartFlower Solar™ array. The SmartFlower™ is a large flower shaped array that tracks the sun’s arch across the sky and folds up when the sun goes down, or weather conditions becomes too severe. I first saw a SmartFlower Solar™ positioned prominently in front of Ocoee Florida’s Innovation Montessori school. The school’s SmartFlower Solar™ array serves as a teaching aide, marketing tool, art, and even finds time to produce electricity. The system has impressive production output since it tracks the sun and because its “petals” stay cool due to excellent ventilation.

All of SmartFlower Solar™ array attributes are well and good, but I believe this investment’s real value lies with its wow factor. Travel Country Outfitters’© location is along the Altamonte Spring’s section of the busy and nondescript Route 436. This particular 436 stretch predates modern times, so most of TCO’s neighbors are small local places that have been there for decades. This road’s landscape would fit right in anywhere heavy traffic, power lines and old buildings comingle. Travel Country Outfitters© has great roadside signage, yet I still find it difficult to pick its location out from among that road’s urban malaise. Luckily TCO is an Orlando institution, so much of its customer base consists of longtime loyalists who have frequented the store for years if not generations.

The vision is to have TCO’s SmartFlower solar™ serve as a landmark along this nondescript highway stretch. The SmartFlower solar™ array would be located next to the road perhaps on a raised pedestal surrounded by landscaping and accent lighting. I can imagine kids being mesmerized by the flower’s unique look and commuters unable to help but check in on its everchanging orientation. Altamonte Springs, 436 and “Solar Flower” would be all the directions needed for someone to find Travel Country Outfitters©.

Travel Country Outfitters' Proposed Solar Marketing & Electrons

I suffer the life of a true solar believer, so I can’t help but work to prove that multicomponent solar solutions are an excellent opportunity for a whole host of commercial enterprises. Developing commercial solar solutions for businesses are tricky because owners are focused on their core enterprise rather than addressing something as mundane as electricity usage and sourcing. Those owners who are even aware of the fact that solar power offers real opportunity appreciate that they will have to commit valuable time and resources to insuring they are making a wise commitment. I like to believe that those owners that do step out of their comfort zone and incorporate solar into their business model will serve as the push other businesses and families need to follow their example.

I'm confident that once a few of these solar projects are installed and their value is proven, other businesses will follow the example set by pioneers like Travel Country Outfitters©. Who knows, maybe even Bubbalou’s Bodacious BBQ, will decide that it too stands to benefit from a few solar panels and a couple car chargers! Mark’s Notes:

- I appreciate that this flattering post about a local company for who I would like to install solar could come off as an infomercial. The reality is that this story jumped onto these pages that same day Mike and I talked. I discuss solar with companies and families all day every day but our conversation that morning served as the rare exception in which I was the student rather than the teacher. My experience was akin to that of a math teacher hitting his or her head against the chalk board trying to get students to care about algebra when suddenly someone jumps up and starts asking about differential equations. I could have written a theoretical version of this post but this real life illustration make these ideas more tactile and compelling. Try not to watch!

- What do you think about this post and how the ideas it put forward could influence your business or organization? Love to hear your thoughts and insights.

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