If you’re in Southern California and listen to public radio, you might have recently heard a solar-power company name flash by in one of those 15-second underwriting spots: Vivint Solar. Get used to it. It’s a company you’ll likely be hearing more from – at your front door.
While SolarCity is the clear sector leader, industry watcher GTM Research ranks Vivint second among U.S. residential solar installers, and this month the company made a big move to grow, expanding into Orange County. Vivint said it was hiring 60 people to work in the OC – it already has 200 full-time workers elsewhere in Southern California.
And here’s another fresh sign of the Vivint’s rise: On Friday, the company announced it had raised $540 million from “two major financial institutions” to finance its installations, which it does at minimal upfront costs to customers, who simply buy the solar energy produced by the systems that go on their roofs.
Unlike SolarCity, which is a pure solar startup, Vivint came into solar with a history of home services, dating back to when it began doing security systems back in the late ’90s, then expanding into home energy management. The solar arm was launched in 2011 and in 2012 the company was acquired by the private equity firm Blackstone for more than $2 billion.
The company’s growth emphasizes that while solar power has the appearance of a technology enterprise, when it comes to residential solar it’s really mostly about marketing and fulfillment of a commodity product. The fact is, one rooftop system isn’t a whole lot different than another – what can be different is how a company seeks, interacts with and takes a customer through the buying process.
There, Vivint uses a door-to-door model that’s long been a part of its method. But interestingly, it’s not knocking on the doors that already have its services, trying to get them to add solar – yet.
“Vivint Inc. currently has 775,000 home automation, energy management and home security customers,” Dan Dunn, district manager in Orange County, told us in an email. “Vivint Solar has acquired its 15,000 solar energy customers without cross-selling into Vivint Inc.’s customers. However, we plan to open that Vivint channel of existing customers and begin to cross-sell eventually to expand our reach.”