Top Frog Energy has quickly become one of Australia’s fastest growing solar lighting providers. For the last seven years, 26 year old Matt Harris from Top Frog Energy has been cementing his business as the industry leader in all things solar. Whether it’s solar lights, solar panels, hot water, or solar camping equipment that you’re after Matt has built his business around the sun! Most recently, Matt has decided to close up his solar shopfront and move the business completely online. We spoke with him just after the launch of the new Top Frog Energy website, covering the trials and tribulations of being a small business owner

How long have you owned your business?

We started our business in 2009 with a retail solar lighting, solar panels and solar camping shop in North Brisbane.. Just recently we have made the decision to shut our store and go online.

What was the inspiration for opening your business?

I had worked in retail since I was 15, for a number of different companies in a variety of positions within the workplace. I worked my way to store manager at my last retail job and my boss was generous enough to put me through a certificate 3 in business management. After a couple of years as store manager, I realized that I had climbed as high as I was ever going to for that company. I made the decision that I would rather work my butt off for my families benefit, so we started a family owned and operated solar business.

How has your life changed and what opportunities do you envision for your future as a business owner?

Being a business owner is not easy, but I believe I have learned a lot of things that help in everyday life and grown in confidence as a person. I can no longer simply walk into another retail store, I must assess everything and have probably turned into a difficult customer. I dream big and envision continuing to grow my business into a very large and successful one and possibly even wholesaling to other businesses.

What are 3 things that you did successfully to put your business on the map and what tips for success would you suggest to other small business owners, new and existing?

  1. The best decision I made for my business was putting a terrific sales manager in. He wasn’t the first sales manager I hired and the difference in the performance of the business since he came was incredible. I would suggest always putting experienced and trustworthy people in the key positions within your business, but they must be getting the results you require also.
  2. Advertising is essential. Sometimes the cheapest forms of advertising can be quite effective, it doesn’t have to be all TV ad’s and sponsoring the Broncos. Whenever we were quiet I would send staff to do letterbox drops around the local suburbs and advertising on my car produced good results.
  3. My store layout would draw customers to the shop. I was in a complex surrounded by larger, more well known businesses. I had a lot of bright and colourful lights throughout my shop, but by far the most effective were the flashing big disco lights I had shining into the car park. There was not a spot in the car park where you didn’t notice those lights flashing and half the customers said they were drawn to my shop by the lights. I would also change the layout of my store every couple of months, to keep things interesting.

Do you spend more time working in your business than you did when you were employed by someone else?

I do tend to spend more time working in my business than when I was employed by someone else. However I think it is very important to maintain a social life and am a strong believer in the saying ‘work to live, don’t live to work’.

How have you managed to balance fun and pressure in the growth of your business?

The only way you can maintain a successful business and a healthy social life is to have other people in your business which you can trust and rely on. Otherwise your business becomes a sinking ship the moment you step away. There are always going to be times when you come home in a bad mood because of something that happened at work, but I try as often as possible to leave work for the workplace and not let it affect my social life.

What has been the biggest personal challenge for you since becoming a small business owner?

The biggest personal challenge for me has been knowing when something isn’t working and when to change it. There have been times where I have hung on to the hope that something will work, when really it has been obvious for a while that things need to change. This can be as simple as keeping an underperforming staff member or product too long. In one case, when the solar market slowed, I made the decision to shut the shop down and go online about a year after I should have, meaning I was paying large overheads that I really wasn’t getting the benefit of.

How important is it to recognize loyal customers?

It is very important to recognize loyal customers. Often this is done with loyalty cards and discounts, but often going above and beyond with service or even just building a good relationship can help build a strong base of loyal customers. Of course selling quality products over garbage will also help grow your list of loyal customers.

What percentage of your customers come from your local community?

All of our marketing was targeted at the local community and that was where 99% of our business came from, however just having taken our business online, I would expect that to change with more of our marketing being targeted at online sales.

How would you describe the culture of your business?  The culture of our business is aimed at achieving our goals of providing top quality products and service to our customers. This includes continually training staff, always testing products and dealing with any customer issues promptly and professionally.

What’s have you got planned for Top Frog Energy in the coming months?

Our latest shipment of solar lights has arrived so the next month will involve setting out our marketing plan for the flood lights via the website. We have recently signed up to Google+ too so we will be working on building a social media strategy for all of our solar products also.