After graduating with a physics degree from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, Phelps Clarke, co-owner and president of Sugar Hollow Solar, spent five years working at Sundance Power Systems in Weaverville, N.C. There he learned multiple types of systems, including solar hot water, radiant floor heating, micro-hydro and solar electric, while also earning his H-1 heating license.
In 2010, Clarke and Keith Holdsworth, project manager at Sugar Hollow Solar, decided to start their own company, Holdsworth and Clarke in Fairview, N.C., after Clarke saw some of Holdsworth’s radiant work a year earlier and convinced him to help try to improve the quality of renewable energy systems in the area.
Two years later, Clarke’s cousin, Doug Ager, joined as co-owner and treasurer to initiate a rebranding effort to help the company grow. They developed a new name, Sugar Hollow Solar, and tagline, “Sweetening the current,” and enlisted the help of graphic designer Jenny Greer, co-owner of Asheville-based Sound Mind Creative.
Members of the Radiant Professionals Alliance, the NC Sustainable Energy Association and the WNC Green Building Council, the company has grown to 12 employees, four vans and a hybrid sales vehicle it calls “The Estimator.” In addition to the Asheville area, it covers western North Carolina and upstate South Carolina, focusing on the design, installation and service of hydronic heating, solar hot water and solar electric systems for commercial and residential projects.
In order to look professional and take advantage of the opportunity for marketing as employees traveled between various jobs, the company decided to wrap all four vans — a 2002 Chevy Express 3500, a 2005 Chevy Express 2500, a 2006 Chevy Express 2500 (pictured) and a 2007 Chevy Express 2500. The sales vehicle isn’t wrapped yet, but is in the works.
“We chose these vans for several reasons,” Ager says. “They look good, are reasonably priced, have cheap replacement parts, long-lasting motors and can be worked on by local mechanics.”
Ager, who is an advocate and student of hydronic heating, credits Greer with the design wrapping the vans, which also provides a consistent marketing message on business cards and the company’s website of promoting hydronic and renewable technology systems.
“It is based off a barn quilt idea, which is an old tradition in this part of the country where people either hang a quilt or paint an image on the side of a barn to represent various things,” he explains. “Another design feature that we really liked is how Greer centered the sun part of the logo which highlights our focus on technologies revolving around solar energy — such as solar hot water and solar electric. We wanted the vans to stand out to people driving by without being an eyesore.”
The tagline, which can be seen on the side of the vans, was created in a joint effort between Clarke and Ager. Clarke wanted to use the idea of “sweeten” which connected well with the name and Ager spent a day researching what makes a good tagline.
“We liked that it could be interpreted in multiple ways, with all of them being positive,” Ager says. “One of our big focuses in the company is the importance of craftsmanship in radiant and solar work, so we liked the idea of trying to ‘sweeten the current’ level of craftsmanship that we saw in the field. We also wanted to improve on the way business has been traditionally practiced as a way to ‘sweeten the current’ business status quo.”
This article was originally titled “Sweetening the current” in the October 2015 print edition of Supply House Times.