“We relied heavily on the SBDC from the very beginning of our business 10 years ago and in all our recent changes.”
That’s the summation of Valerie Piedmont of Green Energy Options, an alternative energy business based in Keene and which she runs with her husband, Pablo Fleischmann.
The company sells solar energy systems and works with contractors to design and install them. They are also full-service dealers of alternative energy home heating appliances such as wood stoves, pellet stoves, fireplace inserts, pellet boilers and outdoor boilers. It recently moved to larger retail and showroom space that will open soon.
Valerie explains that said she and Pablo sought out NH SBDC to help with a business plan 10 years ago, and today have worked extensively with Nancy DuBosque, the NH SBDC regional director in the Keene office.
“She’s remarkable and a very accessible person. I can call her anytime, leave a message, and she gets right back to me.”
With vast changes underway at Green Energy Options, Nancy has been working with the couple on marketing plans to promote the full line of products they offer and to keep the community informed on the company’s mission.
“She’s always getting me to think about where to put the marketing dollars to make the most difference,” Valerie said.
“We did not come into this world as entrepreneurs and all along we’ve needed to gain competencies and skills. If you’re starting a business this area, everyone knows the SBDC is pretty much the go-to organization,” Valerie said.
Before launching Green Energy Options, Valerie had worked as a human services professional and husband Pablo was a self-employed professional painter. In that role, he had met people working in solar energy, so when it was time for him to do something else after so many years as a painter, the couple was approached about buying into a collaborative of stores selling solar energy products.
“We had a solar house at the time and have been off the grid since 1981,” she said. They relied often on “candles and Kerosene lamps” in those early years. “We feel like we learned a lot of our lessons in those homesteading years, and that was Pablo’s influence, with his background in electricity. We were full, active solar by 1989.”
The opportunity to run a solar business seemed like the perfect new way to make a living, Valerie explains.
With help from the business advisors in the SBDC’s Keene office 10 years ago, the couple worked out a business plan and took all the essential steps to “have everything in place for the bank so they could feel like they were investing in a business that had real possibility and to give them a sense that we were going to be a success,” Valerie said.
And a success it was, and continues to be.
Solar was a tough sell back in the 1980s when she and Pablo were building their homestead. New Englanders didn’t really believe getting energy from the sun was going to work in this cold climate, but the public has embraced the idea over the last decade.
Green Energy Options launched shortly before the economic crisis of 2008 and, when the tax code was crafted to offer incentives to businesses and homeowners that installed alternative energy systems, the fledgling business rode the resulting wave of increased interest in solar.
That interest ultimately waned a bit, Valerie notes, and so they expanded their offerings to include wood, pellet, and gas stoves, and fireplace inserts.
Those product lines are doing well because, as Valerie points out, “We’ve learned so much and we’ve weeded out the products that would not serve the public well. We sell the ones that people are going to be happy with, and we’ve expanded our network of contractors who install them.”
Valerie thinks interest in solar is returning, and she and Pablo will renew their focus on it once they complete a move from Emerald Street into a much larger store on Keene’s Roxbury Street. “That location has tremendous potential to help us reach more customers,” Valerie said.
When she and Pablo first envisioned the move, they once again sought advice from Nancy at NH SBDC.
“Nancy was able to help us project out our budget—could we really do all this with the resources we had?—and we planned to accept whatever answer she gave us,” Valerie said. “Her help, the Hannah Grimes Center in Keene, the community’s involvement, and the Savings Bank of Walpole just really all worked together, with a feeling that we were all in this together. And Nancy showed us that it could, in fact, be done.”
After four months of renovations, the new store opens in mid-March with its own advanced energy systems installed. In fact, their system will generate so much electricity that Green Energy Options will donate some of it to a local senior housing community under the auspices of Southwestern Community Services in Keene.
In addition to the move, Valerie and Pablo began the process of becoming certified as a B Corporation, and for that Nancy was also instrumental, Valerie explains. B Corps are a legal structure that recognizes for-profit companies that have met rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
Nancy helped examine the company’s business practices with an eye toward meeting all those certification requirements, and she helped identify areas that needed to be more solid.
Today, Valerie writes, Green Energy Options is positioned to “create higher quality jobs, improve the quality of life in our community, and address challenging environmental problems.”
They are also only the seventh company in New Hampshire to earn such a designation.
“It’s not so much about the certification itself; it’s about continually measuring ourselves against its high standards, and those of other certified B Corporations, so that we continue to develop a better business,” Valerie wrote.
Green Energy Options currently employs one full-time and four part-time people, as well as one salesperson on commission. The move to the new space and the expected additional business as a result will likely mean at least one more employee will be added.
The new, larger space also provided an opportunity to offer small office spaces to other businesses in the area. Small business owners will be able to rent the space from the company, and Valerie has gotten commitments on nearly all of them already, though the building isn’t open yet.
“We really recognize our responsibility to make our business a success, because it goes beyond us,” Valerie said. “That means we get help from others when we don’t have the answers and work together with the broader community. There’s just a lot of connective tissue between us and other institutions and organizations in this area.”
Green Energy Options celebrates its Grand Opening at their new 37 Roxbury Street location on March 16 with sales, light refreshments, and music. The party continues 7 to 11 p.m. at the Hive, next door at The Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship.