When another Houston solar company was getting out of residential business, and panel prices were declining, Garret Gordy, a passionate conservationist, seized the opportunity to make a positive impact on the environment. He founded Texas Solar Outfitters (now a SPW 2014 Top 400 Contractor) in 2010 with three other partners, one being a master electrician, which provided the company with their electrical contractor license.
“Solar was a way Garret felt like he could help the environment,” says Cal Morton, the company’s sales and marketing executive. “He had the financial resources to get this business off the ground and allow us to grow, and to lose money initially, when other people wouldn’t have.”
The first sales person was hired in 2012. Three short years later, the company employs 16 and continues to grow, especially in the residential market.
“We do more residential jobs by far,” says Morton. “But on a revenue basis, I would say we are 60% residential, 40% commercial.”
In the last few years, Morton says Texas Solar Outfitters has completed close to 80 residential jobs and 6 commercial jobs, all within the greater Houston area. More than 6 million people reside in the company’s district service area and the population increases almost daily, leaving no shortage of work for the PV and solar thermal installation company.
“One of the things I like about this industry, especially in this growth state and our unique place in the market here in Houston, is that we’re very fortunate to have a lot of people who are interested in what we do,” says Morton, who previously worked as a stock broker. “I enjoy being busy. It keeps your mind active and makes you feel good about your day.”
Luckily Texas Solar Outfitters is located in a densely populated area, because without those numbers, the company might be struggling, especially in an unincentivized market. Financing is almost non-existent in Texas for the solar industry and there’s no viable leasing product either. Morton says the company mostly deals with cash transactions and can only recall two projects that were financed. Likewise, Houston does not offer any local utility rebates or city rebates, making it difficult for smaller solar companies to enter, and stay in, the market. Morton’s advice: Keep a tight grip on your marketing budget and be pro-active about generating business opportunities.
“I think you have to get out and beat the pavement around your jobs,” he says. “Get out in the neighborhoods and talk to the folks around your job sites, go to local schools, offer yourself as a speaker at events. Everybody loves to hear about solar, especially because it’s new to them.”
Solar is new, and it’s here to stay. While the industry may not grow at the exponential rates that it has over the last four years or so (90% of all solar in the U.S. has been installed since Q1 2010), it is going to have a healthy growth rate moving forward.
“From a financial planning perspective, I like selling solar because as long as the sun keeps rising, you can present numbers to a customer and they can count on those numbers,” says Morton. “You can sell a good, high-quality product and sleep at night. It’s just a pleasurable business to be in all around.” SPW
By: Michelle DiFrangia, Special To SPW