Each month we’ll feature an interview with one of our great industry’s finest. This month the spotlight shines on a female solar panel cleaner from the Apple Isle. Her name is Kylee Beeton and she runs My State Solar in Tasmania. You can find My State Solar’s website here.
Tell us a bit about yourself and the business.
I am a mother of two adult kids. I recently became a widow and decided to build a business as a legacy for the family. My kids understand money doesn’t grow on trees. I love a challenge and I wanted to show my kids the value of hard work. I wanted a new career because I’d been in hospitality – doing event management –for years. I was bringing down bands and comedians to Tassie, organising baby showers, weddings and events within a budget. I still do a bit of it but I feel like I’m too old for double shifts and the long hours now. Also, that sort of business wasn’t fast enough for me. I have a lot of energy and love people and being involved and kept busy, as well as helping the community, so cleaning sounded ideal.I wanted a new challenge and to create something from scratch. A friend of mine, Jamie, sells solar panels and he discussed with me that there wasn’t an aftercare service for solar, and it’s all left to the end user to clean panels once they’re installed, so that planted the seed for my business idea.
My son is a jack of all trades and has all his tickets, so I took a look at buying a franchise with him. We decided that’s not what we wanted to do, so we thought about building a business. So the business model is, Jamie sells the panels, which are warranted for 25 years, and he recommends us as the aftercare service during this time. We operate all over Tassie, and if we get enough work on the mainland we’ll head up there for a few days too.
You work with your son. What’s the game plan on a site to get through a job most efficiently together?
I run the show and he’s a technician – he knows how to check the inverters and isolator switches, while I’m a spotter and a face person. I’ll explain the process to people while he hops up on the roof.
You’re a bit of a pioneer – there aren’t enough women in the exterior cleaning industry, and there aren’t many people doing strictly solar panel cleaning. What did you do to build up the business in the beginning?
We were fortunate to join forces with Jamie’s solar panel sales business which gave us some initial leads. Aside from that we’ve been doing marketing to grow.
We do a group offer, so if a customer gets as many people on board for a clean as they can, we’ll take 10% off each person they bring on. So if they get 5 people in the street to have me clean their roof, they’ll get 50% off.I’ve sponsored a number of events, too, like a golf day for a footy club in Tassie as well as the White Lion walkathon, and I try to get the word out in expos.I advertise in the police, rescue and volunteer and ambulance journals, as well as the Examiner andFacebook and google.
Outside of that, I rely on word of mouth, cold calling and trying to educate people on the need for clean panels to increase efficiency.
Tassie is really slow, after advertising people take a while to request services. It’s different in Melbourne where work is boom boomboom, so we even go up there if we get enough business – need at least five cleans a day. We don’t charge much – but we add a small surcharge if we have to travel. We’ve now come up with an idea where I’m looking at running the marketing from Tassie, coming over to train some subbies and ensure they’ve got their tickets, make sure they clean properly, and can talk to the customer. If I can get a good couple of blokes or women to do that it’ll give the business an opportunity for expansion.
You mention that educating people that cleaner solar panels will lead to greater efficiency. That does seem the major challenge for solar panel installers and cleaners. How do you go about it?
Buying solar is like buying an expensive car, you have to get it serviced every year. Part of my job is educating people to understand that panels require aftercare. Most people think panels clean themselves. If they want to clean panels themselves we’ll direct them to people like you – selling the gear – but it’ll mean they have to get on their roof, harness up and clean the solar. Often they won’t want to do that which is when we come in.
We spend more time educating people than we do cleaning at present, but that’s ok. At the end of each clean the customer gets a condition report from us which tells us where their access points are, and gives them a picture of their inverter before and after and tells them if there are any issues – if anything’s not working properly we can put them on to someone who can check them out.
