After taking some time off to travel the country in a pink RV raising cancer awareness with his mom—a lung cancer survivor—Adam Rizzo was ready to get back to his contracting career. Hearing of solar’s increasing popularity, Rizzo went to work for a couple solar installers but was quickly turned off by their sales methods.
“There was a lot of high pressure, made-up rebates and discounts, gimmicks of iPads and gift cards—all this garbage,” he said. “They were just flat out ripping people off.”
Then, one day in the DMV line, Rizzo met an electrician who was starting a solar company but they didn’t have anyone to sell for them. That was the beginning of Palomar Solar (No. 225 on the 2016 Top Solar Contractors list) with partners Dwight Anderson and Reem Ateek—now in its seventh year of operation.
“I was looking to do business with someone in a way that aligned with my Midwestern values—really wanting to help people,” said Rizzo, who is originally from Kentucky. “I think solar is a great product and it doesn’t need gimmicks to sell, just someone who is knowledgeable and can educate the customer.”
Rizzo admitted doing business ethically wasn’t easy in the beginning, especially when other companies were severely underbidding projects and playing the change order game or offering gimmicks. But his team members stuck to their guns and installed about $6 million in solar last year. This year, he expects to double that.
As with most contractors, referrals are a major driver of Palomar Solar’s business. Palomar won a bid over a larger company for a 2,160-panel job on two WAXIE Sanitary Supply facilities, after being recommended by one of WAXIE’s executives who had Palomar install solar on his house. Having such a large project and the respect of a reputable 70-year-old company has been a great selling point for Rizzo and his team.
“Because of WAXIE’s reputation, I can sit in front of a customer saying no one did their due diligence more than WAXIE before giving us $2 million in business,” Rizzo said. “That’s a powerful statement.”
Another one of WAXIE’s employees referred Palomar to install solar on his community’s temple. Rizzo said Palomar has been able to work with more and more churches and temples, which are commonly under the impression they can’t afford solar because non-profits don’t quality for solar tax credits.
“The fact is that many contractors don’t know what they’re doing in commercial, and [they’re] selling solar for way more than it should be sold for,” Rizzo said. “Or, they’re underbidding projects and then writing change orders and this can be frustrating for these organizations which don’t see the numbers penciling out. If I bid a job, that’s the price. Once they see our numbers, it makes sense—a six- or seven-year payback without the tax credit.”
Rizzo said educating commercial customers is a process, especially with competitors trying to take advantage of them. “When I wake up, that’s what motivates me,” he said. “I feel like if I don’t get in front of someone they’re going to get ripped off.”
One platform Palomar has found to successfully reach as many people as possible has been through radio ads. Rizzo does the ads himself and focuses on educating customers on issues like net metering. “I think people resonate with a business owner trying to educate,” he said. “I actually say in every ad, ‘No free iPads, gift cards or made-up state rebates, just an honest assessment of whether solar makes sense for your home or business.’”
Rizzo and his team encourage people to do their research and meet with other contractors, saying it only strengthens Palomar’s image. He sees too many installers only caring about their pocketbooks.
“I saw a quote once,” he said. “‘If your success comes at the cost of your family life, health life or customer’s finances, then you’re not successful.’ If you just do the right thing every time and treat people the way you want to be treated, you’ll never be out of customers.”