The uptick in the number of solar power-related businesses that started almost a year ago is almost drawing to an end; not only is ZESA promising more reliable power supplies but the country is also easing into winter, a season that cools down demand for solar power (pun intentional). However our country’s periodic woes and wavering fortunes aside, solar power still has a strong future not only in Zimbabwe but the rest of the world. Therefore solar power-related businesses are still viable commercial enterprises.

There are many different ways one can ride and cash in on the current (and future) demand for solar power systems. These include consulting, installing, designing e.t.c but selling the power systems’ parts and components is still the most preferred route in this country. With that fact in mind, today we are going to discuss how one can start a solar system parts retail business.

Educate yourself and hire knowledgeable employees

In these past few months, some individuals have dived headfirst into this business to cash in on the opportunity while it lasted. These have ranged from people starting businesses from scratch to those who were just extending their product range to squeeze more money from their current businesses as the rest of the economy floundered.

Unfortunately, no matter how popular and commonplace these systems may become, they still require substantial technical know-how. This knowledge is not only needed to educate customers and assist both the sales process and the after-sales service but also to prevent loss of stock: some of the people who jumped on the solar train a little too quickly have suffered heavy losses because they did not know that some batteries are damaged if they are stored for too long while completely discharged.

Some have had to face the ire of customers after they shared inaccurate information about the equipment they are selling. This has been caused mainly by their complete lack of understanding of the meaning of some of the technical specifications used which nevertheless did not stop them from trying to ‘improve’ it in their marketing.

You have to hire competent and knowledgeable people who can assist your customers most of whom, while lacking technical knowledge will know exactly what they want from their new solar systems. If you give them inaccurate advice they will come back for refunds – in which case those with more flexible morals might pull out their stern no-refund policies, however, this will be a classic example of a battle won at the expense of the war.

Assess the competition

As the old saying goes, ‘know thy enemy’. Most solar equipment, even the unbranded kind, requires a significant upfront financial investment so you are unlikely to be landing many impulse shoppers on your doorstep. That is why you must know who your potential customers will be comparing you to.

Some of your competitors might be offering more attractive warranties, others lower prices while others have the premises and staff which give off an air of professionalism. Knowing your competition will allow you to carve out a niche for yourself and find your unique selling point or ‘unfair advantage’ as some modern startup pundits call it.

Speak to someone already in the business

While this may appear to be folly to a generation raised on the internet there is still plenty of information which can only be found through personal interactions rather than asking the internet. Find someone who is already in the business, possibly from a different city if you want to avoid the justified hostility that your ambitions to become their competitor might afford you. These people can provide you with the names of the best suppliers, best practices and various other pieces of advice which you would surely find to be useful.

Gather the contact information of suppliers

If you are a retailer, only your customers are more important than suppliers. Look not only for distributors and manufacturers to supply you but also for other retailers. The latter are necessary because their equipment may be significantly cheaper in other areas within the country (particularly major cities and border towns) than where you are located. In this case, this removes the need to worry about the manufacturers’ and distributors’ minimum order quantities which is a blessing if you are just starting and are on a shoestring budget.

Draft contract templates

Nothing attracts customers like payment terms that soften a purchase’s impact on their wallets. These kinds of purchases require that ironclad and legally binding contracts be drawn up and signed. If you want certain payment terms to be your new store’s main selling point you must draw up these contacts before you open your doors, possibly with the help of a lawyer.

Payment term agreements are not the only documents you may need to prepare. Even your receipts and invoices may have to contain disclaimers which can prevent some of your customers from exploiting some loopholes which may end up bankrupting you.

Writing a proper business plan is also important if you want to grow your business. It is also almost always a requirement if you are looking for funding to further grow your business.