First there was a line of non-hinged boxes that company founder Alvan Tall, a former Foster Grant corporate manager, bought out of the Chicago area. “It was a series of molds and a customer list. That's how we supplemented the other work,” David Tall said. And then, five or six years later, the business acquired a hinged-boxed business in New England and added those molds. Today, the company features dozens of different box designs and combinations, so many that Tall doesn't even keep count.
“Through reputation and word of mouth,” he said, the company built up that business.
These days, Alpha Rho operates out of a 36,000-square-foot building with 12 injection molding machines and a staff of about 15 making all sorts of polystyrene boxes. No one customer dominates the company's business.
“Over the past three or four years, our production has increased each year to the point where I'm using a lot of power. This is not a knock at my utility, which is Unitil, but Unitil has a reputation of being very expensive,” Tall said.
At the same time, Alpha Rho has been repeatedly approached by contractors trying to sell the company on the virtues of solar power.
For a family-owned company, where Tall is busy running the operation, the timing was never very good to install solar despite the potential economic benefits he was hearing about.
“We're a small company,” he said, “and I wear a lot of hats. When you get a knock on the door, installing solar is probably one of my least priorities.”
But over time that changed, he said, as the firm is in the process of installing a roof-top system that's expected to cover at least 80 percent of the operation's energy needs.
With a five- to six-year payback and a 25-year life expectancy, the decision ended up being easy. Financing the project through a lease agreement also meant the company did not have to come up with any upfront funding. Tax credits and the sale by Alpha Rho of solar renewable energy certificates, which help utilities meet their renewable energy portfolio requirements, also help.
“As we progressed through the whole thing, it just made more and more sense. The payback is relatively quick. It's almost a no-brainer,” he said.
Alpha Rho dipped its toes into solar power by buying energy from a nearby solar farm through the local chamber of commerce, saving 10 percent off its electricity costs. That experience helped convince Tall to make an even bigger move.
The project even caught the attention of a local politician: “Solar energy is a great option for businesses like Alpha Rho who are looking to divert high daytime electricity spending back into their business and workforce,” said state Sen. Jennifer L. Flanagan, in a statement.
The company expects the solar project, being installed by New England Clean Energy of Hudson, Mass., will save $1.6 million over 25 years for Alpha Rho. And all of the company's workers will benefit from that.
“One thing is we have a profit sharing plan for my employees. They've been here long enough that pretty much they all participate. It will directly impact their finances. It's for retirement, but that profit goes right back into the business. We all share in it,” he said.
That's a big deal for a small company, Tall said.
“I've got some customers that they do look for their vendors to be more socially responsible any way they can,” he said. “My customers appreciate it. I'm having less of an impact on the environment. There's just a lot of positives to the thing. ... It's really not just economic.
“It's important to me, too,” Tall said.