Canada is the world’s third-largest producer of natural gas, and just south of its border is one of the most energy-hungry countries in the world. The US Energy Information Administration is reporting record natural gas consumption levels, and as Americans continue to pursue the substance as a cleaner power source, those numbers will only climb. Alan Shulman knows this.
As the vice president of marketing for Just Energy Group Inc., Shulman has spent the bulk of his career in product management, including as part of the team that launched the first iPhone in Canada. Today, he’s helping his latest employer, a top gas, electricity, and green-energy retailer operating in markets across North America and the UK, by finding ways to promote its unique pricing programs to consumers less sure about the future of gas. The products might not be as tangible as iPhones, but Shulman hopes to make them just as titillating.
with Alan Shulman
What does innovation mean to your company?
It means paying attention to how our customers interact with their homes, listening to their needs, and developing new solutions to meet those needs. It also means rethinking how we use energy.
Is there a technology, trend, or idea that is driving your company forward?
The idea that we can provide an unprecedented level of service to our customers by developing solutions that give them more control over their finances and utilities while also helping their homes run as efficiently as possible.
How do you innovate on a day-to-day basis?
The great thing about Just Energyis that a great idea can come from anywhere. We’re constantly listening to employees and looking for ideas that we can develop and bring to market, and these ideas can come from any employee at any level and in any department.
How do you cultivate innovation within your workforce?
Our employees know that they can come to us with any ideas they have, and there’s a strong possibility that their good ideas will go to market, sometimes just weeks later. It makes Just Energy a very exciting place to work.
What defines an innovative company in the 21st century?
Not being afraid to cannibalize yourself. If you have a good, new, innovative idea—and you know setting it into motion will impact your existing business—you can’t be afraid to do it. You’re not going to win unless you take risks.
“Utility prices go up and down month to month, which makes it incredibly hard to budget,” he says. “What we did was hedge the risk against rising prices. Our customers don’t have to worry about future escalating rates.”
This is because one of Just Energy’s product options includes a fixed-price program that protects customers’ commodity rates for the terms of their contracts. The company purchases its energy supplies in advance, enabling consumers to lock in their current rates for extended periods.
“For natural gas and electricity customers that choose our fixed-price program, they gain the benefit of predictability, helping them to better manage one of their most important
household expenses for the longer term,” Shulman says. “If prices go up—which they’re apt to do in a volatile commodity market—or if it’s the winter months and you’re using the heat more, it doesn’t matter; you pay the same supply rate every month.”
This is just one of Just Energy’s compelling product offerings, which are complemented by the company’s popular variable price options that allow customers to take advantage of rates when market prices are lower. Overall, these offerings serve to help customers offset their exposure to changes in the price of gas. Just Energy also provides consumers with eco-conscious options through its JustGreen Lifestyle carbon-offset program.
Innovation is incredibly important to Just Energy, too, and the company is committed to offering the most cutting-edge technology available to benefit its customers. The Just Energy Smart Stat Thermostat, for example, is Wi-Fi-enabled and makes homes run more efficiently by calculating, based on the day’s weather, when and to what degree to turn the heat up or cool things down.
“There’s an Android and iPhone app, so you can control everything from your phone,” Shulman says. “You’ll also be provided with an energy report so that you can see how efficient you’re being and compare your stats to your neighbours’. Education is very important to us. We want people to gain knowledge and feel empowered, and we facilitate that by offering our customers the tools and technology.”
It almost goes without saying that these services are especially helpful in areas with extreme temperatures, including Ontario, where the company is based, and Texas. Customers in these regions use Just Energy’s products to stay on track financially despite frigid lows and sweltering highs that force HVAC systems to work overtime.
“To us, it’s clear that innovation is going to be crucial moving forward,” Shulman says. “It’s going to be about how people interact with their home systems and appliances, how they interact with you, and how you can utilize technology—like smartphones—to make your home work as efficiently and affordably as possible. Just Energy doesn’t just want to stay on top of the latest trends; we want to lead the way—and I think we are. We’re making homes more automated than we’ve ever seen in the past, and this level of innovation will continue to be our goal in the future.”