OWNER: James Reismiller, Journeyman Electrician
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 9
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 3
WHAT THEY SELL: Solar electric systems
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: For high-quality, American-made solar components, professional installation, and outstanding customer service
James Reismiller’s business clearly reflects his values. Helping to move his customers and his community in a more sustainable direction is a deeply held commitment, and James demonstrates that commitment daily at his business – not only in his installation of solar electric systems, but through his choice of products and business practices, and in his relationships with both employees and customers. With his easy manner and obvious joy and satisfaction in his work, James has developed Abundant Solar into a highly respected home-grown business.
James, when and why did you decide to start your business? I was first introduced to solar when I lived in the Midwest and attended the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair in Wisconsin. But what really got me interested in solar were the Earthships in New Mexico. I had seen them on-line, and went out and visited them in 1997. By 2000, I was living in Portland, and I decided to call a local solar contractor to see what it would take to get into the solar business. He recommended that I start by becoming a Journeyman Electrician. So I applied and did a 4-year apprenticeship, which involved traditional electrical work but didn’t include any direct solar experience. That came when I joined Solar Creek in Corvallis and helped install solar on the North and South Co-ops and Lincoln School. I got my initial business contacts in 2005, through Solar Creek. Dr. Cutsforth in Philomath was my first client.
I’m in this business because I want to help people achieve energy independence through clean, renewable resources. Solar makes the most sense and is the most accessible and abundant resource for homeowners.
Tell us more about your products and services. We’re most proud that we sell American-made modules. Our solar panels are made in Hillsboro, Oregon, by American workers.
When someone calls us, we start by doing a site evaluation – going through all the options and talking about what the customer’s needs might be. Depending on how full our schedule is, it takes about three weeks from the initial evaluation to completion of the installation.
What does being featured as the Local Business of the Week mean to you? The benefit is being able to tell our story to people so they can see how we’re different from other solar contractors.
What sets your business apart from other solar contractors? We focus on high quality, long-lasting products that are made in the USA and have a good track record. Also, we run all our trucks on straight used vegetable oil from local restaurants. We recycle everything, and we go the extra mile to make sure we have quality products that are long-lasting. We also focus on making sure our employees have a positive experience.
What challenges have you faced as an independent local business owner, and how have you met those challenges? Our biggest challenge has been competition from large corporate installers, such as Home Depot, Solar City, and Sunwize. We’ve met that challenge by focusing on our core mission to do high quality work, installing as many US-made components as possible. Competition has made us better. We now offer a 10-year installation warranty, and our products are guaranteed for 25 years.
What do you feel is the impact of local independent businesses on Corvallis? The character and life-blood of Corvallis is its locally owned, independent businesses. Last year, we went to Phoenix to visit my sister, and we were struck by the fact that there were very few independent businesses. For example, we found no unique places to go out to eat. Local independents add so much to the livability of a community, and you really notice the difference when they’re not there.
What do you enjoy most about owning a local, independent business in Corvallis? What I love the most is being able to interact with people who are on the leading edge of sustainability and this whole movement. My clients have things like wonderful gardens, electric vehicles, and really cool rainwater catchment systems. I really love to serve people. Serving the community gives me a great feeling.
What is your relationship to the community? I’m a member of the Sustainability Coalition’s Energy Action Team, CIBA, the Corvallis Environmental Center, and Habitat for Humanity. We have a special program one month of the year for Habitat, in which we donate $100 per Kilowatt for every solar system we install that month. Also, we installed a 10 Kilowatt system on the Habitat ReStore.
Do you think your employees are better off working for a local independent rather than a large corporation? Yes, definitely. They get to see sustainability and ethical behaviors modelled in our business practices, and it influences their lives and the choices they make.
How important is sustainability to you and your business? The core focus of our business is sustainability. All of our business practices revolve around it – from running our trucks on straight vegetable oil, to installing American-made products, to recycling everything we possibly can. And our personal lives are a reflection of our commitment to sustainability. Using what we’ve learned, my wife and I built a straw bale, passive solar, net zero energy home here in Benton County.
Please give us your one-sentence take-away message about your business. At Abundant Solar, our mission is to enhance the quality of life for our world community by empowering people to produce their own clean, renewable energy at their homes and workplaces.
(Interview and article by Annette Mills – February 9, 2014)
The Local Business of the Week program is designed to help the Corvallis community identify our locally owned independent businesses by featuring one business each week. The program is part of the Buy Local First campaign co-sponsored by the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition and the Community Independent Business Alliance (CIBA).