Illawarra

David Love – Illawarra Business Leaders Interview

Episode #4: David Love – Sun People

David Love - Sun People

For the Illawarra Business Leaders Interviews, Trever Molenaar sat down with David Love co-owner of Sun People who are the leaders in Solar and Battery in the Illawarra. Over the past five years, David has worked hard to create a business where customer service and quality are the focus in an industry filled with many cowboys trying to make a quick buck.

This interview is filled with loads of useful tips for all budding entrepreneurs, and honest accounts of what starting a business is really like. Along with insights into the solar industry, where only 1% of the systems installed are actually inspected. David talks about how he comes across cases where families have been sold quality systems only to find out later when the businesses have gone bust that they haven’t got what they paid for.

Find out what is sexy about Solar, how Elon Musk is influencing the industry, how many years it takes to pay off your solar investment, and more.

Sit back, relax and enjoy episode #4 of the Illawarra Business Leaders Interviews with David Love.

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Podcast

Transcript

David Love
But what we see more often is maybe 20 panels on a roof, and only 15 are plugged in. Or the customer said, Yeah, but the really good expensive panels five years ago, and we go up and have a look. And it’s like, you may have bought them, but they didn’t go on your roof.

Trever Molenaar
Welcome to series, two of the illawarra business leaders here are peel back the layers of a rich and diverse business culture, perfect for those interested in all things business. Now let’s get into it.

So the Illawarra Business Leaders continue, and I am talking to Dave love. So Dave, you are into solar. So let’s we’re gonna delve into solar something that people don’t normally think about when they’re going to start to talk about what is solar, but let’s delve into your company and let’s delve into how do we make solar sexy? So Dave Sun People tell us all about it.

David Love
Yeah, so my name is Dave, I am the managing director and co owner of sun people. We are a local solar and battery business. been around for about five years now. servicing the illawarra and the Southern Highlands, keeping it nice and close to home.

Trever Molenaar
Yep. So effectively Dave, your your primary business is solar. So solar panels, that’s what everyone thinks of. But there’s there’s a lot more to solar than just panels too. So tell me more about it.

David Love
Well, funnily enough, when we were thinking about starting some people, the idea was, let’s be leaders in the battery space. But five years ago, there weren’t a lot of options. And they were even more expensive than they are now. Yeah. But we pivoted pretty quickly to say, let’s install. And I suppose more on our constant consultation approach with our customers, not just cookie-cutter solar, I suppose. But let’s get into high service, high-quality solar and battery packages. And we have been outrageously busy. Yeah, since we kicked off.

Trever Molenaar
It’s it’s gotten, I mean, everyone’s talking about like, obviously, you need to, you have to build a house. Now you have to have sold now my guessing that’s part of the basics, and everything is so that that’s grown. But then I think the talk about Tesla, the talk about Elon Musk and everything around that. Has that changed your business as well.

David Love
When I talk to a customer about solar, Tesla is generally the first thing that comes up. Yeah, they want to talk about, hey, what are batteries doing? How much are they? And what will they actually do for me? What happens if I get an electric car in the future? Most people seem to be thinking about an electric car now. So does that does that affect the size solar system I want is that effect what battery I’m going to want. And also not necessarily wanting to buy the battery or the car now, but really planning for the future and Tesla has done, I suppose an amazing job for renewable energy everywhere, as making it a talking point, because they are a sexy looking battery. A mate of mine even sent me a message the other day of one of our recent Tesla installs and said Dave, and I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but that is damn sexy. Good Looking. Yeah, they’re this sleek, amazing looking box that can go on your wall, in your garage or on the outside of your home.

Trever Molenaar
It’s a bit of a status now.

David Love
Absolutely. And I think most of our customers who have purchased a Tesla battery, either are doing so because they’re they’re very close friends who have recently purchased one, or they’ve just got a Tesla car and realized it’s quite a big deal to charge those up every day.

