While electrical contractors demonstrate proficiency in completing electrical projects, the process of prospecting for leads, securing contract opportunities and promoting their skills to targeted audiences are necessary components of a thriving business. However, contractors sometimes don’t devote enough attention to marketing activities.
Marketing is critical to success in today’s competitive electrical systems arena, particularly with the increasing popularity of a range of energy-efficient technologies such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs), solar/renewable products, electric vehicle charging stations, and more, which rely on the support of knowledgeable and qualified contractors to drive them forward. With practice and diligence, ECs can effectively position and market themselves for greater success in today’s dynamic and lucrative marketplace for emerging energy-efficient technologies and upgrades.
Become an integrator
As LEDs continue to replace conventional lighting technologies in the market’s broad range of commercial/industrial, residential, outdoor and general lighting applications, ECs are wise to reassess their business model and reposition themselves to support today’s digital era.
“With the growing reality of today’s Internet of Things, contractors will need to evolve from being technicians who simply change out lamps or ballasts to becoming ‘integrators’ who help connect everything—from [heating, ventilating and air conditioning] and lighting to automatic shades, thermostats and security systems—in today’s smart buildings,” said Bill Attardi, 45-plus-year veteran of the lighting industry and principal of Attardi Marketing, Colts Neck, N.J. “Power over Ethernet [PoE] is here and the availability of Li-Fi introduces the concept of a wireless network in buildings which works through the lighting system to communicate information to occupants’ smartphones.
“Just as cellphones provide so many other capabilities today than just phone service, lighting isn’t just about illumination anymore, and supply sources—which will continue to include traditional lighting manufacturers—will also include new players like Apple, Cisco, Google and Amazon. Contractors and distributors will continue to rely on each other to help bring the best lighting systems to bear in the market, but they’ll also need to develop these new relationships in order to support and participate in opportunities within today’s new and interactive smart building environment,” he said.
Sell energy savings
With their high degree of field credibility and strong end-user relationships, ECs are well-positioned to sell energy-saving projects to existing and new customers as long as they are able to effectively speak the language of their decision-making audience.
“This involves having strong project management skills and selling energy savings by demonstrating outstanding understanding and/or execution of key aspects like payback analysis, rebate procurement, tax certification, photometric layouts and simple lighting fixture specification, project financing and proposal preparation,” said Jay Goodman, principal of lighting and energy efficiency consulting firm Goodman & Co., Philadelphia. “I think that the retrofit business as we know it is really just about actively selling projects, project managing, taking credit risk, sourcing product, and arranging the install labor. Electrical contractors who can sell turnkey projects from the beginning are in the cat-bird seat because they’re the one player in the current value chain that’s a constant. Having in-house strength in sales, marketing and prospecting/lead creation, or else retaining outside services to help support these capabilities, would be an investment that pays huge dividends for contractors.”
Consider city and government projects
Based on their desire to reduce energy consumption and costs, more productively leverage taxpayer dollars, and establish a greener presence, city, municipal and governments are high on implementing energy-efficient upgrades in their jurisdictions through installing such measures as LEDs, lighting controls, renewable technologies and electric vehicle charging stations.
Steve Rosenstock, senior manager of energy solutions for Washington, D.C.-based Edison Electric Institute, provided some examples of work that is available in the local government arena.
“Many cities and states are converting their street and area lighting from high-pressure sodium and metal-halide sources to LED technology and mandates are still in place for making existing and new federal buildings more energy-efficient,” he said. “Contractors can visit the General Services Administration, Federal Energy Management Program and DOE Building Technologies Office websites for more information on upgrade opportunities in this active building sector.”
Jim Filanc, director of business development for Southern Contracting in San Marcos, Calif., encourages contractors to establish bonding capacity, a fundamental requirement of construction projects with cities when conducting a city-based lighting upgrade.
