For the Cola Solar family, Tony and Kaye Ruff, their business name incorporates not only what they do, but also their family values. When electrician Leo Cola (Tony’s father), immigrated to help build the Snowy Mountain Scheme, he brought his trade and good Italian work ethic with him, and this lives on in the family today.
Leo Cola started his working life as an electrician, and built an electrical contracting business LR Cola Electrical in Sydney, through this business he passed his trade onto David Cola and Paul Ruff (Paul is the current owner/operator of Solar Connections in Sydney) Tony went into carpentry but certainly has Leo’s business acumen in his genes.
The sparks in the family’s blood have continued with Tony’s eldest son Jordan just completing his electrical apprenticeship within the Cola Solar family.
With a solar power business other trades and skills are also needed. Wife and partner Kaye, manages the administration and bookkeeping, and it takes up a big part of her day.
The couple have five children; Jordan, Nathaniel, Caleb, an apprentice plumber, daughter Amelia in her VCE at Catholic College and Isaac. The three older boys work in the business full time.
Seventeen years ago Tony and Kaye opened Leisure Lattice, and while Tony had small business skills from his side of the family, Kaye had retail and customer service skills learnt from a family who owned a chain of baby shops in Sydney.
“But we still needed to know much more about running a business, so we applied to be a part of the NEIS scheme (New Enterprise Investment Scheme) that had started up. We couldn’t have been more fortunate than to have Leon Scott, Ron Slattery and Ian Reid as our mentors. I still use what I learnt from their course today,” Kaye says.
The couple eventually sold this business, then five years ago Tony’s younger brother Paul (who lives in Sydney) saw the trend in renewable energy and decided to investigate a solar business.
“We decided to get on board and opened Cola Solar in Bendigo, with my brother David and nephew Mathew.
“Three years ago they opted out to go and start something else, and today Kaye and I operate the business from the old Iser Kitchen’s premises, with 25 staff plus subcontractors on the payroll.”
“With family involvement in the day-to-day running, we can keep our finger on the pulse of the business, and foster that ‘we’re all in this together’ feeling,” Kaye adds.
For Tony, it’s the excellent staff that make it work so well too.
“Many of them have been with us since we started. We also have great faith in the industry, because electricity prices are still on the rise, the commercial side of our business is increasing every day. Businesses can see solar power adds good dollar sense to their bottom line.
“The industry has settled down and we now operate a very positive, sustainable business. The numbers are good, with one in five houses on solar today, and a projected 50 per cent of homes converting by 2030. That’s only fifteen years away, so it’s steady as she goes for Cola Solar,” Tony says.
Cola Solar are located at 156 Strickland Road, East Bendigo, phone 1300 374 357 or go to www.colasolar.com.au
Article from Enterprise February, 2015