For our second interview in the “Get Inspired” series, I recently sat down with Cheryl Springer from Springers Solar. What was very interesting for me was how much of the lessons learned and valuing statements were in common with our last interview. I guess it says something about how family businesses operate. I hope you enjoy our second interview.
NG: Your website tells me that you have been in business for over 30 years and in the solar business for 15 years. What did you do before and tell me about the journey that took you to being involved in the solar industry?
CS: Prior to the solar business we were in the communications business; part of a national network working with corporate customers. We sold that business in 2002 but remained as consultants for three years during which time we thought about what we wanted to do in the future.
Brian is an entrepreneur and saw a niche in the market for meeting the electrical needs of people in campers and caravans. He quickly realised that solar was a great alternative. At that time solar was mainly a technology being used in the bush including in houses of people living remotely. That all changed in 2006 with the introduction of the solar rebate – solar power technology really took off.
NG: Peter F. Drucker once said, “Whenever you see a successful business someone once made a courageous decision.” Do you feel that going into business or the leap to Springers Solar was a courageous decision and if so why?
CS: Yes, it was courageous decision because we needed to anticipate that enough people were wanting to buy solar products. It was a very new technology and we needed it to be more mainstream not just something that remote users or environmentally passionate types wanted. Today most people install solar power for financial reasons not environmental reasons.
NG: Tell me about the types of strategies you use to grow your business and how you go about developing those strategies.
CS: The main strategy is about understanding our market and being connected to our industry, for example, working with a number of industry peak bodies. We make sure that we go to annual conferences to find out what is going on here and overseas. Springers Solar is an industry leader and we maintain that position by looking closely at our customers’ needs. We are not manufacturers; we are reliant on the technology that is available and the direction of the industry.
NG: Selling, servicing and installing solar energy systems is clearly a business that is about technology. How challenging is it to be able to keep up with the latest and greatest solar technology and where does Australia sit with this technology compared to the rest of the world?
CS: Yes, it is about technology. Solar is an accredited industry that means that you must be accredited to design and use qualified electricians to fit the technology. We are therefore, confined to using accredited programs that require compliance paperwork to be submitted to the government before solar installations are approved for rebates.
Australia is a microcosm for suppliers to use for testing and trialling. There is no doubt that small population and great distance are constraining factors.
Solar is huge overseas – in places like China, Spain, Saudi Arabia. Australia is really in catch up mode. And the biggest change in electricity supply is that power no longer travels in one direction from electricity generators to the home owner or business. Individuals, and others including large solar farms and wind generators, can also feed power back into the grid.
NG: Successful businesses and successful business people don’t exist in a vacuum; they have support systems. What has been the most valuable support to you in your business, the one that has had the greatest impact on you being successful?
CS: We have an external and outward focus. Since our early days in business we have had a business advisor. As well as that we have developed a sound understanding of our own limitations.
I think one of the best things is not being secretive; being willing and able to talk about what we do and of course a large part of that is that Brian and I have always had each other to bounce off for over 30 years in business. I think that being able to talk to each other and support each other has been a large part of the success.
NG: What is the thing you like best about this business?
CS: Without a doubt the best thing about this business is that it is a family business. That drives its success but of course it can also be a challenge especially with a large family. We pride ourselves on being a family business that is honest and ethical and hard working. That spills over into the community and benefits the community too. We also employ local people and we have a lot of long-term staff including third generation staff.
We always have space for young people. Currently we employ a 19-year-old grandson who has been with us for 18 months and he is doing a terrific job.
NG: What is the most challenging thing in this business?
CS: The solar roller coaster!!! Constant growth is great but can be challenging. Things like sustaining a profit, cash flow, attracting and retaining suitably skilled employees and ensuring employee development.
NG: Has there been any one lesson on this journey that you would like to share with others?
CS: I think it is important for someone thinking about going into business to completely understand that it will not be easy. You need good health and lots of stamina; you have to be able to demonstrate leadership. Know that there will be stress and stressful times and that you will need fortitude to keep it all going when things go wrong – and they do and they will. It is essential that you have other things to do and be passionate about, other than just making a profit in business.
NG: Any closing thoughts to share?
CS: In any business but particularly in a family business it is important to have rules, a code that everyone understands.
I did not expect to be in business for over 30 years, but it has developed me as a person; it has made me stronger and it has enabled us to care for our family in a way I only wished and hoped for when I was young.
You will find Springers Solar open, Monday to Friday 8:30am to 5pm and Saturday 8.30am to 1pm, at 704 Gympie Road, Lawnton, Queensland. Phone them on (07) 3889 8898 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the Springers Solar – Energy Systems Facebook page.
If you would like to be featured on “Get Inspired” give me a call on 0437080986 or by email at email@example.com.