American Sentry Solar pays forward nearly $200,000 to small businesses struggling during COVID
When COVID-19 closed businesses across the country in early 2020, American Sentry Solar (#200 on the 2021 Top Solar Contractors list) CEO Joe Tunney had flashbacks of the Great Recession of 2008. He recalled what it was like to run a small business during those difficult financial times and wanted to help companies facing similar hurdles and uncertainty in 2020.
In Maryland, solar companies fell under the “essentials” category and were allowed to resume operations after an initial shutdown of the entire economy. To help local entrepreneurs, American sentry launched its Small Business Recognition Program that gave any homeowner who went solar between May and December 2020 the chance to donate $1,000 to a small business or local charity of their choice.
American Sentry didn’t just set up an anonymous transaction – it gave homeowners the chance to personally surprise their business of choice with the donation. Homeowners chose to donate to businesses that meant a lot to them, ranging from dog shelters to local restaurants.
“Everyone was very emotional and very rewarding because once the business owner realized, ‘Not only is this real, but hey, here’s my client!’ some recognized them just by coming into their sub shop or karate studio,” said Kevin Carmen, CMO of American Sentry Solar. “Often it ended in tears.”
One of those donations came from homeowners Joni and Brian Newby, who said they chose American Sentry as their installer because of the Small Business Recognition Program. They chose to give the $1,000 check to their favorite comic book store, Captain Blue Hen Comics in Delaware.
“The owner of Capt. Blue Hen’s is a personal friend who has helped me in the past and it was great to be able to repay his kindness in a small way,” Brian Newby said in an email. “In addition, it was great to see my boyfriend again at a time when social interaction was so minimized.”
Joe Murray, owner of the store, said when he saw Brian and Joni come in during a pandemic that August day, he was knocked out. He hadn’t seen them in over a year.
“Knowing that they had thought of us and that they wanted to reward us for hiring Brian when he was between jobs brought tears to my eyes and was worth almost as much to me as the $1,000 check. Murray said in an email. “After being completely closed for 2 1/2 months before the shutdown, and after the PPP ran out, that money was much appreciated and gave us a little cushion, which did wonders for our stress level and helped to stock up on some scarce shelves. hitting with product.”
While many of the homeowners had existing relationships with the companies they chose, some did not. Carmen said those donations were sometimes even more powerful.
“I think the best ones were when the business owner didn’t recognize the customer. It’s clear that the company had had such an impact on the customer, and now they were sort of connected for life,” he said.
A thousand dollars may not seem like a lot of money, but for businesses like restaurants that took a hard and immediate hit from the pandemic, that money covered some essential elements.
“Usually you would literally hear people say, ‘This is going to help us get on the payroll for the next two weeks,'” said Carmen.
While sales were not the goal of the program, Carmen said some small business owners expressed an interest in solar energy, either at work or at home, after meeting the American Sentry team during the donation presentation. Carmen said he wouldn’t be surprised if their installers teamed up with some of the people they met in 2020. Captain Blue Hen’s Murray said he is considering adding solar power to his home after his experience with American Sentry.
A total of 194 homeowners switched to solar in the eight months American Sentry ran the program, raising nearly $200,000 in donations to local businesses. Three dozen homeowners chose not to nominate a company, so American Sentry will donate the $32,000 in unclaimed SBRP funds to companies of their choice.
“With all the crazy/bad things going on in this world right now, it was fantastic that American Sentry offered us this opportunity to bring a little joy to someone who needed it. I hope other businesses take note and create their own community support incentives,” said homeowner Brian Newby.
This story was featured exclusively in our Top Solar Contractors 2021 issue. Check out the issue and full list of the best solar installers in the US here.