As surely as the sun shines, Jerry Robison has a plan:
His "mother company," Solar Science Industries, Inc., will provide the capital for growth and soon will spin off a manufacturing operation.
His first-generation subsidiary, International Compendium, will be the information resource and will produce its own offspring, providing distribution and technical services.
If all goes according to Robinson's scenario, within 5 to 10 years the enterprise will be a major factor in the solar energy business.
Today it is a modest, but by no means unsuccessful, operation with 13 full-time employees and a headquarters in a Beltsville industrial park off Route 1.
Solar Science Industries sells sun screens, shading devices to keep heat out of glass-walled buildings in the summer, reducing the energy needed for air conditioning.
International Compendium sells solar books and, with 400 titles, claims to be the largest single source of such publications.
Robison is the inside man, the president. Partner Wayne Staley is the outside man, the salesman.
Between them, they'd hustled storm windows, encyclopedias, year books, printing and themselves before this venture. To get Solar Science Industries off the ground, Robison sold Encyclopedia Britanica at night and Staley literally guaranteed his partner's grocery bill by selling storm windows.
Though Robison insists "we're not rick," the hand-to-mouth days are gone. In its first year, 1975, the company led all other distributers in sales of its shading lines, and this year total volume should hit $750,000.
Sun shades are the summer equivalent of storm windows, meant to keep heat out of buildings. In a climate like that of Washington, shades can save as much energy in the summer as storm sashes can in the winter.
Selling the product is an educational process, according to Staley. The physics of heat gain has to be taught, along with the economics of life-cycle cost analysis.
The cash outlay may be less for solar-reflective film - plastic mirror that bounces away the sun - but the annual cost may be greater for bronze louvered shades, he explained.
Steadily increasing energy costs have boosted demand for sun screens, and that provided $100,000 in capital for expansion. While Staley deals with office and apartment building owners on jobs that can approach six figures, Robison worries about diversification.
Convinced of the future of solar energy, Robison said he hired a Library of Congress researcher and a physicist with a Ph.D. to help study the field.
"Everywhere I went, I was told to go somewhere else," he recalled. "I found there was a considerable body of information, but nothing a businessman could make any decisions on. There was far too little information for me to go out and lose a hundred thousand dollars."
Information about the solar field was so skimpy that Robison decided he should start disseminating solar data as well as gathering it.
He took a bibliography of 60 solar books, bought 10 copies of each, ran off some price lists, and was in business. Showing up at a solar energy conference with an abbrevited list of titles, Robison sold his entire stock in one day, mostly to people who looked at the list and decided to take one of each.
Out of the research into the solar business came an International Compendium manual called "how to Get Into The Solar Energy Business With the Greatest Chance of Success."
Sold by itself for $49.95, the manual is part of a solar business information package with a $125 price tag. That box of books - with instructions on which to read first - is designed to "bring down the cost of learning" for people who want into the solar field, said Robison. Buyers range from plumbers to bankers, their potential solar investments from $100 to $50,000 or more, he said.
With a boxful of ideas to make money on solar energy, Robinson is implementing some of them but believes "International Compendium is probably the most viable source of profit for the next five years."
Projecting that 100,000 businesses will enter the solar field by 1985, he predicts their thirst for facts could turn International Compendium into a $10-million-a-year business.
From selling books, the company will go into publishing them, to providing engineering, technical and design services, and to distributing other solar products. "I want people to become dependent upon us for their information source," said the president.
Another subsidiary will put the firm into the solar hardware business, but Robison won't divulge details except to say it will involve manufacturing.
Though hundreds of new solar firms have been launched in the past three years, and giants such as General Electric, Grumman, Exxon, Revere and, PPG, Inc., are jumping in, there is still plenty of opportunity to make hay while the sun shines, he contends.
The door to the solar business will remain open for at least another 5 years for manufacturers and for 10 years for "middlemen," Robison said. "I think it will be 15 years before we can say the middle-class market is adequately served."