The only drawback to being young in the business world is the perception that it takes years to establish a true passion. In our case, our passion for more efficient and green living began long ago, with roots in Berkshire County, Mass., where we both grew up. But our drive to gear others in this direction and change the way Americans live stems from entrepreneurial programs at Clark University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute respectively; these programs led us to see that what we wanted to achieve was not only possible but necessary.
Our Road to Entrepreneurship
Whether it’s a conscious choice or a natural inclination (a debate for another time), entrepreneurs continually gauge their environments to see if there are ways they can be improved. Our first step toward wanting to do something came from memories of growing up in Berkshire County, and remembering winters just ten years ago with the snow covering the ground, three to four feet deep. Today, even in heavy snowfall years, we are lucky to get two feet, which often melts in a week. We weren’t satisfied to just wish things were better, so we started making small but significant steps toward living in a more ecologically sustainable manner and encouraging our friends and family to do the same.
At the same time, we noticed the media’s increasing coverage of environmental issues mirrored our personal concerns. It hit us then that our solution would be to take things in our own hands. So the two of us began thinking of how we could launch a business in the renewable energy sector.
For a long time we struggled with research and brainstorming, trying to come up with ideas to make our mark, searching the Internet, attending free seminars, reading magazines and anything else we could get our hands on. Then one day as we were out driving, the solution came to us. It was like seeing all of our ideas crystallized before our eyes-we imagined a place where consumers could come to educate themselves about what they could do with renewable technologies. We would create a place where people could touch, feel and see the products, and talk to a human being about them. However, we soon found out that someone was already running a similar business called USA Solar Store.
This chance discovery was exciting and disappointing at the same time. It was a shame to learn that our idea was not an original one, but there was a silver lining that still made the project worthwhile. The USA Solar Store is a cooperative (co-op) purchasing organization so we could actually own a store franchise like that ourselves. We now had the opportunity to work towards neutralizing our impact on this planet and make a profit in the process.
Taking the Plunge
Applying creative entrepreneurial skills learned in business school, we decided to join the USA Solar Store co-op. To us, the co-op presented the perfect opportunity to marry our entrepreneurial skills with our personal passion and work to build an organization that mattered to us. The litmus test was seeing how our work would make a difference in the world yet still give us a respectable income at the same time.
USA Solar Store is a grassroots business promoting the growth of local industries and products, focusing on conservation and efficiency. Through collective bargaining, the co-op uses its large size and bargaining power to get the best available prices for its customers, and in this way, is similar to a franchise business. Since there are more Solar Stores constantly being added to the co-op, outside suppliers will continue to give us the best prices for our product purchases. Skilled training and continuing education are provided to the store owners for all products.
While best business practices are suggested, each solar store is independently owned and operated and individuality is welcomed. We named our branch Grenergy Solar Store (pronounced green-er-gee), which was started with savings and investments from our families, without whose support and knowledge Grenergy (grenergysolarstore.com) would not be where it is today.
The store has now been open for two months, with strong support from the community, many interested visitors, and some successful sales. We spend much of our time educating customers on solar products and options; because there are so many options everyone faces the same lack of information we had experienced while trying to do our own research.
The Internet is everyone’s first source for research, but we all know it doesn’t come close to replacing the kind of knowledge and help that only an educated sales person can provide. Looking back, we may have underestimated the role of education in our sales process-and we have adjusted our sales forecasts to account for the learning curve each consumer goes through before they purchase our products. In fact, I run the day-to-day operations of Grenergy, while Allison builds an environmental consulting business that will eventually run in conjunction with Grenergy.
We’re thrilled to share the knowledge about how people can save money and help preserve our planet. As our business grows, we will only learn more about how to bring environmental stewardship and specifically green energy to the masses. That’s the beauty of pursuing what we’re both most passionate about. We can change our lives and the lives of others just by doing our jobs.
MacHaffie and Torrico are both young entrepreneurs, finding their way through greener and more efficient living and sharing the path with other like-minded people.
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