The Smartt choice
At Smartt Solar Systems, the goal is to exceed customer expectations in all circumstances. The company is based in Queensland, and provide solar installations in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast. They specialise in power systems for residential homes, small commercial buildings, farm sheds and homesteads. By utilising the best breed of products, as well as unmatched application experience, Smartt Solar offers clients a green way to save on rising electricity costs, as well as an opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint.
Smartt Solar Systems is part of Smartt Group Pty Ltd, a parent company that also owns Smartt Security, the group’s first venture. Smartt Security is roughly 11 years old, and started its life selling electronic alarms, as well as acting as a dealer for ADT (American Daily Telegraph). From there, Smartt Security entered the CCTV camera market. “From electronic alarm systems, it just seemed to be a natural progression for us,” says John Kuchel, the Managing Director of Smartt Solar, and Smartt Group above it. Four years ago the Smartt Group diversified into the solar industry. Today, 25 per cent of their business remains security, and the remaining 75 per cent is in solar.
The idea for a solar based business in the Smartt portfolio originated in Europe, when Kuchel visited in 2007. “I saw how renewable energy was changing and evolving, and becoming very popular because of the extreme cost of electricity,” he says. After observing the emerging market in countries like Italy and Germany, Kuchel returned to Australia with a plan. “I thought ‘This is something I really want to be involved in’, so we started Smartt Solar Systems and away we went,” he says. “Funnily enough, it turned out there wasn’t a lot of difference between solar systems and security. It’s all cabling – it’s just that at the end of the cable rather than having a camera or an electronic sensor, we have solar panels.”
Before forming Smartt Group, Kuchel ran a home renovations and roofing company, where he also developed skills that were transferable to installing solar panels. “The knowledge of roofing is obviously very supportive of solar power, because basically all of the panels are attached to a roof,” he says. “So it’s been very helpful having that background and that experience.”
Sticking to quality
When it comes to standing out and sticking around, Smartt Solar Systems has relied on the high quality of their products and services. “We’ve learnt from our experience in security that it’s not just a matter of finding the cheapest price,” says Kuchel. “Those people that make the mistakes of simply purchasing the cheapest service will inevitably end up with a system that is substandard and over time will not be efficient, and lack of efficiency costs the consumer money, because the return on a solar system is based upon its performance.” In their security business, Smartt sells high quality brand cameras. At one point, however, their prices were undercut when a range of cheap Asian counterparts flooded the market. “But we stuck by our guns and kept using the premium products, which was a very, very good business move on our behalf,” Kuchel explains. “Because now with those companies you can’t get replacement cameras and you can’t get parts. Therefore all of those old cheaper units are now being replaced with quality systems.”
“We just took that same philosophy over to solar,” he continues. “We use quality German made inverters, which have a reputation for being the best available, and have been used in this country for over 15 years, so they’re conducive to our environment. Same with the panels, we use Australian made Silex Solar panels. We like to support our own country’s brands, but we also know they’re made for the Australian market and they’re a good, hardy product.”
Smartt Solar is not just backed by quality brands (and quality warranties), but quality customer service as well. Before installing a panel, Smartt Solar Systems offers a free onsite consultation and assessment, and complete and lodge all of the required paperwork. After the installation of the solar system, a company design supervisor personally inspects the system to ensure it is running at its optimum level, and answers any questions a client might have.
Smartt Solar’s customer service is truly unparalleled – in fact, many of their customers provide testimonials that particularly emphasise the quality of the customer experience. Kuchel says he ensures his employees are organised, professional, and accommodating. “I’ve been running sales people for 22 years, whether it is in real estate or in my own business,” he says. “We only attract the high calibre consultants. I make sure they all wear a collar and tie, and I make sure they represent the company in high esteem.” He also makes sure his staff is knowledgeable, and able to answer any of their customer’s questions in an informed way. For this reason, Smartt Solar conducts weekly training sessions to keep their people up to speed. “We’re constantly training guys and keeping them at a high level,” says Kuchel. “We like to say they’re the better ones in the industry.”
Up to speed
There are two main challenges facing Smartt Solar Systems. One is the inconsistency of government regulation in regards to solar energy. The second is other solar companies, particularly the ones who use lower quality products and charge less than them. Contending with the latter group is a matter of constant client education, Kuchel says. As was the case in their security business, he is confident that sticking with higher quality brands will pay off for Smartt Solar in the end.
When it comes to government priorities, the only way to deal with those is to stay on top of them – and plan accordingly. “We’re looking forward to a good start to 2012,” Kuchel says. In June, the government’s discount on solar purchases will be reduced. Smartt Solar Systems is prepared to capitalise on the frenzy Kuchel sees coming as that date nears. “We’re gearing up for that,” he says. “We’re also gearing up on becoming a bigger player in the commercial arena, because the focus of the Australian government is to move away from residential and more into the commercial space.”
Up to this point, most of the Smartt Group’s commercial work has been in their security division – which Kuchel describes as being 95 per cent commercial jobs and 5 per cent residential. The percentages in Smartt’s solar work, on the other hand, would be the other way around. “We’re looking at increasing that percentage in commercial in 2012,” he explains. “The government is tipping the scales that way. They’re looking at trying to support larger scale commercial installations in 2012 and onward.”
Looking even further into the future, Kuchel says his goal is to be constantly improving, but not necessarily growing. “We want to deliver a good product at a fair price – that’s basically our motto,” he says. “I’ve been down the track of having 135 employees and trying to run three or four businesses, and I must say I enjoy a smaller business. We’re more profitable now with one quarter of the people. My plan is to keep running a small-to-medium business. We’d like to keep it tight, and keep our customers services – and our skills – all up to speed.”
“We pride ourselves at being at the forefront of any new developments in an ever changing industry,” Kuchel continues. “Although solar power has been around for a long, long time, it’s only become a very commercial product in about the last four years here in Australia. So it’s a new industry, in a way, and it’s forever improving and changing.” The solar industry’s constant evolution means that staying up to speed is difficult, but Kuchel says it is too important not to. By being at the cutting edge of all new developments and technologies, Smartt Solar Systems is able to deliver a high quality package to customers at an affordable price – something they will continue to do, no matter what challenges lie ahead.