Trever Molenaar
It’s a it’s an accessory. So biggest question of the interview right now. We’re going to get to the facts. Are Tesla cars sexy?

David Love
Oh, yeah.

Trever Molenaar
That’s good. Very good answer.

David Love
I was wondering you see this morning, tiger woods?

Trever Molenaar
Yes.

David Love
Was he driving a Tesla at night? It was half it was in half. So we couldn’t really see it. I was I was looking closely to go. Maybe a bit of bad publicity.

Trever Molenaar
It’s probably a good chance. Okay, so let’s get down to the nitty gritty what why would someone choose all?

David Love
I think solar makes absolute financial sense for everyone. If you have a power bill, and an unshaded roof, it just makes sense. So it’s more a matter of timing to come across the idea of solar. And once you research it, I think you will probably buy solar for your home.

Trever Molenaar
Okay, so if you were most of your customers, are they doing it for a financial gain? Or are they doing it for a social conscience?

David Love
Most are doing it for financial reason. I think at the moment, the environmental reasons are the icing on top. It’s what makes them feel good about the purchase. But I think most of all it is how can I get my power bill to nothing or how can I get it as low as power? Yeah, because I think power bill prices seem to still be rising, which is phenomenal. Even with all this renewable energy going in, the power bills keep going up. And it’s sort of your only hedge against rising power prices, get some control back.

Trever Molenaar
And I’ve noticed from from a real estate perspective, and certainly buyers in the last probably five years, we’ve seen more buyers looking for vegetable gardens, more buyers looking for solar panels more. And getting back to those basics. And renewable energy is a big factor that buyers are looking for now, too, so that that has to change your business in some form or fashion.

David Love
And I think I see it mostly in our new building market. So we work with a lot of local builders to install solar during construction phase. And I think in that sense, I’ve had the feedback from our builders, that they’re actually finding it easier to sell a home. If there is solar, yeah, of solar as an option. Yeah. And they’re loving the fact that it’s not just, hey, here’s your solar package. But there are a lot of different options out there. Would you like the small, lower quality? Would you like medium? Would you like the deluxe package into like electric car charging batteries and solar?

Trever Molenaar
What about big developments? So if you’re talking high rises in the city and things like that, are they getting on top of solar at the moment? Is that? Is that something that’s just not tapped into?

David Love
You could say it’s untapped? Yeah. We’ve done a project in through an apartment block there where we’ve installed a solar system on the roof of the apartment block to offset how services so all your communal lighting in the left? Yep. That one in particular, most units have an individual solar system up on that roof. Yeah, quite unique, though. I’ve seen that that’s the pavilions isn’t it is.

Trever Molenaar
So they’re very socially conscious people that are living there.

David Love
this lovely network of people. Absolutely. So that’s, that’s one way of doing it. Something we’re working on at the moment is another way to do it. So installing one big solar system on an on a high rise apartment block, and then divvying that up. So any unit within the complex can choose to have a segment of that big solar system, and have that offset their bills.

Trever Molenaar
So is that something that they have to bolt on later? Or is that something that he because the developer cost? It’s coming out of their profit, obviously. So is that something where it’s easier to be bolted on later?

David Love
At the moment? I would think so. Yeah, I would think so. I think if there are forward looking builders or developers who could see, that’s the trend. Customers, I suppose in nearly all of us now would like to think we’re being more environmentally friendly. Yeah. If we can use renewable energy, reusable coffee cups, whatever it may be, we want to do that. I’d like to think if I was buying a brand new apartment sold in 2022, or 2023. And there was a roof space that was sitting there empty, why doesn’t it have solar on it? That’s actually my train of thought it’s becoming abnormal not to have solar.

Trever Molenaar
And now we’ve just got to get developers seeing the financial benefit of that, and how that’s going to look in the next five years, obviously, there’s got to be a benefit for them. Otherwise, they’re not going to do it, it’s going to reduce their profit. And there’s got to be a win win there. And there’s, there’s something in that. Absolutely. So Let’s peel back the layers of of your business. Now. Let’s talk about you. So your core business is solar, how many staff he got

David Love
11, full time at the moment, and another seven install partners.

