By Steven Bushong, SPW associate editor
Tech news outlets buzzed this year as online retailer Amazon announced plans to open brick-and-mortar locations. If the benefits of letting consumers touch and experience products before buying is enough for the top online retailer to start building, then solar companies might be wise to open showrooms of their own.
One solar contractor benefiting from showrooms is California-based Bland Solar & Air. Founder Glenn Bland opened his first showroom in Bakersfield, California, two years ago, and the focus has paid off. In the month after opening, sales shot up 40%, he said. Subsequent show rooms in Fresno and Templeton are also having a positive impact on sales.
Showrooms, of course, are carefully arranged areas where customers can handle products. Home goods retailers use showrooms to great effect, immersing customers in could-be kitchens or would-be bathrooms. Showrooms remove the mystery of products for consumers, who will get to see, touch and learn about a product. Solar is no different.
Bland said a common question from potential customers is, “What are you going to do to my roof?”
“So we take them right over and show them exactly what will happen—we remove that fear and uncertainty,” Bland said.
The Bland Solar & Air showrooms pop like an Apple Store. They exude bright colors and clean lines. Sales offices are beyond the receptionist’s desk, as in auto dealerships. Big-screen kiosks adorn the walls, where customers can choose from an assortment of informational videos on modules and inverters, pictures of installations and videos of installations in-progress.
“Then we have a rooftop section where we literally have all five of the mainstream types of materials—rooftops big enough to where we’ve installed the full-size modules and hardware being used,” Bland said. The showroom also features inverters and energy storage components.
Bland said customers are impressed when they enter the showroom. They’re always greeted by a friendly receptionist, and they’re never faced with high-pressure sales techniques. The primary goal, Bland said, is education.
“We have a refrigerator and television plugged into battery storage, so we can show a customer what happens when we turn off grid power,” Bland said, adding that residential energy storage, with or without solar modules, will be a big market soon.
Bland offered a few tips for installers thinking about adding a showroom: “If you’re going to do a showroom, you have to go high end, you have to go into the high-exposure parts of town, high traffic areas, and you have to follow up the showroom experience with quality construction and quality material.”
Six tips for engaging show rooms
How do you design a showroom that brings people in and encourages them to pull out their wallets? Here are some things solar companies should consider when designing their showrooms.
Make the customer feel at home. Solar shops can be busy, noisy places. Create a space that puts customers at ease. The products in the room should be appropriately spaced, neither overbearing nor too sparse. The color scheme and decorative elements should exude professionalism. Keep the room clean. In customers’ minds, a well-maintained space means you’ll also maintain their solar system. Finally, when the customer arrives, greet them warmly and, as Bland said, keep the focus on education.
Group products by type, not brand. Keep your energy storage systems in one area and your roof-mounted arrays in another. Inverters should be mounted to a single wall. Grouping products lets customers compare and comprehend their differences.
Decide what information you want to share. Clear and consistent signage that informs customers about products and services can go a long way toward making them feel comfortable. Make sure each product type is labeled. People learn in different ways—some may want to talk to a sales representative, while others may want to read. Interactive video kiosks are also a popular way to inform customers about your business, products, services, warranties and more.
Advertise your showroom. A showroom is worthless if it stands empty all the time. For his part, Bland advertises on TV, radio and occasionally in print. He also promotes the showroom via social media. “We get right to the point,” he said. “There are four major components to a solar project: education, system design, installation and continued support and monitoring. We state we’re the best in all areas, and we finish by saying, ‘Come on down and see for yourself—no middle-man sales, no sub-contracting, no pressure.’”