It’s commonly held that a small business model best suits energy efficiency installation, what’s dubbed ‘two guys and a truck.’ But a Philadelphia company is intent on showing that scale is possible in the US – national scale.
The Mark Group USA is quickly expanding beyond its Pennsylvania base with an eye toward becoming a national energy efficiency installer. Founded in 2010, the company is now working on entering ten additional markets in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.
What makes CEO Jeff Bartos confident that he can achieve national reach with a business heavily focused on home energy retrofits? He has seen it done before.
His company is an affiliate of the UK-based Mark Group, which has 2,500 employees and a growing international footprint. In addition to the US and UK, Mark Group operates in Australia and New Zealand. Begun as a home insulation business in 1974, the UK parent says it now helps install over 7,000 energy-saving measures every week on three continents. Its portfolio includes two million homes.
Locally managed, the US operation has experienced quick expansion because the UK-based parent helped “us speed along the learning curve,” said Bartos, a Pennsylvania native. “The number one thing we learned is that scale is possible. We had an example of how it could work, so we weren’t afraid to try.”
Success in the home market requires getting the basics right: doing high quality work and providing a customized marketing message for the homeowner, according to Bartos. So the company avoids mass marketing and global pitches about the environment or the nobility of being energy efficient. Instead, Bartos tells employees to find out what motivates each individual homeowner: It might be comfort, or budget, or an aspiration to live sustainably.
“You can’t be afraid to spend your time with the customer in the house and cannot act as if the meter is ticking,” he said in a recent interview.
Will home energy installation companies become national in scope? Let us know what you think on our Linkedin Group, Energy Efficiency Markets.
Mark Group looks for areas with population density, suitable housing stock and climate, and high energy costs. This fits the description of many communities in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, making the region a strong starting point. The company operates in Maryland and New Jersey and its immedate expansion plans call for opening an office in New York in January, followed by Connecticut, Massachusetts, new areas of Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Philadelphia has proved to be excellent home turf because of its economic development support, according to Bartos. And all of the areas where it operates are rich in utility energy efficiency programs. In addition, both ISO New England and the PJM Interconnection let energy efficiency sell into wholesale capacity markets – an option Bartos is exploring.
But the Mark Group does not base its business model on any particular state incentives or programs.
“We are very grateful to the utilities for spreading the word. But we are building our business to make sure we don’t depend on any one program or financing model,” he said. “We have a business model that is directed toward a ‘say yes’ proposition. When customers hear all that we have to offer and why they should buy it, if we have done our job right, they say, ‘Why wouldn’t I?”
Sometimes it takes a little staging to get the consumer’s attention. The Mark Group isn’t afraid to do that either, even if it means singing Christmas songs from atop a car. Look here for some clever marketing, far beyond the flyers left in the mailbox of a ‘two guys and a truck’ industry, much more like a company on its way to achieving a national reach.