CSE is capable of fine-tuning, improving or repairing solar panel systems as need be. The company is also capable of providing consulting services. There are many customers who do not fully understand how solar energy systems function and can benefit from the consulting function. Consulting will also act as a marketing tool, driving customers to our sales and installation business.
In the early stages, the business is expected to be small. The partners will be responsible for the companys work in the early stages of development. The staff will number three. However, because we view the market as being subject to rapid growth, it is expected that the company will be able to grow rapidly. There are contingency plans in place to help shepherd the company through a rapid growth process.
During the launch phase of the company, a small office will be required to support the back office function. One receptionist/dispatcher/bookkeeper will be required to work in the office part-time to assist the partners. Supplies needed to build the business will need to be acquired. At the office, this will include office furniture and equipment, including lap tops for the technicians. A truck will be required — a pickup is fine — and should be painted to serve as a mobile advertisement for the business. As well, the partners will require tools in order to perform installations. These supplies, except for the truck, will cost in the area of around $10,000. The truck could cost between $15,000-$30,000 depending on the availability of a quality used vehicle (i.e. On that is devoid of physical defect, which would detract from the image that the company is trying to project). This gives a total supply cost of $25,000-$40,000.
The partners in the business are Paul Smith and Marcin Bakula. Smith, 25, is a licensed solar panel installer with five years of experience in the industry. His primary role in the company will be in the installation, consulting and service functions. Paul will have some managerial input, especially with regards to technical matters. Paul will have 50% of the equity in the partnership. His work experience is primarily in solar panel installation. Paul also has customer service experience from prior part-time work and has dealt directly with customers on technical issues during his tenure in solar panel installation. Paul has the blessing of his previous employer in this venture and is not subject to a no-compete clause.
Marcin, 23, will be in charge of the business aspect of the business. His role will be split between time at the office and time on the road. Marcin will manage the sales function acting as a liaison with both customers and potential customers. Marcin will also perform the management functions at the company, including the hiring of the office staff, the preparation of budgets, the handling of governmental paperwork, accounting and other business functions. Marcin is finishing his undergraduate degree in business administration. This included coursework on running small businesses, accounting, marketing and management. Marcins work experience is in retail sales and customer service, giving him strong interpersonal experience and the ability to close sales and to offer a superior level of customer service. Upon completion of the degree, Marcin will move full-time into the launch of Connecticut Solar Energy. Marcin will have 50% equity in the venture.
The company is going to be operated on a split mobile/office platform. The office will be the center of customer contact and will be where records are kept. The office will be located at 331 New London Turnpike in Glastonbury, CT, in a small office visible from the road. The office will contain a fireproof safe and other security measures in order to protect the company and its most important information.
The two partners expect to spend most of their time on the road, meeting with and servicing customers. To facilitate this, they will be in constant contact with the office and with each other. The use of mobile technology — laptops, Blackberries — will allow for them to be on the road without compromising the flow of communication. This use of mobile communication will allow them to service a broader area than would otherwise be possible for such a small company. The service area is expected to be roughly the state of Connecticut, although the primary market will be in the greater Hartford area, including New Britain, Manchester and west to Bristol. The population of this area is approximately 1.2 million and the states population is 3.5 million.
Business is expected to be concentrated in the Hartford area, in particular in the suburbs, which have a greater concentration of wealth than in the inner city.
Leads are expected to be generated through advertising, through word of mouth, and through referrals from agencies such as the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund. The initial point of contact will be the office, either through the office staff member or through Marcin. When the office staff receives an inquiry, this will be passed along to Marcin who will then follow up. The customer will be contacted over the phone initially and an appointment scheduled for consultation. Only once the consultation has taken place is a visit by Paul scheduled.
The consultation will reveal the amount and scope of the work that needs to be done. With this knowledge, either Marcin or Paul will be able to ensure that adequate supplies are on hand. Once the supplies are ready, the appointment can take place. Paul will do the work, with the bill presented to the customer at that time based on the estimate provided by Marcin. An incentive will be given for early payment in order to keep accounts receivable low.
Technology will be used in many ways in this company. As mentioned previously, mobile information technology will be critical to maintaining constant communication between the partners and the office. This will allow the partners to spend more time on the road, making sales and installing solar panels. In addition, two other major uses for software will be inventory management and customer relationship management.
Inventory management is critical for two reasons. The first is that it helps to keep costs down. The more inventory is held by the company, the larger the office and storage space needed will be. In addition, inventory represents money spent that is not earning the company revenue. Efficient business practice demands that inventory levels be tightly controlled, sufficient only to ensure that there are no delays in service. An inventory management system will allow the partners to keep careful track of inventory and ensure that ordering is conducted in a timely fashion. Having a professional inventory management system will allow the partners to link with their suppliers, streamlining the ordering process.
Solar panel customers can be repeat customers, even at the retail level. These customers, after seeing the financial benefits of solar panel, may wish to expand their use of solar energy. As such, it is felt that a strong customer relationship management system will allow CSE to drive repeat business. The cost of a new sale from an old customer is much lower than the cost of an equivalent new sale from a new customer. Therefore, a CRM system is required to log all information about each customer. This allows anybody in the company to easily access customer information in the event that the customer makes another contact. It also allows Marcin to schedule follow-up calls that may generate either service or new installation business. In addition, such follow-up communication allows the company to better understand the value that it offers customers. It will help to provide customer satisfaction benchmarks that the company can use to improve its service function across the board. At this point, the companys knowledge of its customer is largely speculative. The process of information gathering is essential to adapting marketing, sales and service systems at a later point.
There are several elements to the marketing plan that need to be considered. These are pricing, distribution, promotion, produce forecasts and controls. Each of these will be considered in turn in this section of the business plan.
There are two elements to price — product and service. The price needs to reflect the nature of the marketplace and the overall strategy of the company. Solar panel installation is a largely undifferentiated field. The level of competition is high but there are few dominant competitors. Connecticut Solar Energy can focus on developing competitive advantage by offering superior service, but this is not a source of sustainable competitive advantage. The company can also compete on the basis of a low cost strategy, but to succeed this will require high volumes, something that is all but impossible for a two-person company.
The price, therefore, should reflect a premium positioning but should also be set with the understanding that the company has yet to establish a premium product/service offering in the marketplace..