IMARK Signs Ontility and SolarWorld as Suppliers to Help Members Expand in Solar

April 5, 2012
Seeing some solid interest in the solar market from its distributor members, the IMARK Group, Oxon Hill, Md., recently took on two solar suppliers that provide both photovoltaic (PV) products and training.

Seeing some solid interest in the solar market from its distributor members, the IMARK Group, Oxon Hill, Md., recently took on two solar suppliers that provide both photovoltaic (PV) products and training for end users who want to learn how to install solar products.

IMARK’s Supplier Committee recently recommended that Ontility, Houston, a distributor of solar supplies and provider of training for solar installers and SolarWorld, Hillsboro, Ore., a manufacturer of solar panels and provider of installation training and design services, become members of the association. According to information on the Ontility website, in just over one year, it has grown from a start-up to an “$80 million solar distribution, solar training and solar projects enablement leader.” An article at said Ontility is one of the “top three solar products distributors in the nation.” Ontility says on its website that it stocks $20 million in monthly inventory from more than 120 manufacturers. Solarworld has been in the PV market as a manufacturer for more than 35 years, has approximately 3,300 employees, and says it operates the equivalent of four production plants on its 97-acre Hillsboro campus.

“Ontility is a full-service provider of solar panels, inverters, racking and balance of systems components,” said Steve Ruane, IMARK’s V.P. of marketing and member services in an e-mail to Electrical Marketing. “They do inventory a wide variety of products from some of the leading brands in the solar industry. SolarWorld, on the other hand, is a leading vertically integrated manufacturer with a long-standing global leadership position. They also offer a full range of solar products in addition to the solar panels manufactured in the United States. So, we feel like we’ve got the best of both worlds.

“One of the things that really impressed us about both companies was the training resources made available to both electrical distributors and installers, including many electrical contractors. The more electrical contractors that are trained, the better for electrical distribution. Also, the marketing support available to our members is very substantial. It’s there for the asking.”

Bob Smith, IMARK’s president and chief executive officer, said Jerry Knight, IMARK’s V.P. of supplier relations, along with the member executives on the buying/marketing group’s Supplier Committee reviewed multiple solar products companies and decided Ontility and SolarWorld were the best fits for IMARK members. “We know IMARK members will be comfortable working with companies that have been carefully vetted by both IMARK staff and their fellow members,” Smith said in an e-mail to Electrical Marketing. “We recognize this market is not for everyone, but we think our group’s relationship with these companies will help interested members do what’s right for them.”

While it might seem on the surface that Ontility and SolarWorld could compete on some level with IMARK distributors because they both sell PV products to end users who could be potential customers, Ruane said both companies realize electrical distributors and electrical contractors will be “essential to the near- and long-term growth and vitality of the solar industry.”

“Solar power installations are electrical installations and the electrical contractor and the electrical distributor are uniquely well positioned to serve the needs of solar power installers, particularly in the residential and commercial/industrial segments of the market,” he said. “We’ve discovered that Ontility and SolarWorld have a solid track record working with electrical distribution, including many IMARK members. They have been very helpful in advising our members about what it takes to be successful in the solar installation market and in making sure their distributor partners can be competitive in a very turbulent market.”

Smith said at the recent IMARK Showcase meeting more than 150 members attended presentations by Ontility and SolarWorld and that more than 70 member companies had pre-scheduled meetings with these solar suppliers. “We were pleased, but not surprised at the level of interest,” he said.

Ruane added that more than 250 IMARK members responded to a survey during the fourth quarter of 2011 on solar opportunities and that a solid majority of responding members reported one or more of their electrical contractor customers were actively involved in the solar power installation market. In addition, he said several members had solar “champions” at their companies and some have set up separate departments to serve this market. Overall, 55% of the survey’s respondents said they would be involved in this market sometime in 2012.