“Typical LED conversions range in value from about $1 million to well over $20 million, with the average being about $3–5 million, so an electrical contractor needs to have their banking and bonding relationships in place in order to compete,” Filanc said.
Support baby boomers
The number of Americans over age 65 is expected to double to 72 million within the next 25 years and account for some 20 percent of the total population by 2030. Studies reveal that an overwhelming majority of seniors want to age in place. For this reason, baby boomers represent an active, affluent and influential community that will drive demand for a variety of specific products and services within the EC’s wheelhouse. Among these are upgrades to lighting, security systems, and home automation and control.
“What people want as they get older is to preserve their independence and way of life for as long as possible, but many people don’t really know what they need to do to their homes so that they can stay there for the long-term and will definitely require the expertise of electrical contractors,” said Amy Levner, former manager of livable communities for AARP in Washington, D.C.
In that capacity, ECs can support this segment with the installation of overhead and task lighting, navigational lighting, easy-to-use security systems, and solutions that can help control indoor and outdoor lights, temperature settings, and even alert family members or authorities of issues or accidents. Thanks to their energy-efficiency, long life and availability in a variety of color temperatures to support seniors’ changing visual needs, LEDs can be great options for older Americans.
To further enhance their safety and accessibility, seniors may benefit from the elevation of electrical sockets to a height of 22 inches from the floor, another upgrade that ECs can push. Contractors can pursue any of these opportunities by working to get on an approved list of providers for local active adult or senior living communities or homeowners’ associations.
“It’s an active time for energy- efficient product rebates, thanks to a range of federal, state and electric company incentives,” Rosenstock said. “In the category of LEDs, many electric companies are making rebates available to homes and businesses that upgrade to high- efficiency LED fixtures. For solar products, the federal tax credit of 30 percent has been extended for projects under construction through Dec. 31, 2019. For electric vehicles, the federal tax credit of up to $7,500 is still in place and federal tax credits for EV charging stations in homes and businesses were extended through the end of 2016. For solar technologies, electric vehicles, and EV charging stations, states and localities may offer additional tax credits or incentives as well.”
Rebates abound, according to the team at BriteSwitch, a Princeton, N.J.-based company that specializes in managing and securing rebates, tax incentives and other financial rewards (primarily in the lighting arena) for commercial properties nationwide. Currently, some two-thirds of the nation’s roughly 3,000 utility companies offer rebates on energy-efficient technologies. Among these, LED tubes designed to replace conventional fluorescent lamps represent a “huge” opportunity if contractors can match their LED solution being used (e.g., “Plug and Play,” “Ballast Bypass,” or “Tube and Driver” options) to the rebate opportunity available.
Rely on industry resources
A variety of organizations and resources are available to keep ECs on top of market and project opportunities. Among these are lighting-related organizations such as the Lighting Research Center (www.lrc.rpi.edu), the International Dark-Sky Association (www.darksky.org), the Illuminating Engineering Society (www.iesna.org).
Organizations such as BriteSwitch (www.briteswitch.com) and the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (www.dsireusa.org) provide information on energy-efficient product rebates and incentives by state or utility.
Resources within the renewable-energy market include the American Council OnRenewable Energy (www.acore.org), the Electric Drive Transportation Association (www.electricdrive.org), and the Solar Energy Industry Association (www.seia.org). The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (www.nema.org) represents a comprehensive and long-standing source of information and updates related to the broad range of electrical products.
Stay ahead of the curve
In addition to current energy-efficient products, ECs should familiarize themselves with the technologies on the horizon so that they can play a leadership role as these technologies eventually take hold.
“Some customers and federal agencies are looking at installing energy-storage solutions, such as battery systems that accompany on-site renewable electricity production systems like solar PV panels,” Rosenstock said.
Filanc agreed, and listed some other technology possibilities for the future.
“Battery storage and microgrids are emerging solutions,” he said. “Electrical contractors should also pay attention to community choice aggregation, or the process of municipalities becoming their own utility.”