Arkansas is an expanding solar market. Ranked 36th in the nation for installed solar in 2019, the state climbed to 25th in 2020. Some of that growth can be attributed to Shine Solar, a five-year-old installer headquartered in the state’s northwest corner. CEO Nick Gorden has approached the Arkansas market with education first, and it’s paid off.
In this episode of the Contractors Corner podcast, Solar Power World editor-in-chief Kelly Pickerel talks with Gorden about how the company uses educational marketing in smaller cities to gain trust in new markets. Now with the Shine Solar moving into states like Mississippi and Oklahoma, that education aspect will continue to be important.
A portion of the interview is below, but be sure to listen to the full podcast for even more insight, including how Shine Solar customers view battery backup, what financing trends are hitting the middle of the country and the solar roofing products the company is excited to try.
Find the Contractors Corner podcast on your favorite podcast app.
How did Shine Solar get started?
February 2021 is actually our five-year anniversary. I have a younger brother, and he and I founded the company together. Both of us were in the solar industry prior to starting Shine, but we were largely working out in the west in places like Arizona, Nevada, California. Our hometown is Bentonville, Arkansas. We just didn’t feel like it was fair that only people who lived in coastal areas or western states were able to get the upside and get the benefit from going solar. We began talking about how cool would it be if we could just move back to our hometown and bring this technology to a part of the country that’s a little bit behind. These western states, the cost of electricity is far more expensive than in Arkansas. In San Diego you might be paying upwards of 30-cents/kWh for electricity. In Arkansas, it’s 9-cents/kWh. The thought was, could we actually start a solar company here and be profitable? Could we make it work in a place like this? We decided to go for it. We came back here and took a very education-based marketing approach. We were able to get here first and get anchored. The rest is history.
You recently hired a CFO. Why add that position?
We have a great accounting staff, a great controller, but as our business gets more complex, we need more sophisticated experience on that side of the business. So as we met with Dave Chidester (Shine Solar’s new CFO) and had interviews, we felt like he had done some things in his career that could help with potential capital raising efforts down the road or even putting together our own fund. Hiring a CFO is just a natural progression inside any company. The best analogy I make is, you’re driving your car down the highway and it starts to rain and your windshield wipers don’t work. You can see even if it’s blurry, the lines in the road keep you there, but you have to reduce your speed. A great CFO is like a great pair of windshield wipers when it starts to rain. You can turn those wipers on and still go the speed limit and go as fast as you need to. You have the confidence to go fast even when there’s an obstacle. I want to continue to grow and continue to go fast, so let’s make sure we have clear visibility when it comes to the accounting and the finances inside our organization.
Shine Solar has a scholarship program for students interested in renewable energy studies. How does the future look for those interested in getting into solar?
We’ve been doing this now for about three years. Twice a year we’ll give out a scholarship. It’s a way that we’ve been able to continue to give back to communities and give back to college students that want to study this. Right now there’s a tailwind behind this industry that’s stronger than it’s ever been. Anyone who gets involved, they’re driven and motivated by doing great work, providing an excellent experience to their customers. I think it’s fantastic that anybody out there that has good intentions and has good business sense is going to be able to be successful, whether they’re in San Diego County where there are 500 licensed solar companies or whether they’re going into a brand new state.