Trever Molenaar
All right. And any you are working in the business or you working on the business in a predominant corner?

David Love
Actually, 2021 has been my first few months of not working in the business as much. So really focusing, I’ve got a rule where I’m not allowed on the tools. Yeah, I’m not allowed to pick up my pliers because I’m an electrician, okay, and a solar installer by trade as well. Yeah. So there is always that desire, I suppose to jump in and help, you know, help out. But this year, I’ve taken a really conscious step to not do that. So we’ve put on three new staff this year, as the business is still growing. And it gives me a bit of freedom to step back and see the big picture and looking at it from a higher level.

Trever Molenaar
So what does that allow you to do? What does it give you time to do?

David Love
So far, I think support our staff, that’s been the biggest eye opener, so I’m actually able to have weekly meetings with our install teams, our admin team and sales team. So to discuss what’s going on in the previous week. What are we planning to do for the next week? That’s been the biggest change and a really positive change. But I think the other side of it is technical sales, which I suppose is a love of mine. So having a customer come to me and say Dave, I’m building this lovely big home. I’ve been clamor on a cliff edge, and we don’t want to use any power from the grid. How do we do that? And then we can launch into okay starts with solar. Are batteries included now? Or are we just putting in provision for future batteries? What type of cars are they having? Are they having a pool? How are they heat it? All those things can come into it? That’s my love.

Trever Molenaar
Yeah. And in your opinion, obviously souls a no brainer. How on a broad brush? How often do people? Will they pay their solar off? That’s the question that I guess you get.

David Love
We get Yeah. How quickly? Will it pay off? Is the question. Yeah, I think most customers understand it is a great return on your money. But how quickly, so for our go to solar packages, they would pay off in under four years, 95% of the time, you can spend a lot less on solar. And now go to packages, we just don’t like to play around in the low end of the market, at the same time you can spend. So a common system size that you might see everywhere is 6.6 kilowatts, that’s going to save you around $400 a quarter on your power bill, our go-to solar package might be $6,500. You can spend $15,000 on that same size system, if you do want to go the very best products on the market. And I feel that’s our role is to also talk about what are we offering? And why does it make sense for you to spend 15,000? Do you plan to be in the home for 25? years? Yep. Are you going to be leaving in five? And that’s what we talk about,

Trever Molenaar
you’re very much more consultative, as opposed to selling?

David Love
absolutely

Trever Molenaar
Let’s let’s talk you as a whole or the user person or your business leader. What does success mean to you?

David Love
It’s a really good question. I think the biggest focus for us at some people is customer satisfaction. So we see ourselves as a referral business. And every decision we’ve made so far is long term. So we have amazing customer base. So we get constant positive reviews, every time we get those reviews, I know every part of the business has been operating smoothly from the first time they come in and talk to our admin team through the sales process. I suppose setting up the job, the six weeks or so between sales and installs a little bit complicated as well. And then our team installing follow up support. And when we get a glowing review at the end of that rather complicated process that makes me know you’re running a successful business here.

Trever Molenaar
Okay, let’s talk marketing. You touched on the reviews and things. How do you market your business? Where do your clients come from?

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David Love
So I’m very lucky, my wife is studying marketing at UAW at the moment helps does Very much so. So most of our customers actually come from a refer friend program that we run. So we will mention at towards the end of the job to say if you have had a great experience, we’d love for you to refer your friends or family. We do a little bit of local marketing such as corflute signs at the front of recently installed jobs. We have very prominent branding on our vans. So that’s pretty common that a neighbor might pop in and say, Oh, hey, guys, I can see you doing solar, would you like to come and have a chat to us? We don’t pay for marketing. And we haven’t done for quite a long time, we actually found we’ve had stages of being too busy, where we just couldn’t service our customers the way we’d like to. So we scaled back all paid marketing. And we know if we keep doing the right thing for our customers, they continue to refer and it keeps going.

