Dave Bonta, Founder & President of US-American wholesaler USA Solar Store, has entered into a purchasing agreement with the US subsidiary of German collector manufacturer Wagner & Co. “We agreed to work with Wagner in purchasing a variety of collector systems and parts. Of particular interest is the total system package that they sell,“ Bonta confirmed at the beginning of February. USA Solar Store is a network of currently 25 independently run shops, which use the group’s purchasing power to negotiate favourable prices.
One reason for why the deal needed so little time: the company culture and the business interest of the two groups seemed to match perfectly. Wagner & Co is a staff-owned company without big shareholders or equity investment – so is USA Solar Store. “We have built up our business relying on our own resources. No venture capital was offered in the beginning – since then, we have re-invested many times whatever we made,” explains Bonta. He founded his first Solar Store together with his wife in Springfield, Vermont, in 2001.
Bonta´s concept was influenced by a computer store called ‘Gateway’, which made computers easy to understand and afford by choosing a retail format back in 1990. “I liked the concept,” says the president. “Retail is a place where you can enter and leave freely. New ideas like solar need to be approached with caution by people who have difficulties to understand or have pre conceived notions about it. The store format seemed natural to me.”
Nowadays, customers can find all different sorts of energy conservation technologies in the currently 25 Solar Stores: wood stoves, composting toilets, efficient lighting systems and photovoltaic components (mostly for battery-based systems). Solar water heating equipment was an important sector from the very beginning. There were a lot of “orphaned” systems in 2001 which needed to be repaired, because many suppliers went bankrupt after the incentives were stopped in 1985. “I had to deal with replacing equipment and had to learn to troubleshoot the problems,” tells Bonta. “Fortunately, the industry began to recover somewhat about the same time and new products came along – to my rescue”.
The Solar Store Family is growing continually: Five to six new stores will be added to the network in 2011. All solar stores are independent businesses. They can order what they need from whomever they like. However, the entire network follows the strategy of providing know-how, sharing experiences and negotiating favourable prices using the group’s purchasing power.