Thomas Edds has done some eccentric things in his life, from traveling to dance in Europe as a teenager even performing at a royal Swedish wedding to bull riding in Midland, Texas. He’s also installed thousands of solar modules since he started Electric Distribution & Design Systems (No. 371 on the 2018 Top Solar Contractors list) as an electrical contracting business in 1982. And he’s stayed in business ever since without ever hiring a sales rep.
Edds first became hip to solar in 2000 when a friend asked if he could use Edds’ Master Electrician’s license to comply with state requirements for a renewable energy startup.
“I said yes, but only if he taught me everything he knew about wind and solar,” Edds said.
His friend complied and contracted Edds to do electrical work for solar projects. Unfortunately, the startup failed just months later. But his friend moved on to work for a larger solar company that continued to subcontract with Edds. Before long, Edds and his team had learned enough to install entire solar systems.
Eventually, that business failed as well, but Edds continued to find new partnerships that allowed him to keep installing solar without having to hunt for the next project himself.
Electric Distribution & Design Systems mainly partners with companies that only do solar marketing and sales and then subcontract out for engineering and installation. He has also negotiated contracts with companies that can’t keep their installation crews working year-round. By partnering with multiple solar companies, Edds has enough work to hire their crews and take over their installations as well.
“Then those relationships grow to the point where their customers are more satisfied with my team than with their own people so I wind up with all the business,” he said.
Edds works with anywhere from three to eight companies at a time, but says many eventually go out of business due to their inability to sell year-round. So he’s constantly searching for partnerships.
“Each year we have to find two to three new companies with a sales force that values our reputation of quality installation and respect for customers,” he said. However, most of the time companies find him. “It’s all about having a good reputation, and word gets out.”
While Electric Distribution & Design Systems outsources sales, Edds said he insists on meeting with the customer and doing his own site assessment to set realistic expectations.
“I always tell them what we can give and what we cannot give up front, so no one will be disappointed,” he said.
While Electric Distribution & Design Systems does get referrals, they only account for about 5% of its business. As work ebbs and flows, Edds and his partner have finally decided to try other lead sources to smooth the “solar coaster.” They’re checking out online lead generation platforms such as Google, Yelp and SolarReviews to reach more stability.
This story was featured exclusively in our 2018 Top Solar Contractors issue. See the issue and full list of top U.S. solar installers here.