Billd and Ensemble discussion on the state of solar during COVID-19
Updated: Apr 14, 2020
Earlier this week, the head of our Ensemble Team was interviewed by one of our finance partners, Billd, about CED Greentech's reaction to the current state of affairs.
Paying with Billd™ allows Suppliers to get paid upfront while giving Contractors the flexibility to pay for materials over time.
See the Q&A below:
Billd: How often are you communicating with your manufacturers or customers?
JC Shore: More now than ever. As a distributor to thousands of contractors across the country, it's imperative that we continue supporting them through whatever means necessary. Traditionally with CED, support means more than taking project based orders; it means actually helping and advising our contractors across multiple dimensions of their business. While their needs can certainly vary at a time like this, it's an understood condition of employment at CED that we pick up the phones, engage, and provide genuine help. Despite the vast geograpies we cover, and in many cases the temporarily remote nature of the support beibng provided, I'm hearing story after story that speaks to the heart of who we are, and it makes a difference for our customers not just now, but in the long run too. On the manufacturer side, a lot of the systematic advantages in place today (for example, the ability to maintain steady supplies during an otherwise disruptive time) have been developed through ample communication and planning with our strategic suppiers. As you'd probably imagine during a time like this, the focus on this communication and planning continues, and the ability to support our network of customers remains because of it.
Billd: What are some ways contractors can be helpful to you during this time?
JC Shore: As always, the most helpful thing our customers can do is communicate with us, and be forthcoming about their needs. To truly support our customers, we need to understand where their strengths and weaknesses - those situations in which they struggle vs. the cases where they crush it. Oftentimes, it's difficult for a contractor to take the time for that critical self-evaluation, and it's not considered fun to talk about their challenges with their business partners. Maybe it's a lack of discipline in the routine, or perhaps it's just the human desire to avoid vulnerability. Interestingly however, it's precisely that discipline and that vulnerability that tells us we have a thoughtful partner that needs help. I'm not sure the answer to the question changes during times like this vs. a normal business environment, but I suppose our customers are generally more inclined to have these discussions with us during a time like this, when it's not a secret that most businesses need the help. And when we have the conversations early enough, we can oftentimes develop a plan that takes the partnership to the next level.
Billd: How are you communicating changes and updates to contractors and other partners?
JC Shore: This has become pretty vital as of late, as people on both sides of the counter are looking for the latest information. We're seeing a frenzied pace of change with various legal orders, inabilities or even new abilities and innovations with permitting jurisdictions, process changes and underwriting guidelines for project finance, etc.. of which is essentially just other entities trying to respond as they can, to the challenges presented through a period of uncertainty. We're seeing a tremendous amount of resilience and innovation happen both with the contractors and through our stores in the field. As best practices are tested and successful, the word tends to get out pretty quickly. We're seeing a lot of cooperation in resource sharing in order to better support our customers and provide them with the resources we're developing in real-time.
Billd: How much do you prefer cash payments over other forms of payment from contractors during this time?
JC Shore: I don't think there's ever been a day in our 60-year history where we've not taken a liking to cash, so of course today is no different. But that goes both ways and I really see it as good news. Our company was built on a foundation to endure, and that means engaging with our customers in a thoughtful manner and with a disciplined approach. Discipline means frequent two-way communication between us and our customer to develop and refine plans, and then a continuos and bilateral improvement in the ongoing execution of that plan. Life happens, and when both sides have effectively planned, the rules of the game aren't changed mid-stream. A core competency of distribution has been and will always be, the ability to support some of the cash flow needs caused by timing differences between a contractor's incurred expense and their payment for services. We've been at the leading edge of innovative solutions in this regard, and I don't see us pausing now for any reason.
Billd: What is your advice to contractors or other suppliers during this time?
JC Shore: We hear a lot of talk about protecting the employees and their families, which makes perfect sense We don't however, hear enough about protecting the business, which seems like one of the best ways to protect the employees in the long term. That means a team, or depending on the size of the business perhaps just the owner, taking significant time right now, to plan ahead by looking by modeling various factors (e.g. sales pipeline, project backlog, equipment forecasts and inventory, staffing, cashflow) across two dimensions: outcomes (likely scenario, best case, worst case) and timeframes (next 2 weeks, next two quarters, next two years). The exercise, while difficult when based on so many unknown assumptions, still provides consierable value by establishing some guardrails and helping the installer avoid both impuslsive decisions and indecision.
Billd: What are you doing to prepare for when the Covid-19 outbreak settles?
JC Shore: During time like these, I think a lot of firepower goes to solving for the current state, and understandably so. The best businesses however, are able to balance resources to solve for 1) the here and now, but also 2) what comes next and how they invest today to better position themselves during the recovery period and beyond. There's a lot of uncertainty today and a lot of data we still want to get our hands on, but I believe we're starting to already wrap our arms around what some of the future narrative might look like. It wouldn't surprise me if, in the future, more value is placed on resilience and stability. On a global level, it could be a simple concept like making our own medicine here in the US rather than relying on an outsourced model where 70% of our medication is made offshore and subject to supply chain disruptions. More relavant to our business, it could mean contractors with a reliable and bankable warranty for the product they install or the service they provide. Value might also be found in efficiency - a contractor's ability to market, sell and close remotely, or their ability to file permits and pass certain inspections via videoconverenc. We're already seeing a rapid movement by some municipalities and utilities to streamline remote support for both, albeit a forced response to the larger problem, but it wouldn't surprise me if we see these temporary band-aids become purpose-built by some and then later adopted on a braoder scale.