You know that we love to ask the basic questions here at the Prosperity Blog. “What are we exporting and to whom?” “What is an audience?” “Should Samuel L. Jackson play former Seattle City Councilmember Richard McIver in a movie?”
But sometimes, those basic questions are the hardest to answer. Like “who wants to buy our energy efficiency goods and services?” More importantly, how do we find out the answer to that question? I’ve been thinking a lot about it, and my ideas on how we define our potential customer has changed significantly.
The problem is that measuring the market for energy efficiency is different than measuring the market for laptops or sneakers or oranges. Energy efficiency isn’t a thing, it’s a lack of something or rather a relative state of affairs. So, how do you know who wants to have less of something?
I used to think that we were going to pick a couple geographies, based mainly on circumstantial energy usage data. Like, “well, the American Southeast sure has high energy costs and a lot of old buildings, so I bet they’re all about retrofitting and investing in energy efficiency.” And then we’d go down to Hot-lanta, do some snazzy trade shows, and let the money just roll in.
But now I’m thinking differently. If I’m a property manager in Montgomery, I don’t say, “I sure do need some smart meters and better windows; who should I buy them from?” Instead, I probably hire an energy services company (ESCO) like McKinstry and ask them to do an energy audit and then authorize them to purchase and install whatever they think makes sense. So, maybe our market is ESCOs; if we can get them to increasingly source from and/or partner with our companies in their work, then let them do the business development and we’ll benefit from their growth. Plus, there’s a whole lot less of them than there are cities in the world.
The other potential customer is end product makers, to the extent that our region has expertise in components. For example, we don’t and likely won’t make smart meters here, but what if we’re really good (or can become good) at the software platforms upon which smart meters operate? Again, a lot less companies than places, so you’re identifying a very specific target market and pursuing them, instead of guessing about geographies. In the end, these approaches might just be more successful for our Metropolitan Business Plan.