Finding a Way Forward: Strawberry Solar

Green Garage business-in-residence Strawberry Solar installs rooftop solar panels throughout Michigan’s lower peninsula. They mostly work on residential properties, but occasionally do small commercial projects as well (including the last two expansions of the Green Garage’s own solar array, which have helped us get ever closer to our net-zero energy goals).

Strawberry’s managing partner, Will Held, says that during Michigan’s initial COVID19 shutdown in March, their seven person team decided to take three weeks off to “observe and do office work from home.” During that time, Strawberry successfully applied for a PPP loan. Will says that while the loan provided relief and allowed them not to lay off any employees, his team quickly grew concerned over lost revenue. “We’re a physical business, not an online one,” he says. “We put physical things on people’s roofs. Installation is our main source of revenue, so if we don’t install, we’re not going to last long.”

In Michigan, the list of “essential businesses” authorized to keep working during the shutdown included energy companies, so in the fourth week, they decided to get back to work. Their first step was communicating with customers about the safety guidelines they were putting in place, including offering remote consultations and making sure that the electricians they work with wore masks and kept a safe distance when they were indoors.  (That was less of a concern for Strawberry’s installation team, which works exclusively outdoors.)

Will says that his team was excited to get back to work despite some uncertainty about whether or not they were technically allowed to. “We had plenty of team meetings about it, and we honestly weren’t sure,” he says. “Is Strawberry Solar installing solar panels ‘essential’?” As a company in the energy sector, they felt they were safe, but just in case, they kept paperwork in all their trucks from the Department of Homeland Security that cited energy work as critical.

In the months since, Strawberry has seen unprecedented interest in their product; Will says that their business has doubled since last year. He equates this growth with the fact that so many people are spending time at home, working on home improvement projects, and spending more time online, where they encounter ads for Strawberry’s services.

Strawberry’s 2020 boom means that they’re busier than ever. In the last month or so, they’ve expanded some of their team’s roles and hired two new employees to keep up with demand. They’ve also doubled their office space at the Green Garage, where much of their team continues to work when they’re not out in the field.

During these challenging times for small businesses all over the country, we’re heartened by the story of Strawberry’s success. Not only is it good for them, their partners, and the local economy, it’s good for the Earth, and suggests that one of the lasting changes of the COVID era might be a growing commitment to a more sustainable future.

This is part of a series looking at how Green Garage businesses-in-residence are moving forward during the COVID19 crisis. No one story is intended to paint a complete picture, but taken together, we hope that they will illuminate, in a helpful way, the struggles and successes of some Detroit businesses during these extraordinary times.

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