I founded and operate Verde Energy Efficiency Experts in Chicago. We don’t just recommend energy efficiency solutions, but we make and stand by them. Our business model includes 13 very talented electricians and technicians, mostly focused on lighting upgrades and refrigeration motor replacements. We work mostly with fire stations, libraries and McDonalds – but our clients range from small grocery stores to huge food manufacturers, and everything in between.
We are fortunate that Chicago has a great utility incentive program to support our work, and no shortage of great clients that need our services.
As I write this, it is now June 2020 and we have survived the cash flow crisis of our business. It was not always clear that we were going to make the business survive, but we stuck together and got through it. We were fortunate to receive the PPP loan in April, helping us bridge the gap and make payroll in the most uncertain times. We had crews of installers staying home for quarantine purposes after exposures to COVID-19, low work periods due to clients with onsite restrictions, as well as lack of clients. Sales is starting to pick up, but it was incredibly slow for about 2 months.
We found ourselves in a dilemma – do we pay installers to stay home and not work or risk losing them as employees? If we pay them to stay home, how long can the business support that decision?
If we lost employees, we could risk not bouncing back after the stay-at-home order when sales rebounded. Yet, the installers needed to have a living wage, and most of them were hourly employees that needed something to put on their time sheets. Our goal during the slow period was 30 hours per week, but we were only finding 15 hours for each installer.
After testing the Interplay Learning software with one of our installers in May, we saw a new opportunity. Instead of being paid to stay home, installers could be paid to learn and grow as technicians. There are safety and electrical training sessions, helping some of our apprentices gain their skills in a more classroom setting. We had solved our dilemma – living wages could now be provided through work and training, not through staying at home.
Most importantly, however, was the opportunity this may provide us in late 2020 and early 2021. There is an entire module around HVAC, an aspect of our business model that has always been challenging. I feel deeply that you cannot talk about energy efficiency without including HVAC, which includes a huge portion of energy usage of commercial buildings. From 2016 through 2020, Verde has addressed this portion of a client’s need through subcontracting relationships.
Most of what we do is offer high efficiency HVAC system replacements, taking existing systems and upgrading to CEE Tier 2 high efficiency packaged systems. However, when we subcontract, the work is less profitable for us and creates stress on our business model. Too much of this work and we do not create work for our technicians, and yet it is clear that clients need this service in our area.
While I understand that we will not become a full-service HVAC company overnight (nor do I want to), our team is deeply engaged on Interplay Learning around this topic. In fact, I just logged into the system and looked at the modules that each of my team has been taking – seeing just how far they are progressing around each topic and their individual interest. I can refer courses to individuals, and pay them for the hours of training as an investment into their future and the future of Verde.
In fact, our local utility offers a basic tune up incentive ranging from $200 to $400 – paid directly to us for this work. While we will not become experts overnight, I envision us starting to offer this service to our existing clients. While we change their lights to LED, replace their motors to EC motors, we can also do a basic tuneup on their equipment. Along with getting a new air filter and checking belts and general overview, we can provide the client with deep information on their existing unit and the savings opportunities for replacement. It will take us time to get there – but we are investing in our future and increasing our revenue opportunities and the deep value we provide to clients.
Finally, I noticed one really exciting added benefit to the future regarding the Interplay Learning system on one of my recent logins. One of our best electricians has been digging into the solar PV training module. While not a significant part of our current business, solar PV installations could be the future for a company like Verde.
Even if this particular installer is not with us in 5 years – what a great thing for him and the world if he is off installing solar PV. And if he is still with us, this chaotic and stressful period we have just gone through will be a time to invest that paid off dividends in the future.
CEO, Verde Energy Efficiency Experts
While serving as a firefighter on the North Shore of Chicago, Jamie saw how much energy was wasted by leaving lights on overnight in the firehouse. He ran calculations and aspired to find a way to both save energy and reduce costs. Shortly thereafter, Verde was born. Saving clients money through energy efficiency and a keen understanding of energy rebate programs has always been Jamie’s passion – and it continues to be so today.