Case Study: Naked Solar

An Enduring Business With An Enduring Purpose

Oxford Innovation Cornwall has been working with Naked Solar since 2011, just a year after it began trading (as Cornwall Solar Panels) in 2010.

Since then Naked Solar has grown both as a company and in reputation to become one of the region’s most loved solar PV suppliers and imminently it’s set to expand further out of the county.

The path from a start-up to a successful, established business hasn’t always been easy but help from OIC to help build a future-proof brand and robust business model, along with an unwavering level of dedication from Naked Solar’s founder/MD, Tony Sampson.

An imminent need for clean energy

Though the technology to harness solar energy has been around for some time, widespread use of it in homes and businesses is comparatively recent, with the ever-present need to reduce our carbon footprint and reliance on fossil fuels only becoming more pertinent with each passing day.

Government statistics put the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources at 35.8% in the first quarter of 2019 with solar PVs representing an increasing proportion of that figure.

With so many different types of solar panel and storage types on the market today it’s crucial to know that you’re working with a company that puts your requirements first. This is exactly what Naked Solar set out to do: demystify the whole process of buying and installing equipment in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

“Whenever people get quotes from us they get two or three options and they’re only ever suggestions.” Naked Solar’s MD Tony Sampson explains. “We’re not interested in telling them what they should have, we’re interested in helping them find out what the choices are.”

A former RAF engineer, Tony gained accreditation for Solar PV installations in 2010 and since then he’s managed to establish one of the most trusted names in solar energy in the South West, picking up numerous awards and accolades along the way for the high quality of service.

Naked Solar Logo

What’s in a name?

Cornwall Solar Panels became Naked Solar in 2017, with support from OIC to help coordinate the rebrand, including sourcing a company to handle content and design changes.

The change to “Naked” came about partly as a reflection of their ethos of having nothing to hide when it comes to their service and sales, but also to represent energy in its most natural form.

The name change would also help with the planned expansion into new areas, with services opening in Bristol and Exeter for the first time.

A white-knuckle solarcoaster ride

Even though utilising solar power is kinder to the environment than the fossil fuels we’ve historically relied on and can cause a significant drop in energy bills, solar installations haven’t always been the easiest product to sell.

Changes to government incentives in the form of grants and the introduction (then subsequent removal) of a feed-in tariff to encourage people and businesses to adopt solar energy led to what Tony describes as the “solarcoaster”, which has had a knock-on effect on the industry as a whole.

Installers, suppliers and manufacturers of solar equipment have all been affected by changes to the incentives, but Tony puts Naked Solar’s endurance down to a dedication to the cause: “we’ve always been a lot more determined that solar is the way. And very focused.”

Naked Solar PV panel installers

“Some of the more international ones (businesses) were pulling out of the UK, so I do think one of our biggest achievements was surviving 2013, when that really came to a head.”

“The difference between the ones that have been here and the ones that remain is that when we get together there’s a real ‘passion’, so I think that’s what made the difference really.” – Tony Sampson, MD Naked Solar

Discovering strength in numbers

Naked Solar wasn’t Tony’s first entrepreneurial venture, but even while working elsewhere he was making sure everything was in-place when the time was right for him to start his own solar business.

With electrical qualifications under his belt and prior business & management experience it wasn’t until he began to work with Oxford Innovation Cornwall that he began to really focus on the numbers and accountancy side of running a successful business.

Tony Sampson from Naked Solar with Customers

“Understanding the accounts … I look at that now and it was one of the first things that Oxford Innovation really worked on with me. Now I just think it’s fundamental and how could you ever run a business without it?”

“From what I know now it feels like a really basic lesson but it was so critical at the time. Unbelievably critical.” – Tony Sampson, MD Naked Solar

For something that may seem an essential step, Tony isn’t alone in starting a business without having a complete understanding of the accountancy side of running a successful business: for many businesses the practicality of setting up, running and dealing with the day-to-day aspects come first, so it’s not uncommon for this learning to come later, if it does at all.

But understanding accounts and cashflow doesn’t just allow a business to see where they stand financially, it also helps plan for the future, including forecasting growth and creating a buffer in preparation for changes in an often volatile sector.

“Doing a proper cashflow forecast… it gives you so much more confidence in decisions. That was one of the key things that working with Oxford Innovation gave us.”

“I couldn’t say we’d be where we are today without Oxford Innovation. There’s a good chance that we wouldn’t.” -Tony Sampson, MD Naked Solar

A sounding board for great ideas

Most recently Tony and Naked Solar have been working with OIC coach Karen Biggs, whose breadth of industry experience in leadership and management roles, alongside a background in the construction sector meant that she was perfectly-suited to act as a sounding board for ideas that could help grow the business.

For a man that’s worked tirelessly on getting Naked Solar to the place it is today, Tony has relished the opportunity to see the business from a different perspective, taking time to reflect on the business as a whole.

“First of all it gives me a bit of space to think… Having someone around who’s got a bit of business savvy will tend to pick the holes in your strategy and get you to think about the things you haven’t thought of as well.

“It’s like having a boss… It helps give me a bit more focus than I would have if I was just left floating. If I sat there thinking I know everything then we wouldn’t get anywhere. Having outside input from someone with that much experience and a fresh pair of eyes is really helpful.”

Karen Biggs Oxford Innovation Coach
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This programme is fully funded by the European Regional Development Fund 2014-2020.