Trever Molenaar
So tell me being a business owner, you’re always the first to get the last leave in most cases. How do you juggle family life and work life?

David Love
I suppose I work a lot. And I did I suppose in the first few years, I was doing some rather outrageous work hours. Looking back now I think that was quite necessary to put in what I’d call the hard yards. That’s what got us to the point where we’ve got the right staff in place. Now we’ve got the right systems in place, and we’ve built up our customer base. In my spare time I’m doing triathlons at the moment. Okay, so trying to get home while it’s still sunny to go for a swim or, or a ride or a run whatever it might be. That’s never quick. No, that’s right. And I’m not a quick runner or rider so it’s even slower. But it’s about the balance that we find me and my wife at the moment. We don’t have kids yet. But date nights. Tuesday night and Friday night. Yeah, making sure I’m not working and I’m home at a reasonable time and getting away as much as possible. I think that that really helps keep a fresh mind.

Trever Molenaar
Yeah, so it’s like prioritizing things. So you stay fresh obviously, till let’s talk about your your first year in business. How long have you been open for now? Five years, so five years. So rewind first year of business, it’s always the hardest. It’s where most people either they sink or swim? How hard was it? Did it? Did it explode? Was it a slow burn.

David Love
So I was very fortunate my business partner has run an electrical business for it was about eight years prior to kicking off some people. So that really helped to have some experience behind us. I think the biggest challenge we had was finding suppliers, that would trust us that was quite challenging. customers, they just came once we took a different approach to what I think was locally in the market, where we did want to build a really long term business and focusing on that customer service. So once, let’s say a customer might get three quotes, that’s very common in the solar industry, when we were able to get in front of them and have a good chat, and they understand we’re real people, our office is just down the road, come and see us if you’d like to. And then comparing our quotes and our way of doing business with the others. The customers just came to I remember talking to our financial advisors early on, I was a bit stressed about if we keep selling too many systems, how are we going to install them? I was really, really worried about that. And that’s what they said, they said, Dave, go out there, see as many customers as you can sell all these systems, and then deal with that problem later on. And I think that was really good advice, because I was able to focus on growing the business, not the anxiety of how am I going to manage it, when it all comes flooding in

Trever Molenaar
best advice someone gave you

David Love
probably that you don’t have to focus on one thing at a time. And First things first, which was get those sales, get those customers and then build your systems of how you’re going to keep them happy.

Trever Molenaar
worry about that later.

David Love
Yeah,

Trever Molenaar
get the revenue in the front door.

David Love
I think it really was really sound advice. And it came at the right time as I was getting a bit worked up, as I’d been an electrician and an employee for about 12 years at that stage. And so, yeah, learning. Okay, what is this business thing that everyone talks about? And it definitely wasn’t what I’d imagined business was,

Trever Molenaar
well, doesn’t matter how good you are as a person or what you do, or whatever it may be, if the income isn’t coming in, there’s no business. So I think it was sound advice. But in that first year, too, did you ever want to give up? Or did it get so hard that you thought? Well?

David Love
Absolutely, yeah, I think continually, even even a couple of years ago, there have been times not necessarily that we were quiet. We haven’t been quiet ever. We’ve always been almost too busy. But it’s, I suppose the state of our industry is a pretty demoralizing thing at times. Just in the sense. There are a lot of players in the industry. And not everyone is installing solar with a long term point of view. So continually seeing what we call orphan systems. So the company that installed them have now gone broke. There’s no one to call and it’s not working.

Trever Molenaar
And I think that’s the same with every industry. That is this cowboys out there. And I’m sure there’s a lot of cowboys in Solar, there’s this cowboys in real estate, this cowboys in every field, but I think solar has a lot of them at the moment, doesn’t it?

