Building bridges to small businesses
February 3, 2022
SBAM helps members connect to savings at DTE.
Originally featured in DTE Energy’s Energy Smarts Magazine
Beginning an energy efficiency journey can feel daunting to a small-business owner. But for members of the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM), a knowledgeable and dedicated guide to that journey is just an email away.
That’s thanks to a successful partnership between DTE Energy and SBAM called Small Business Energy Solutions. Small Business Energy Solutions engages SBAM staff as liaisons between DTE and SBAM members, educating small-business owners on the energy efficiency programs available to them and connecting them to the programs best suited to their needs.
Small Business Energy Solutions is just one of the latest services SBAM is offering to small-business owners in Michigan. SBAM energy advocate Caile Richards said SBAM started “very, very small” in 1969 and has since grown to serve 28,000 members in all 83 Michigan counties.
Small Business Energy Solutions started more recently, in 2017, but it’s already had a major impact. In just the first three quarters of 2021, SBAM arranged 210 energy assessments to help members analyze their businesses’ energy needs. The program has served businesses of diverse types ranging from manufacturing to offices to retail to the performing arts.
Richards said the program is designed to make a friendly, convenient connection to business owners who may think they don’t have the time to navigate energy efficiency upgrades or the programs to help implement them to save both energy and money.
“When someone tells a small-business owner, ‘Hey, we can help you save money by using less of the thing that we’re selling you,’ people get skeptical pretty quick,” he said. “SBAM is a trusted name in the small business community, and we’ve used that relationship to help leverage trust between small-business owners and DTE.”
Big benefits for small businesses
SBAM member Sue Tellier didn’t realize the breadth of services DTE could offer her until she got in touch with Small Business Energy Solutions. Tellier is the president of JetCo Federal, a Grand Rapids–based supply chain management and warehouse supply company. Her business recently moved into a newly constructed building, so Tellier assumed her facility was already as up to date and efficient as possible. But after doing an energy assessment, she learned that she could replace her dock door seals for greater efficiency. Tellier ended up receiving a 10% rebate on the project.
“That matters when you’re a small business and you’re trying to make sure you’re expending your efforts in the right direction and doing the right thing for the community, but also conserving costs so that those costs can go towards employees,” she said.
Richards said business owners may think that the only energy efficiency option available to them is installing LED lighting, but those business owners are “missing the boat” on other DTE programs. Small Business Energy Solutions has helped SBAM members connect to DTE’s residential, multifamily, direct install and new construction programs, among many others.
Another common misconception, Richards said, is that small businesses are too small to benefit significantly from energy efficiency programs that can, in reality, potentially impact their bottom line in a big way.
But Small Business Energy Solutions also educates business owners on the other benefits of energy efficiency upgrades, such as improving the employee and customer experience and encouraging customers to spend more time in the store.
“There’s a lot of other benefits to reducing energy usage for your business other than simply lowering your operating costs,” Richards said.
A ‘no-brainer’ program
SBAM has received “overwhelmingly great feedback” on Small Business Energy Solutions, Richards said. “People are happy to see us, they’re happy to get the information and they’re happy to have an extra hand to help them get started,” he said.
Tellier has become an advocate for the program, spreading the word to her friends who are also small-business owners. She said there are “so many” small-business owners who think that energy efficiency programs don’t benefit or apply to them, which is what she also once thought. Now, she wants to make sure they reap the rewards available to them.
“I consider it a colossal no-brainer for any small business,” she said.
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