Solar’s Future Is Bright and Full of Energy

Before taking your company global, here’s what you need to know about managing critical spare parts.

You’re an OEM who makes incredible solar products. You’ve found your niche, raised a few rounds of investments and are ready for the next step. In a way, you’re a rockstar who’s ready to take the big stage – the global one.

Solar is hot around the world and now is a great time to be an OEM. But before you start packing your panels and bubble-wrapping your inverters, there are some things to consider that will surely determine your success on the global stage.

Solar Future Is Bright and Full of Energy

Things happen when you’re rockin’ and rolling.

Winning the big deal is only the opening act in the race to success in a new country or territory. Sales gets you in, but service grows your business and your brand in the solar space.

You make incredible solar devices that power buildings and fuel lives; people depend on your brand to literally keep the lights on. So what happens when one of your devices fails in the field? As well as the product was designed and built, it will happen. How do you get spare parts or replacement units to your customers within hours or the next day? How do you deploy spares globally with SLAs measured in hours? What if you need a certified technician to install the part or whole unit? How do handle screening and testing of failed units? The list of questions goes on.

Don’t disappoint your fans.

Creating a global fanbase for your brand hinges on your ability to minimize downtime when equipment and materials break. To do that, you’ll need to be able to deliver spare parts and make repairs fast (within hours)—often to remote locations across borders, time zones and language barriers.

Electricity generation as well as customer satisfaction depends on your speedy delivery of replacement parts for transformers, inverters, power conditioning units and more. Maintenance agreements that are designed to get your customers’ systems back online quickly are required to win long-term. The commitments your customers expect and that you’ll have to fulfill on are often 24 hours, 48 hours or even next flight out.

It takes commitment, capital and compliance.

Successfully managing demanding maintenance and warranty agreements and their associated service level commitments overseas requires a strong service logistics solution. You’ll need a system for managing inventory of every single part so that you can get replacements to your customers per the terms of your agreement without fail. Throughout your operations, you’ll need to ensure trade compliance—that means adhering to U.S. regulations as well as those of the countries you’re doing business in. For example, you’ll need a master parts list if you don’t already have one.

Performing overseas requires infrastructure and people that adhere to proven processes that deliver repeatable outcomes. You’ll need to buy, build or lease warehouses, distribution centers and forward-stocking locations close to where your customers’ solar or energy storage plants are located. That can be a challenge when your customers are in rural locations or are spread over a wide area.

Avoid the headaches, find a service supply chain partner.

The short of it is that setting up shop overseas requires significant CAPEX. Unless you are a multibillion-dollar company, doing it all yourself is not an option. You’ll need a service supply chain partner who already has an established global footprint in the areas you want to reach. A viable partner will have facilities in the locations you need or the ability to quickly open them up for you. They’ll also have well-defined processes and technology for inventory and transportation management. Let’s not forget about a robust trade compliance program. Lastly, they’ll need to have a demonstrated ability to scale and grow to meet your needs as your business grows in the region.

Choose a partner that expands your connections.

Flash Global has forward stocking locations set up in 170+ countries throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and across the U.S. ready to receive your spares today. As part of our commitment to our customers, we’re adding new locations and countries constantly. We’ve recently opened several strategic location in South Africa, a hot bed for solar growth.

It takes local crews to run a successful world tour.

To play a different city every night, bands rely on stage crews who know the venues. You will too; you’ll need to staff your facilities with qualified people who bring a local advantage to your operation—not an easy task with the labor pool of good warehouse people is shrinking thanks to the eCommerce/fulfillment explosion. It’s an especially big challenge in many of the developing countries that count as top solar markets. Depending on where you are expanding to and how technologically advanced the labor pool is, you’ll need a local connection for help hiring.

Solar Local Crews

Every partner or employee you choose must fully comply with all aspects of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. It is your responsibility to verify this and violations can result in heavy fines and even jail time. It is one of the many reasons why it is crucial to understand trade compliance requirements and only partner with people who agree to adhere to them.

Playing big concerts and delivering critical spares requires technology.

You couldn’t pull off an arena rock show without the software behind the scene. Global service supply chains are no different. Setting the people and places in position is important, but you’ll need a world-class system behind the scene to tie them all together. Accurate and effective critical spare parts delivery depends on global inventory visibility, reliable last-mile delivery, trade compliance and more. Tracking all this information is nearly impossible without a technology platform. There are several out there, so while vetting, make sure that the partners you consider can handle mission-critical spares needs.

Doing the world tour will involve moving a lot of parts to a lot of different places all over the globe all the time. To live this rock ‘n roll lifestyle, solar manufacturers must maintain tight control of their service supply chain 24/7/365 everywhere in the world. That requires technology that provides visibility into order placement and end-to-end order status tracking as well as up to the minute inventory levels. The right system will enable you to optimize your stock on hand and control your costs. In the end, your success abroad hinges on meeting service commitments, but it also demands that you manage your cost of inventory efficiently. You don’t want to pay for warehouse space to store interfaces and inverters that are just going to sit there—but you also don’t want to run out in an emergency.

Manage inventory with precision and ease.

Flash Global’s expertise and technology built specifically for the service supply chain can give you a substantial competitive advantage. FlashTrac provides order placement and tracking functionality, inventory management tools and actionable data made for mission-critical service logistics.

A crucial part of managing your cost of inventory is managing reverse logistics and asset recovery. Simply consolidating all returns into one shipment to be sent back to your manufacturing facility to be screened, tested and repaired is only one approach—and it’s often the costliest. This work can often be done in-country for much less.

Learn the secrets of successful multi-national manufacturers.

By setting up screening or testing capabilities in-region or in-country, manufacturers are able to quickly identify returns with no trouble found (NTF) that can be immediately returned to stock, thus saving the cost of shipping the part back to the manufacturing facility.

Stardom comes at a cost.

It’s a steep learning curve for solar companies going into international markets. For stealth and emerging solar companies, the chaos of trying to manage the move on your own carries an underlying cost. Even if you do eventually master the nuances of trade compliance and set up capable FSLs and distributions around the world, doing so comes at the expense of attention your company could be focusing on what it does really well: developing products, selling those products and setting global standards that grow the brand.

Where in the world should you set up shop?

Flash Global can help you take the guesswork out of where to locate your FSLs. Our Supply Chain and Network Mapping leverages geospatial data to match SLAs with FSLs—and help provide service that shines.

Rock every market with the right partnership model.

The best solution of all is a service supply chain partner with a strong global presence and global footprint in emerging and established solar markets. That partner would have multi-client distribution centers worldwide that provide economies of scale, FSLs in the countries you need to be in, and the resources, connections and expertise to set up additional FSLs and scale as you expand.

Learn how Flash Global can provide calm amidst the chaos of global expansion through distribution centers worldwide, over 700 locations already established in hot solar markets and service logistics expertise that provides you with a competitive advantage anywhere under the sun.

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