Solar Energy Made Easy
Sunlux commits to complete customer satisfaction
A radical idea brought three men together in January 2015. Their idea was to make solar energy as easily accessible as traditional electricity. This complicated field has faced many obstacles, but Joe Benko, Guillermo Santomauro and Mike Valencia left their jobs and set out to attain their lofty goal by forming Sunlux, a solar panel and roofing contracting company.
It didn’t take long to make their vision for solar energy a reality. After almost five years in the business, the three owners have been part of 8,000 solar panel installations, often earning new customers through client referrals. Online reviews tout the ease of the process for clients, high praise for these entrepreneurs who want to build a firm foundation for the solar panel industry. The team handles everything from getting permits to installing the panels. “The only thing customers have to worry about is what to do with the savings,” says Joe, Sunlux’s President and Chief Financial Officer.
Sunlux typically completes about 1,200 solar panel projects and several commercial roofing jobs in a year. The company’s credibility and growth are reflected in its online reputation. “We are proud of our top ratings across every online platform,” Joe says. “We’ve built our reputation on providing world-class service to our customers. From the Better Business Bureau, Consumer Affairs, Solar Reviews and Google, we have accomplished steady top rankings.”
Innovative Approaches to Anticipate Obstacles
The guiding principle at Sunlux, based in Rancho Cucamonga, California, is complete customer satisfaction. With more than 30 years of combined experience in solar energy, construction management, engineering and finance, the executive team offers unique, specialized leadership in the solar industry. According to Joe, the business sets itself apart from competitors with its ability to focus on data and metrics. A company’s leadership rarely decides anything without data.
Sunlux looks at customer surveys, top-selling products and installation processes. Insights gained from that data inform the team on what works. “We have instincts, and that triggers ideas, new strategies or products,” Joe says. “However, it always comes down to numbers, something that the construction industry is lacking. I don’t mean financial statements, either. I’m talking about running a company that is heavily armed in metrics.” The company also measures historical weather data, labor costs and material costs. By analyzing this feedback, leaders can determine best practices for the company and their clients. Joe discloses his team’s intent to go to Texas and start studying the data there: “We will analyze labor costs, how many jobs we think we can get, the marketing costs, and how much additional capital we would have to invest.” Determining this information decreases the risk involved for Sunlux and saves customers money. In addition to those benefits, a metrics-based mindset allows the company to strategically position itself against competitors.
Since Sunlux is data-driven, the team is able to anticipate many potential issues well in advance and has multiple backup plans if the main strategy fails. “We face obstacles and challenges like any business,” Joe says. “However, we can proceed forward with ease, because we are well prepared and plan for everything.” Analyzing electrical consumption and design styles helps Sunlux interpret where potential problems may occur. Joe explains, “You look at how much electricity the client is consuming for the year and then look at the client’s roof to determine sunlight exposure. We can then custom-build a system based on that need.”
Sunlux doesn’t just install solar panels. The company guides clients through the whole solar panel process. The staff explains how solar panels work. Then, it pinpoints what the customer really needs to achieve the desired result. At the end of the day, Joes says, “Our goal is to provide an electric rate lower than the utility company and get the client to net zero on electricity expenses.” The energy-conscious business also maintains and fixes the products it places on customers’ houses. With plans to expand into Texas in 2020, and then on to Nevada and Arizona, Sunlux is quickly capitalizing on states where solar panels make sense and build value.
Empowering Employees to Thrive
Sunlux employees are encouraged to share innovative ideas, and that open-door policy helps the company thrive. “We know what it is like to not be respected, not be able to share ideas,” Joe says. “We all want to feel like we belong and that our thoughts and ideas are being heard.”
Sunlux’s leadership wants to facilitate an atmosphere where every employee—there are more than 100 of them—is competitive and driven and has a great attitude. “When people are passionate about their jobs, they add tremendous value,” Joe says. “Passion is infectious and radiates that energy throughout the company. These employees have a winning mentality. Often, they act as if they own the company themselves, which is a beautiful thing to see.”
Team members work both independently and collaboratively, with synergy modeled by their leadership. The company recognizes that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. “I think it’s important to find and surround yourself with individuals that complement you and have skills you lack and vice versa,” Joe says. Micromanagement is not part of the equation here. “Our culture is like the old saying, ‘Work hard, play hard,’ ” Joe says. “Our company rewards hard work.” Sunlux rewards its employees with group activities, including reserving a suite at the Dodgers game for employees, an evening at Dave & Buster’s and rounds of mini golf.
Priorities, Plus a Purpose
Besides focusing on complete customer satisfaction, the leadership team concentrates on its employees and also business partners. Essentially, Sunlux wants to do the right thing daily with all of its people. “If you treat the customer well, ensure your employees are happy and have a purpose, and treat your business partners well, then everything magically just comes together and makes running a business that much easier,” Joe says.
Joe is proud of what the company has accomplished in such a short time. At the same time, he says, “You are always humbled by what you have built and the fact that you are responsible for hundreds of individuals because the ones you employ rely on a paycheck to feed their families.” He says that he’s always excited for what’s new in a day and enjoys “building a business and everything that is involved with it.”
As the company continues to grow, its leaders look forward to continuing to develop their employees, finding more efficient ways to perform the work, cutting costs and improving customer satisfaction—all while working toward the company’s mission: “To help you save money, live better and make a difference in your community with clean, renewable solar energy.”