Peppermint Energy prepares to build smaller solar generator
A Sioux Falls startup that began by selling portable solar generators to customers in developing countries has entered the U.S. market and is adding a smaller unit to its product line.
“Over the last 12 to 18 months, we’ve been shifting – not really a pivot – getting back-office operations going, the non-sexy stuff,” Peppermint Energy founder Brian Gramm said of preparations for the domestic market.
He started the company in 2012 and had the first unit – the Forty2 – ready to sell in late 2013.
The solar generator typically has been used in developing countries for commercial applications such as ATMs, rural medical clinics and schools and agriculture, Gramm said.
“Our product is big, heavy and expensive. It’s not an ideal fit for the domestic market,” he said. “We weren’t sure what to expect.” The three models of the Forty2 are the size of a large suitcase, weigh 60 to 75 pounds and cost from $2,400 to $3,800.
“We put them on Amazon to see what would happen. Within five to seven days of being on there, we sold one. It was a ‘hurrah’ moment for us.”
A week later, a tropical storm hit the U.S. coast.
“We were selling 10 to 15 of them every week. Things took off quick.”
Now, customers can even buy the Forty2 Pro+ on Walmart.com for $2,800, with free shipping.
With a proven e-commerce market in the U.S., the next step is bricks-and-mortar, Gramm said.
Peppermint is working with sales groups to get into big-box stores and other places where customers would expect to find a generator. He expects to have deals in place soon.
The other area of development for the company is the expanded product line. Peppermint was an early adopter of crowdfunding, and it’s turning to Kickstarter again to help get The Maverick off the ground.
“Its power will be more in line with the needs of a small, off-the-grid rural home,” Gramm said. The smaller unit could be used to charge cellphones and power LED lights, a television or fans. He expects it to retail for less than $700.
While Peppermint once employed a dozen people, the back-office shift of the past 18 months has led to a smaller staff. Gramm and one other employee now rely on the services of experts in specific areas.
One such relationship is with Arrow Electronics, a global provider of products and services to industrial and commercial users.
“They will help us with additional product development,” Gramm said. “We’ll use them to get things done faster.”
Peppermint launched as a client of the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship, left for a short time and returned as it retooled.
“I like not having to worry about stocking coffee and wondering whether the bathrooms have been cleaned,” Gramm said.
He enjoys the benefit of being able to “bump into” the Zeal staff and ask them questions or talk about his ideas.
Ryan Oines, interim vice president at the incubator, said he has tried to help Gramm raise capital.
“Most of my interaction has been introducing him to investors and other groups.”
Gramm said his first crowdfunding campaign drew the attention of the national media, and Zeal was helpful in facilitating those interviews.
It’s likely that the latest moves for the company will put it back into the national spotlight.
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