David Love
I think, you know, I think it’s getting better, even in the last six months. But there’s some interesting statistics such as less than 1% of solar installations actually get inspected. And I think that’s pretty important that they’re leaving it up to trusting the business owner and trusting the trades people are going to do the right thing for 99% of the installs. And when you leave it, I suppose to business owner that might not have enough time on their hands or a too stressed trying to get enough money in or whatever it might be. There’s a lot of corners being cut out there. Yeah, okay.

Trever Molenaar
And a bad install. Where does that leave you? Is that Is there a fire is? What’s the worst case scenario?

David Love
Yeah, worst case scenario is a fire that’s been in the media recently. It can be resolved with using the correct products and installing them with licensed trades. People know what they’re doing. It’s that simple. Yeah. So a fire event. I expect we will never have a fire event. Because we don’t do business that way. So that’s worst case scenario, for sure. But what we see more often is maybe 20 panels on a roof and only 15 are plugged in. Or the customer said yeah, I bought the really good expensive panels five years ago, and we go up and have a look and it’s like, you may have bought them but they didn’t go on your roof.

Trever Molenaar
Yeah, wow,

David Love
and everything in between. Yep.

Trever Molenaar
Okay. So who, who inspires you in business? Is it Elon Musk?

David Love
It is in a way the boy means inspired by Elon Musk

Trever Molenaar
Cos he is an enigma isn’t he?

David Love
For me it’s he’s not afraid to think big. And also to talk about his big dreams. Yeah, I think for me. I might have big visions at times, but I might not share them. But he seems to be straight on Twitter going, Hey, we’re going to Mars that’s finished probably gonna pull it up.

Trever Molenaar
That’s what I love about it. He literally he has these big ideas, and he probably think bigger than anyone else. And there’s a great book called think big, but he he can think bigger than most better than he backs it up as well. So it’s,

David Love
yeah, it’s, if you for 10 years ago, say looked forward and thought, is he going to do everything he’s talking about? You would have to put your money on no It’s almost impossible.

Trever Molenaar
Well, hasn’t he hasn’t? Hasn’t NASA been trying to do this for a long time, and a government organization haven’t. And he comes and does it in a heartbeat.

David Love
And I recently read Buzz Aldrin’s book, I think it was the second man on the moon. And yeah, he talks a lot about that to say, Yeah, what NASA did was quite amazing to get everything off the ground. But it was a slow, expensive process and a lot of error along the way, where I’m sure Elon Musk is having error along the way. But it’s incredible what he’s doing. So yeah, he’s absolutely inspiring. And I think the one I think he definitely keeps me going at the moment. Yeah, as we are in a very similar space.

Trever Molenaar
Yeah. What about locally Is there anyone locally that kind of is really is your mentor, or whatever it may be.

David Love
I’ve actually got, I’d see as a lot of mentors, so I have quite a good network of local business owners. So my business partner, he runs a separate business. It’s just fantastic to lean back on him at all times. I have local plumbing, friends, carpentry friends who are in their own businesses, and it’s just amazing to be able to say, Hey, I’m just, this one’s a bit interesting. Can we talk this over? And to be able to do that has been so invaluable?

Trever Molenaar
Yeah. It’s just having a sounding board in most cases. And that’s where a good business partner comes in, because they are a sounding board. But how important is it to you to have the right person with you along the way, because business can can be very testing, and having that wrong person that doesn’t run with you? Or has different values? How is your line of work?

David Love
Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head with values. So Doug, and I, my business partner, we do see eye to eye on our values, just wanting to always do the right thing and have a long term point of view. I think we wouldn’t have worked past the first year if we didn’t have those same values. So yeah, vitally important. At the same time, I think our relationship has worked well, because he is more of a silent partner on the day to day operations. So I am able to make quick decisions, I am able to sit there and have a think for 15 minutes and then know that he trusts me to just go for whatever I think

Trever Molenaar
what advice obviously, a lot of people who are listening to this are either in business, or they’re about to get into business, what advice would you give to someone that’s about to set off on that business journey?

