It’s now been a full year since altE acquired Real Goods, the California-based purveyor of solar and off-grid living supplies – and what a year it’s been! 2020 has thrown a lot at us all, and the challenge of integrating two companies 3000 miles apart into a single cohesive organization with a 3000-mile footprint necessitated careful planning. And while the work’s not done yet, the results have already begun to speak for themselves.
Why Real Goods?
Securing a warehouse and a team of experienced Solar Technical Sales Representatives on the West Coast was undoubtedly a strategic complement to our Massachusetts and Puerto Rico locations, but the answer here is more than just geographic. We’ve never felt bound to the East Coast; our U.S. customers have generally been evenly split on either side of the Mississippi River, and we even had offices in New Mexico, Costa Rica and Columbus, Ohio, in our last two decades.
“One of the reasons we wanted to join forces with the Real Goods team was a shared passion for renewable energy and helping people across the globe,” explains altE CEO Sascha Deri. “But the acquisition of Real Goods has given us a strongly rooted presence further west than ever before. With the Real Goods team we now have full technical sales, customer service, technical support and warehouse staff on the West Coast and we’re certainly seeing those people’s efforts benefit our customers more on the West Coast,” Sascha says. “Not only are our phones open until 5:00pm Pacific Time to assist people in any time zone, but we are often able to lower shipping cost and time to our customers in the Western half of the US by fulfilling orders from our California warehouse.”
Another reason altE chose Real Goods is the Real Goods brand itself. Sascha remembers being inspired by reading the old Real Goods catalogs and Solar Living Sourcebook as a teenager, and knows he wasn’t alone in that. “It’s an honor for me that altE will empower the heritage of both the Real Goods brand and customers across the globe into the future,” he says.
A Cross-Country Integration
While planning for the acquisition and integration of Real Goods, the altE leadership team recognized the need for strategic investment and careful execution. “We’ve made significant investments – training staff, relocating Real Goods from Hopland to Ukiah, and integrating our systems and processes.” says altE CFO Randy Walther. Yet, he notes, sales and profit goals were met along the way.
In addition to these macro-level investments, we also felt it was important to outfit the Real Goods team with better equipment and quality in-person time with their new coworkers (this was before the Covid-19 pandemic started). After the acquisition closed, altE team members from our other locations flew to California for several weeks to get to know our new Real Goods coworkers. A short time later, we brought the Real Goods folks out to work in our Boxborough, Massachusetts office for a few weeks.
Real Goods’ Garrett McCutcheon with altE’s Nate Dooley and Jacob Solon at an Energy Storage for Solar Professionals training at OutBack Power’s facility in Arlington, WA
“We did this not only to help our new California team members learn our systems and processes, but more importantly to catalyze the reaction of people getting to know each other,” explains Sascha. “I believe everyone on the team felt like our family simply grew by having the two teams unite.”
Real Goods Sales and Customer Support Specialist Shaylene Marino agrees, citing that her job now includes “feeling like part of a family.” She also notes the better benefits, state-of-the art computers, and adjustable desks that she and her Real Goods coworkers have received under altE. “The biggest difference for me is that this went from a job to a career. It’s been challenging, but I want to stick with it because I have a company behind me that wants me to learn and better myself.”
Same Roots, New Tree
Even though Real Goods is known for selling the first retail solar panel in the United States all the way back in 1978, it struggled to expand beyond its strong regional presence in Northern California. Being a force in the early days of the mainstream renewable energy movement and a well-respected source for solar power and off-grid living resources, Real Goods generated a loyal and dedicated customer base over the years.
We’re extremely grateful for these customers’ fondness for the Real Goods brand, and have been cognizant of maintaining their experience with it while at the same time working to improve what it can offer them. As one of the people most often working with Real Goods lifers, Shaylene has been thrilled at the balance that has been achieved with this. “Sascha did not want to change our identity as Real Goods, and wanted to take care of Real Goods customers,” she says.
And yet, Real Goods is now stocking more solar energy and storage products than ever at the warehouse in Ukiah, California – and offering them at lower prices. Not only that, but leveraging altE’s shipping logistics platform has allowed us to offer more and cheaper shipping options to Real Goods customers.
Having shored up Real Goods’ foundation, we are now more equipped than ever to deliver more solar to more places across the western U.S. “It’s incredibly helpful to now work with Shaylene and Garrett, who are in tune with the California renewable energy market and the needs of the customers there,” says altE Technical Sales Representative Nate Dooley. “It is such an asset to not only have a physical presence in California, but to benefit from the added knowledge and experience that the West Coast team brings to the table. It allows us all to serve our customers better and more efficiently.”
A Bright and Sunny Future
“As expected, it has been a year of transition,” says CFO Randy Walther. “The strategy was to expand altE’s operations and footprint on the West Coast. With the Real Goods team and the Ukiah warehouse, we are now well-positioned to expand our customer base and meet the growing demand for photovoltaic and storage products on the West Coast.”
So one year after the acquisition, what’s the verdict from Randy? “Real Goods has been an excellent addition to altE.”
Sean has worked in the website realm of the solar industry since 2010. He is a proud user of a grid-tied solar PV system at his home in solar-friendly Denver, Colorado with his lovely wife and adorable dogs, and eats approximately 300 bagels every year.