This is an installment of our Solar Spotlight series. Click here for our last interview!
With a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering and a decade of solar experience, Michelle Meier is one of those people you want in your corner and never on the other side of the ring. She is the founder of Solar Roof Services, a company that helps roofing contractors boost their income by adding solar installation services to their existing book of business. I had the opportunity to peek inside the mind of the woman who is helping drive the adoption of solar by monetizing the natural synergies between the solar and roofing industries.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your relationship to solar over the years.
I started in solar in 2007. I have a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering and I was in the semiconductor field for 20 years before solar. When I decided to reinvent myself I got hired by a roofer in San Jose and started their solar division. I learned solar from a roofing perspective from day one, which is really unique in the industry.
I later went to work for GAF and became their national solar sales director, essentially incorporating their residential roofers into solar. When we decided to part ways I was like 'I had done this for two other companies, let me do this for myself.'
What exactly does that entail?
I teach roofers how to take their roofing business and extend it to solar. It’s logical. We do that by partnering them with their current favorite electrician! I created an office that lets that contractor have no overhead. Our office does what you guys call a proposal, I call it a financial analysis. We do all of the utility paperwork, the permit package, and I even connect them to distribution. I help roofers turn every single roof lead into a solar lead.
You’re a seasoned marketer in the solar industry. Can you describe the solar landscape from your perspective?
My best way to describe it is-- when I started doing this 10 years ago, people would look at you and say “Oh my gosh, you have solar?” Another five years from now and it’s gonna be exactly the opposite: “Wow, you don’t have solar?”
In terms of the feasibility for homeowners getting solar, it varies. In California with the rates the way are, it’s almost stupid not to get solar when you can do the "no money down" options. No matter which financing option you go with, if you’re paying less for your solar payment plus whatever’s left on your utility bill than your current bill, it’s just stupid not to do it. I work with other states where it’s a little bit harder.
However, the industry is ours to win or lose. Mar our reputation or build a great reputation, it’s ours.
10 years ago, people would look at you and say “Oh my gosh, you have solar?” Another five years from now and it’s gonna be exactly the opposite: “Wow, you don’t have solar?”
How do you help the industry win?
I come at it from the roofers. One of the things that we’ve found over the years is an average home has 14 penetrations. A bathroom vent, a kitchen hood vent, other normal penetrations on the roof of a typical home. An average solar system has 25-50 penetrations. So you took that 14 to 64! How much more of a chance did you make of having a leaky roof? Why is Joe Blow allowed to poke all those holes in a roof and not have it inspected?
The direction that I come from is what makes the difference. The more and more we can give homeowners a trustworthy installation, the better our image will become.
An average home has 14 penetrations. An average solar system has 25-50 penetrations. So you took that 14 to 64!
What are the three most important pieces of advice that you give to your clients?
First, always lead with your value add as a roofer. The fact that you’re licensed to do penetrations, and you’re giving them a 10-year warranty on the roof, plain. On a tile roof that’s significant, for the following reason: if you walk across even a lightweight tile roof, you’re gonna break tile.
Second, pull the local card because your locality is one of the bigger advantages against the big guys. Do you really want to depend on a company that doesn’t even have an office here?
Third, go with the facts, don’t cheat. Underpromise, overdeliver.
Always lead with your value add, pull the local card, and underpromise, overdeliver.
What is the biggest challenge facing solar installers today?
For the roofer, the biggest challenge is that they’re new to the market and you’ve got all these established guys out there. So they have to sell their roofing reputation and hope that clients will trust them as they get into solar.
If you couldn’t work with roofers who would you work with to help transition into solar?
Electricians. Teach them how to do the roofing properly. Those penetrations; how to find that rafter, make sure it’s in the rafter, waterproof it, etc.
Any secret talents?
I was a competitive baton twirler. I put myself through college doing it; I was Featured Twirler for Mississippi State University for 5 years on a full tuition scholarship. That’s my secret hidden talent!