A biology major and chemistry minor at Chico State, Scott Armstrong had aspirations to use what he had learned to pursue a career either in ecology or with the forestry service. He worked on construction sites during his time in college and, by the time he was ready to graduate in 1979, realized that working with his hands fulfilled his soul far more than the promise of working in a science field ever would. He continued working with contractors until finally earning his own contractor’s license in 1982.
Scott opened Armstrong Construction shortly thereafter, focusing his work on spec houses, custom residential, remodels, and commercial buildings, but quickly noticed a need for locally made cabinetry. In 1985, he opened a one-man cabinet shop in Chico to build cabinets himself, wholesaling them directly to other contractors and using them in his own building projects. By 2000, he had completed sixty-five homes throughout the North Valley, and provided cabinets for thousands of other buildings in the area.
The cabinetry business continued to experience increasing demand due to the building boom in the early 2000s, so he decided to move away from building individual homes and instead invest his focus on building cabinets full time. By 2007, the company was doing massive volume and it was clear that the company either needed to expand or fail to meet the demand in front of it. Scott purchased a piece of land by the airport and built his full-scale cabinet facility in 2008, ready to meet the demand of the local construction industry. Within the year, the effects of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression found its way directly to Scott’s new doorstep.
Yearly gross revenues dropped nearly $1 million in the first year alone, and struggling to keep the lights on, Scott was forced to decrease his once substantial workforce to just a few hands other than his own. Like so many other contractors, the recession bled his business dry in the years that followed. He invested his entire cash reserve to keep the company afloat and did everything possible to stretch each and every dollar as far as it could possibly go.
In 2012, the market finally began to even out. The lessons learned over the most difficult period for Scott’s business weren’t forgotten. He continued to explore the pain points in his business, identifying variable costs and seeking out new means to lower them long term, protecting his business against any future downturns. With PG&E bills that often reached $2,000 per month, he quickly realized this was one area of his business where savings could be found. A client of Scott’s over the years, Sean McCreary of Urban Design Solar, approached him with the opportunity to do just that.
Though Scott had been leery of the benefits and cost savings provided by solar, Sean proposed a solar installation for the roof of Armstrong Cabinets that would turn Scott’s variable PG&E bill into a thing of the past, sourcing nearly all of his power needs through solar energy. Urban Design Solar’s bid for the project was nearly $90,000 and, as a contractor himself, Scott knew better than to simply take the first bid he was given. He reached out to three other solar provider using the same specifications as Sean’s proposal and received bids ranging from $110,000 to $128,000. Consequently, Sean’s proposal also allowed for the project to be completed before the end of the year, which would earn Scott a much needed tax credit on his 2015 business filing, decreasing the amount he had to pay in taxes for the year by $28,000. With the most competitive price, timeline, and a prior relationship already in place, Sean was the obvious choice. Scott signed off on the papers and Sean delivered the solar installation in the timeframe promised.
Over the past five months, the PG&E bills at Armstrong Cabinets have been showing up with a nearly $0 balance owed each month. In the first year, Scott expects to save $15,000 on his energy bills, using those savings to pay off his new solar array. Over the next four years, Scott can pay off his entire solar installation using those savings and the tax credit he received in 2015, at which point the business will continue to hang onto an extra $15,000 annually, a huge return on his initial investment.
When asked if Scott considered going solar to be a good investment, he replied, “I didn’t think solar was viable. I knew it would cost an arm and a leg, and the investment scene prior to this year didn’t seem that great. I didn’t feel the market was strong enough to seek out $125,000 but when Sean gave us his proposal it made sense for the business and the tax credit came at just the right time.” The sentiment is one shared by many of Urban Design Solar’s clients who have experienced the same thing. In regards to his experience working with Sean and his team, Scott stated,
“They were very good at what they did and extremely knowledgeable about their product. The team was personable, responsible, safe, and clean, but most importantly they related well to my crew that was working during the installation. Service separates businesses, they fulfilled their obligations and their service met my expectation and needs completely.”
Beyond the joy of seeing a PG&E bill each month that hovers around zero, Scott enjoys the customer web control panel provided by Urban Design Solar. On it, he can watch how much energy his solar array harnesses along with the positive affect his mini power-plant has on the environment, further lowering his company’s carbon footprint with each passing day. It’s no surprise he’s so willing to recommend them to family and friends.
On the heels of 2015, which happened to be the best year for Armstrong Cabinets in its 34 years of business, Scott offers some advice to those looking to switch to solar, “Know your contractor, stay in communication, and your success will be a combination of relationship and communication, not price.” Surviving the worst recession since the 1930s, and coming out even stronger, there’s little business advice from Scott we wouldn’t be quick to listen to.
If you’re in the market for solar energy or interested in the cost savings and benefits it can provide to your home, business, or the environment, call Urban Design Solar at (530) 809-1079 and schedule an appointment. As Scott would surely tell you, it just makes good, clean sense.