A lot has happened since the summer of 2015 when Tyler and Alicia Uebelhoer decided to pour their life savings into an industry that is still trying to find its feet—especially on the East Coast—and a business they would operate for months out of their modest South Buffalo home. But thanks to a lot of hard work, a commitment to customer service that goes well above and beyond the norm, and a lot of blood, sweat and tears, these two solar energy advocates are now taking their business to the next level.
When working out of their home was no longer practical, the couple opened an office at 1212 Abbott Road in South Buffalo in October 2016, adding much-needed space for equipment and a small staff of solar installers and educators. And with utility prices continuing to rise and potential new customers now coming to them, Buffalo Solar Solutions Inc. has expanded regionally with the recent opening of a second location in Cuba, N.Y., about a 75-minute drive from Buffalo.
Getting to this point was truly a challenge for Tyler, a former tower technician who would routinely climb 600-foot towers for necessary maintenance and repairs, and Alicia, a former secretary, hotel supervisor, and sales representative. But of all the business and franchise opportunities that exist, why did they select solar energy which, historically, hasn’t been an easy sell?
“We wanted to get into a business that helped people and solar definitely does in so many ways,” said Alicia. “It’s a business that we’re passionate about, and all of our employees are as well. We don't have one unhappy employee or customer, for that matter. Everyone loves coming to work.”
“We know that solar is going to catch on worldwide, and while that is still off in the future, we think that solar will one day become just another typical household product,” said Tyler. “It will be as common as having a washing machine and dryer. In the next 20 years, we believe that 50 percent or more households will have solar or have access to it through community solar.”
Still relative newbies to the solar industry, the Uebelhoers have certainly faced their share of challenges.
“For starters, we really didn’t have anyone to turn to ask questions and get answers,” said Alicia. “Tyler did all the research on his own and called several establishments to find the answers he needed.”
“Not being able to pay ourselves for at least the first 18 months was another huge obstacle to overcome,” added Tyler. “We had a lot of money going out the door, with none coming in, before we landed our first solar installation job. We dealt with a lot of rejection. It took almost five months before our first customer gave us a chance. Being responsible for getting work and paying our first employees was indeed very stressful.”
But the tide now appears to be turning in favor of the Uebelhoers and Buffalo Solar Solutions, and the state-funded, massive RiverBend/SolarCity factory in their South Buffalo neighborhood may play a role in that. Sitting upon 88 acres that was once home to Republic Steel’s Buffalo facility, Panasonic has finally started producing solar cells, to be used in solar roofs, at the SolarCity plant.
“SolarCity is not a threat to our business,” Alicia is quick to point out. “In fact, we welcome them because it's great advertisement for local solar companies such as ours. In fact, we were sought out by Tesla (in partnership with Panasonic) in late August to become an exclusive certified installer of their products. We will be installing their electric car charging stations at residences and commercial buildings as well as installing their power walls throughout the Western New York area.”
The Uebelhoers recently added an attractive solar pergola option to their portfolio, which previously focused on rooftop and pole-mounted solar panels. What is believed to be Western New York’s first solar pergola was recently constructed for a Lancaster homeowner, and the end result was cause for excitement among homeowners seeking a clean energy option that also adds to the overall beauty of their home and landscaping.
And with a “sunny” overall outlook, Buffalo Solar Solutions took their business to yet another level with the opening of their Cuba location in August.
“We chose Cuba because we know we can help a lot of people in that area,” said Tyler. “If you look at any electric bill from that area, you will notice that residents in that region are being charged almost 30 percent more per kilowatt hour. Solar just makes good sense down there. Additionally, we are exploring opportunities in Central New York as well and hope to expand into the Syracuse market in the next year or two.”