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OCT NIBJ: What it takes to get your name out there

by EMILY BONSANT/NIBJ Staff Writer
| September 28, 2023 1:05 AM

BONNERS FERRY — A tried and tested way to find customers is word of mouth, but what if they can’t find your business due to Google business listing issues?

Off Grid Unlimited, a veteran-owned one-stop business for all things off grid, alternative energy and consulting had this very issue in Boundary County, where business can be difficult to find for newcomers and navigational systems.

Rick Phebus, owner of Off Grid Unlimited said the business' Google listing was removed last summer due to hackers, which made customers believe they were out of business for good. The store front had also changed locations and with that, Google wasn’t certain Off Grid Unlimited was still in business.

Now located right off U.S. 95, just south of Three Mile junction, customers still have issues finding the business.

Phebus had signs made and placed around town, on the new building and along other business signs outside the new location on Enterprise Lane, a newly named road housing a business center with several other businesses, including a chiropractor and flooring company.

Part of the difficulty was getting drivers used to looking off U.S. 95 toward Enterprise Lane.

To date the road is still not named on Google, but Off Grid Unlimited can be found by Google search and is on Google and Apple maps.

Last summer, Off Grid Unlimited was hacked and removed from Google listings. Before, when searching “solar business” on the search engine, Off Grid Unlimited’s website was the first result that appeared.

Off Grid Unlimited then had to convince the search engine company that they were still operating and open for business. They did so by filming a video showing Phebus giving a tour of the outside of the building and showing the address on the door next to the Off Grid Unlimited logo.

The listing has now been restored, but past business reviews cannot be restored, nor can Off Grid Unlimited reclaim missed customers.

Phebus said the most important thing, especially for new businesses in rural Idaho, is finding ways for customers to find you, whether that is by placing signs near your business to direct customers, wrapping work vehicles or using traditional media.

“Physical signage is everything,” he said. “But you also have to work with local newspapers and magazines in order to reach different customers.”

Back in the day radio was the way to market, but Phebus is not sure if that is as viable, especially in Boundary County when radio signs come in from Washington, Idaho, Canada and Montana.

“The internet, even in a place like Boundary or Bonner County, is everything,” he said. “You have to have your icon on a map on Google or Apple to show everyone that you exist.”

He said if someone can’t pull their phone out of their pocket and search for your business or the service you provide, then your business is missing out on customers.

“When someone searches for solar, or alternative energy, our icon pops up leading them to our website. That, honestly, is probably the most important thing next to physical signage,” he said.

He said that by having a mix of physical signage, digital presence and advertising in local publications has been beneficial to driving digital and physical traffic to his business. The three-pronged approach also reaches customers locally, regionally and nationally.

By making it easier for prospective customers to find his business, it allows Phebus to spend his time providing the service his customers need, properly installed solar systems and other alternative energy sources.

A lot of the work for Off Grid Unlimited is updating failing solar systems in the region, he said. By working through wholesale they are able to get the newest technologies, from batteries that last 30 to 50 years and even double-sided solar panels.

With the large influx of people into the region over the past two years and those moving to North Idaho purchasing any property they can afford, Off Grid Unlimited has been busy consulting as well.

“We’ll come on to a newly purchased property with nothing on it and see what people can do for power,” he said.

There are many different options for power, whether it is solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal or thermal electric, which Off Grid can help with.

Most importantly, the business is dedicated to exceptional service, Phebus said.

Phebus said many of his customers have purchased “off grid” houses and thought they’d had enough power for the winter. However, that sometimes wasn’t the case.

In one particular case, the snow was so deep that Off Grid Unlimited couldn’t get the vehicles to the house, Phebus said. Instead, they had to hike through the snow and safely transport the solar panels.

Phebus said the volume of calls means the company has to triage clients like the military and help those in the most need first, especially when they are without power and water in the winter.

“I’m not going to let someone freeze to death,” he said.

Off Grid Unlimited is a licensed contractor, insured and bonded to ensure things are done correctly and in compliance with state and federal laws.

Schedule an appointment or stop by the office. For more information, visit www.offgridunlimited.com or call 208-627-4476.