● By Gary VanDeWalker
Sun RiseSeptember 2014
By Gary Vandewalker
As Mark and Ellen Coleman watched the brilliant reds and oranges of a New Mexico sunset, they were looking at their future. They had moved from the urban setting of Austin, Texas, and came here looking for a retreat, which would draw them together as a family and make them better stewards of their world. The 20-acre lot outside of Taos had everything they wanted except electricity. As he gazed at the warm afternoon sun, Mark knew the answer to their dreams.
With 39 employees, Wholesale Solar is a force in the solar energy business. With a strong web presence, the phones in their office ring nonstop with hopeful inquirers. From three offices in Taos, Mount Shasta and Redding, orders are placed then shipped from their own distribution center throughout North America and other points on the globe. The office speaks of family and community, as the employee-owners use stand-up desks and yoga-ball chairs alongside traditional office equipment. The smiles of each and the openness of the space around them generates an energy of its own.
Mark searched for solar panels for the home they were constructing in New Mexico. Finding a set from the Jimmy Carter era, he constructed a system to power their home and pump water from the 1,000-foot-deep well. As others bought the lots around them, they wondered how to solve the power problems and Mark found himself working for them as a small solar-powered community was created, which still exists today.
The Colemans believe in community. They support many activities in the city around them, and provide employment and support for the people working for them in Northern California. However, they wanted their company to outlive them and benefit as many people as possible. They set into place an employee stock ownership plan. Wholesale Solar became the property of all those working there. “We are 100 percent employee owned,” Mark says. “Our employees are motivated to improve the company. Some of the smartest people in our region work here.”
Living off the grid in New Mexico and taking their business into an internet model, the Colemans realized they could live wherever they wanted. “For years our family vacationed in the Mount Shasta area,” Mark says. “So we moved and opened an office for Wholesale Solar here.” Mark watched over the technological side of the company, while Ellen developed its business organization. They hired a general manager, Judy Roda, and the business continued to bloom. Their daughter, Alexandra, oversees product, purchasing and pricing, as other employee-owners continue to grow their family as they are hired.
As the day’s 200 calls roll in, voices are heard asking the questions, “What do you want to do, and how can I help you do it?” They help design systems for RVs, homes, telecommunications, as well as the military and other government operations. “When people call us, they get a live person,” Mark says, “Each person here is engaged, interested, and knowledgeable.”
Mark sits relaxed among the bustle of the office. “I sometimes wonder what I’m doing here. There are no dead weights here. They could do this without me,” he says. “It’s what I always wanted, to help people be self-reliant, independent and to live a different life that impacts the world.”