It’s not only educating customers about what solar is about but also what we’re about – that we can offer a full maintenance service. I suppose we’re like an energy consultancy. If there’s an issue, solar companies are often not interested, wiping their hands of the customer after the panels are installed. The issues can be plentiful:electrical issues, roofing issues, solar panels burnt out, isolators deteriorating. If we notice anything, we won’t clean the panels, we’ll tell them we have a card for this guy or that guy and we can clean afterwards. I don’t want my son on a damaged roof but also the client may not know their roof is damaged.
There’s a house in Blackburn we cleaned recently. The panels hadn’t been cleaned since installation 15 years ago. There was rock moss all over the panels and aluminium and the isolator switch had rusted off after getting water on it from the inverter (picture below). We got the switch replaced for them for nothing. It’s good word of mouth because we end up helping the entire service. We get old people who know nothing about their panels or how to read their hydro bills so we show them how to read them too.
Do you forecast any changes to the solar panel industry in the coming years?
I’d love to see solar used more ethically and responsibly: on housing commissions and nursing homes. There are more on schools now which is great. Housing in Tassie doesn’t have gas, it’s too expensive, so it’s all electric heating. And the electric heating they use has no economy at all. So if they’re going to insist on using it, I wish they’d use affordable heating for housing – and solar does that. There’s one energy company here – TasNetworks (or Aurora Energy) and the monopoly means pricing here is way too expensive. We need solar and wind turbines to help.
How have technologies in tools improved to make your solar panel cleaning easier?
This is where you guys come into it – in our research we found we should use filtered water systems. I came across you guys and had to figure out what a DI system was and how to use it, so meeting you guys helped. We originally wanted to take water with us, but the logistics were too hard, but that’s something we’ll look at down the track because we ideally don’t want to use people’s water.
Is there a particular cleaning tool you can’t live without?
Definitely the water fed system. Being able to scrub up the panels with pure water is far more efficient than using a squeegee.
What are your favourite parts of the job?
The before and after difference, having happy customers, knowing we’ve helped people and they’ve got a better understanding of what they’ve invested in.
And least favourite?
Standing on a four storey roof holding onto my son’s ropes so he or I don’t fall off. We’ve got to make sure hose doesn’t tangle and prove a hazard too.
I hate cold calling too but in paying for leads about interest in purchasing solar or faults it’s something we have to do.
You’ve got everything you need to be doing window cleaning too. Why are you focusing solely on solar?
There are a lot of window cleaners down here. It’s saturated and I didn’t want to tread on anyone’s toes. Cleaners already have a clientele and I don’t want to be a threat to them. I do hope to work with some to offer solar services, while I can offer windows to them. My interest is more environment and energy.
We do also offer other add-ons – gutter cleaning and roof washing which we provide on an hourly rate.
Travelling all over Tasmania for work, you must have seen most of the island. What should our window and solar panel cleaners go and see down there on holidays?
Tassie’s great. Depends what you like. All is beautiful and isolated and different. We’ve got a wild, gnarly surf coast on the west coast – not a lot there, just a few small towns. Then you’ve got the ‘tropical’ east coast with white pristine beaches and warmer weather. Bay of Fires is my favourite part of Tassie. We go all over Tassie for business, no restrictions.
Are you a music in the ears girl, or do you just listen to nature while working?
Definitely music in the ears. I love music. I like anything, particularly live music. I’m not really into opera. But I like heavy metal, punk, country rock, hip hop, old music like Steeley Dan. I’m an all-rounder, so when I’m out working I’ll be running through all of that.
Any advice you could offer to those starting up in solar panel cleaning?
Do your homework. Get yourself known and what you’re about. You have to be determined to push through. Being a female, often male clients don’t take me as seriously as others. One engineering customer with 160 panels looked me up and down and told me he could do the clean himself. I said ‘of course you can, but I’ll quote it and save you the work.’
As part of the education process you have to be prepared to talk to strangers in cold calls and in-person. We drive around finding solar panels and saying hi. I introduced myself to one lady in a butcher’s shop – went to shake her hand and she wouldn’t. She walked away apprehensive I was just selling them something they didn’t need, when I just wanted to say ‘hey, did you know about this?’So you need a thick skin.