Every good business develops when someone thinks they can do a better job than the competition. The Nienke family of Dubuque, Iowa, had been a pillar in the community for decades through its roofing and construction business, Nienke Services. The company had also been assisting solar installers for the last five years with installing roof mounts and anchors. After Nienke Services made all the holes in the roof, a solar company would come back in to finish the rails, panels and wiring — and Nienke Services wouldn’t even be referenced to the customer.
“We noticed that there was a hole in the marketplace,” said owner Jamison Nienke. “Some [solar] companies were horrible at upfront [sales] — providing quotes — but really good at installs. Other companies were really good at sales but didn’t really manage themselves properly.”
So Jamison and his wife Heather started Nienke Solar (No. 413 on the 2019 Top Solar Contractors list) in August 2018 to bring a more streamlined process to the local solar industry — serving as the sole contact throughout the project, without subcontractors.
“I was watching [Jamison] work with other solar contractors in the area getting the mounting brackets installed, and then we’d leave and you didn’t know what kind of service the customer was getting. You don’t get to see the end result or the happiness of the customer,” Heather said. “On the roofing side, we like to pride ourselves that we put that 15-year workmanship warranty on there. So with solar, I wanted to see the same thing happen.”
While Jamison did have on-roof experience, the Nienkes didn’t just jump into a brand new industry. They partnered with a solar professional who schooled them on sales, ROI, sizing solar systems and which product suppliers were best. The company had no problem adding well-trained employees to the team either. Nienke’s headquarters is just 20 minutes from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, which has a sustainability and renewable energy systems (SRES) program and plenty of eager, competent graduates looking for work.
“We made sure we had all the fundamentals before we started. Once we launched the business, we knew we could take care of customers front to back,” Jamison said. “We’ve been providing jobs to UW-Platteville students. They’re having a hard time finding companies that will take them without having the field knowledge. So being a growing business, the SRES program has been a huge success as far as helping us get a workforce that’s excited about renewable energy and solar.”
Nienke Solar installed almost 100 kW to close out 2018 — after only four months in the new business. The Nienkes said the community’s trust in a new company has been overwhelming.
“I was surprised how fast things took off. People seem to like local [solar contractors],” Heather said. “I was concerned [that] when people asked how long we’d been doing it, it might scare them. But having the roofing business there, they can see we’re in it for the long haul. We will service them if anything happened. The people have been so ecstatic, we’ve had so many referrals. It’s amazing just to see how receptive people have to been.”
This story was featured exclusively in our 2019 Top Solar Contractors issue. See the issue and full list of top U.S. solar installers here.