Springfield, MO

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From left: Caleb Arthur, Earl Bandy and Pete Fischer
Rebecca Green | SBJ
From left: Caleb Arthur, Earl Bandy and Pete Fischer

2023 Dynamic Dozen No. 1: Sun Solar LLC

Posted online

SBJ: What’s your market reach now and do you have plans to grow?
Caleb Arthur: We’ve really been growing outside of our regional area really rapidly over the last six months. We’re currently in all of Missouri. Kansas City, Springfield and St. Louis, we have an office and warehouse in all three of those locations. We recently expanded our campus where our headquarters is and bought another facility across the street off North Patterson and almost doubled our square footage to 20,000. The state of Illinois passed a really big clean energy package to help homeowners and businesses go solar. They’re covering anywhere between 30% and 35% of the costs. We’re doing more business in Illinois than we are even in Missouri. We just signed lease paperwork to open a new office and warehouse over the river in Illinois from St. Louis because we’ve already outgrown our St. Louis location. We’re looking at opening another office and warehouse space up in the Springfield/Peoria location. We’re probably adding another at least 200 employees in the next 12 months in that state alone.

SBJ: What are the hurdles to growth within your industry and is there any legislation in the state of Missouri that could eliminate some of that?
Arthur: One is something called community solar. That’s where homeowners and businesses can subscribe to solar without having to put it on their property or their home. Whether they’re low-income renters that need support and need levelized cost of energy or they’re a big corporation and they need to comply with their shareholders wanting to be 100% renewable energy. There’s no mechanism in law in Missouri that allows open access to community solar right now. There’s multiple states around us, like Illinois, that have those programs and they’re wildly successful. Something else is for people that are going solar, there’s so much red tape and bureaucracy. Springfield wants it done differently than Greene County. Ozark wants it done different than Nixa. What we’ve asked the state legislature to do, what California and now Colorado and multiple states are doing, is to use a free computer program out there that the federal government has created that’s like an accelerated solar permitting process where everybody uses the same platform and the same process. That costs us a lot of time and energy to figure out the 350 different combinations between the cities and the counties and the utilities on how to comply with all of their regulations. There’s also a huge opportunity under the Inflation Reduction Act. There is $27 billion that’s going to be divvied out to all of the states for solar panels, energy efficiency. Every state is going to be given that money through infrastructure banks or green banks. The state agency in Missouri that’s going to be receiving these funds is the (Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority), and that’s the state agency that the governor appointed me to a little over three years ago. I just got back from Chicago from a solar conference, and I tell you what, that’s what everybody’s talking about. Also in that IRA was (billions) in funding for other clean energy investments for U.S.-based solar panel manufacturing. We’re looking into what it would take to be able to produce our own solar panels. We only see this upward trajectory where we’ve been doubling our business every year for the last two years for that trend to continue for us. We’re on track to do between $75 million and $85 million this year.

SBJ: What are the challenges to keep your company on track as you grow rapidly?
Arthur: Back in 2017 when I won the Dynamic Dozen, I thought I had this whole thing figured out because we went from a startup company in 2012 to, in 2016, $25 million in revenue. What I didn’t have figured out was how to train and hire the right management and leadership staff and then how to let go of certain duties as a CEO and trust that those duties would get done. I look at certain industries that have been around for 50 years and sometimes those managers have 10, 15, 20 years’ experience. I have to look at a manager and go, “Hey, you’ve got three months of management experience and I’m counting on you to do this.” It’s trial by fire. From 2017 up until 2021, my company was flatlined in its growth. The whole reason was my mindset. I just kept pushing everybody around me and blaming everybody around me on why we couldn’t get to that next level. Finally, I just got fed up and said I’ll just rebuild this from scratch how I did it the first time and relearn it all. Getting those people trained and each department and each manager trained how I wanted it done and getting my hands dirty again really opened up my eyes. I have to slow down and be more patient and explain these things and teach these concepts and show them that I’m willing to get in the trenches with them. There was a six-month period where I was helping run operations. I’ve just got to lead by example versus just sitting in an office or sitting on a phone in a meeting telling people what I want done. It quickly separated the people that were willing to go in the field with me and learn versus the people that didn’t want anything to do with it. In 2021, I had my entire leadership team gone. I had three sales managers left and 15 salespeople. We went from selling barely $1 million a month to within three months we were selling $3 million and $4 million. By the end of 2021, we were selling like $5 million to $6 million a month. I was leading with love and compassion and getting in the trenches with them versus leading out of fear and anger.

SBJ: What is the next growth opportunity that excites you the most?
Arthur: Solar panel manufacturing. It’s an opportunity that would be bringing in more revenue and growth trajectory than even what Sun Solar is doing on its own. I’ve been devoting probably more time and energy to the solar panel manufacturing side than I have Sun Solar’s existing business. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch [wrote] about a $100 million solar panel manufacturer looking to launch in St. Louis. We haven’t picked the location yet, but there’s already news articles written about it and nobody’s disclosed who the company is, but it’s us. We’re looking at launching an American-made solar panel manufacturer in the Midwest. I don’t want to necessarily take that clean energy mantle away from Elon Musk, but I want to give people like Elon Musk a run for their money. Selling and installing solar panels is great, but I think creating and engineering better technology for the future is really where I get excited.


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