David Love
I think at the start, take your time. Understand, is it truly a good business plan that you have? Have you thought about what happens next? I think it’s worth thinking about what that might be having a strong network and not being afraid to use it. So that was something for me early on, it’s a little bit timid to make that call, I don’t want to annoy them. Yep, you know, but make that call, you’ll find most people are going to be really happy to talk it over and excited to talk about your business and their business and how they compare people.

Trever Molenaar
People love to help too, if you reach out, and this is what people need to understand. If you reach out, people love to help. And especially if they’ve been there, done that. And I get calls a lot by people who are starting their own firm and things like that, too. So and especially in different areas. So we were playing. Did you plan a lot before you started?

David Love
We did. We plan? Yeah, I’m a big planner. So we planned for almost six months, so potentially too long. But we got right into it. So to the point of hand picking every single product we wanted to offer. From that reputational point of view, if I was going to put a solar panel on your roof and say it’s going to last for 25 years. I wanted to trust it was going to that was probably the biggest thing we planned as far as business procedures. I think that took us a few years to actually get to that point. But yeah, I suppose getting into it was the most important thing as well. Once you’ve done your planning, you’re confident you’ve got a team around you just do it

Trever Molenaar
Plan but not too much. I think people can fail from planning to so there’s there’s a there’s a fine line. So. So have you have you achieved everything that you set out for your five years in having achieved everything?

David Love
Not at all? No. And it’s an interesting question, in the sense of I don’t have an end goal. And I think because of the industry we’re in, they won’t be an endpoint. So it’s really exciting to now be talking to our customers about electric car charges and how can I offer a product that allows the solar to know when it’s creating excess power and turn on your electric car charger. So you’re only charging from renewable energy? or How can I allow that inverter to turn on the electric heat pump in your pool? So yes, you’re heating your pool, but only from solar ever from the grid. These exciting things, they’re gonna keep me going.

Trever Molenaar
So solar is sexy?

David Love
Solar’s sexy.

Trever Molenaar
Okay, last question. If you were to be able to live anywhere in, in the illawarra, the old or illawarra is a is a beautiful area, where would you be?

David Love
So when we first discovered the illawarra, which was over 10 years ago now, and my wife lived there, and a camera, we drove from Queensland down the coast. And we hit a little spot called Austin, me. And we said, we had a little look online to see what sort of pricing of blocks of land or homes might be. And from there, I think it has been a dream of ours to live in those northern suburbs of Wollongong, something near the water. We love walking our dog on the beach twice a day. We love swimming. And I think we say it a lot to ourselves. So this weekend, we came home from being away, drove down manually and saw the other word and thought, this is just so beautiful.

Trever Molenaar
It’s very different, isn’t it? So it’s unique. It’s a different place that you’ll find anywhere else and drive with your Bulli Pass for me. I knew obviously, when you haven’t been home for a long time, he’s sitting in something very different. So Dave, Dave, from sun people. Lovely to talk to you. You too. And if anyone wants to find out more about that so they can catch you online?

David Love
Sure. Yep. Our website is sunpeople.com.au you absolutely feel free to to jump on there and send us a message. We have message box on there to write us an email or give us a call more than happy to have a chat.

Trever Molenaar
Good plug. All right, Dave. Good speaking to you, thanks.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Coming Up

This season we’ll be hearing from Brendan Down (Resin Brewing), Nic Squires (Illawarra Surf Academy), Greg Flood (Inspect Wollongong), David Love (Sun People), Barry Pearson (Papi Dulce), Aaron Cowie (Seaside Building), and Leon Keir (One Wellbeing).

If you missed the previous season be sure to check out the last episodes showcasing the area’s most talented leaders, entrepreneurs, and business people.

Trever Molenaar
Trever has worked in the industry selling property in the Illawarra for two decades. This life long profession has enabled him to dedicate him to art negotiation. Trever's own values relate through to his business life
  • The client comes first every time
  • Everything starts with integrity
  • Your resume is your last sale
  • It's a long game
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