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July 02, 2012

Industry with Heart

North American Power: Kilowatts into Kindness

by Jeremy Gregg

North American Power works with charity organization Save the Children to help children like 8-year-old Charles in Zomba, Southern Malawi. Photo Credit: Save the Children – Amos Gumulira

Click here to order the Direct Selling News issue in which this article appeared.

North American Power is a retail energy supplier whose rapid growth has been fueled by a different form of energy—the power of compassion.

North American Power

Company Profile

  • Launched: 2009
  • Headquarters: South Norwalk, Conn.
  • Founders: Kerry Breitbart, CEO; Carey Turnbull, Chairman
  • Products: Retail electricity & natural gas
Kerry Breitbart
Kerry Breitbart
Greg Breitbart
Greg Breitbart

Launched in 2009 by Kerry Breitbart and Carey Turnbull, the company has already been listed at No. 57 on the December 2011 Forbes List of America’s Most Promising Companies. Now one of the fastest-growing companies within this $70 billion industry, North American Power does not measure its success through top-line revenue growth or even through bottom-line profit. Rather, it bases its success on how much it donates to charity.

“We launched a program called Mission to Millions, through which each of our customers can select their charity of choice from a list of featured partners, and every month we will give $1 on their behalf to support that organization,” says Kerry Breitbart, CEO of North American Power. “Our goal is to grow to the point that our customers are generating over $1 million per month for some of the most deserving charities in the world.”

“Our goal is to grow to the point that our customers are generating over $1 million per month for some of the most deserving charities in the world.”
—Kerry Breitbart, CEO

A Powerful Change in Energy Supply

How It Works

SAVE: North American Power has saved its customers millions of dollars on their electric bills while also promoting at least a 25 percent reliance on renewable energy sources.

GIVE: Customers select a charity that will receive a $1 donation from North American Power each month they are active customers.

SHARE: All customers automatically receive a free, personalized website to share with their family and friends to earn referral income.

EARN: The “zero-risk, zero-investment” business opportunity allows representatives to earn additional income without an upfront investment or mandatory monthly purchases.

North American Power emerged in 2009, after energy deregulation gave customers in 25 states the power to choose who supplies their energy. In most instances, customers are still billed and serviced by their local utility, but their energy supply can be provided by companies like North American Power. As Breitbart explains, “We are focused on saving them money and delivering additional benefits besides simply keeping the lights on.”

The company competes with traditional utilities by using their infrastructure to deliver energy that North American Power purchases in the wholesale market. With a senior management team that boasts more than 100 years of combined experience in the energy business, North American Power is aggressively expanding across the East Coast and into the Midwest. The company is based in Connecticut and currently serves customers in other deregulated energy markets such as Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

North American Power focuses on providing access to “homegrown renewable energy.” In fact, every customer who switches to North American Power automatically chooses 25 percent renewable energy and has the choice to upgrade to 100 percent renewable energy. In addition to helping their customers save money, the company is working to change the way that Americans power their homes and lives.

“The word save has multiple meanings for us,” says Chief Marketing Officer Greg Breitbart (son of CEO Kerry Breitbart). “Within our core product in the deregulated areas, it’s about the potential to save money. Our customers have saved around $5 million since we started service. However, it is also about saving the environment through our focus on wind power and renewable energy. This also supports our country’s future by relieving our dependence on foreign energy.”

From saving money to saving the country, North American Power is rapidly changing the way that retail energy suppliers operate. And with their integrated approach to corporate philanthropy, they are also transforming the way that direct sales companies can approach charitable giving.

A Transformative Business Model

Kerry Breitbart had previously managed an international brokerage involved in energy products such as crude oil, but had no experience in retail marketing prior to launching North American Power. But his previous success in the network marketing industry convinced him that direct sales could provide a remarkable opportunity for his new company.

He and Co-Founder Carey Turnbull hired a consultant to help build the network marketing component and launched North American Power as a direct seller in March 2011.

Kerry Breitbart says, “Our zero-risk, zero-investment model is all about creating a life-supporting business.”

“We are not just a retail electricity supplier or a network marketing program; we are a multi-level customer referral program.” —Greg Breitbart, Chief Marketing Officer

CMO Greg Breitbart adds, “We see ourselves in our own segment. We are not just a retail electricity supplier or a network marketing program; we are a multi-level customer referral program. We took the pay structure of network marketing and tacked it onto the ease of a customer referral program.”

The approach has allowed North American Power to aggressively promote its core product to retail customers who are not interested in the referral program while also equipping each of its customers with the ability to share the company with their contacts. Greg Breitbart explains, “As we developed our messaging, it was very important that we kept the referral model while not putting off potential retail customers.”

This led the company to develop a very innovative approach to market segmentation—a retail site promoted through that emphasizes the potential to save money on your utility bill, and a separate site through that promoted the business opportunity to those interested in building a network marketing organization. However, the interface for registration is the same for both customer segments, allowing those who are focused simply on purchasing the retail product to get exposed to a fast and free way to earn money through referrals. According to Greg Breitbart, “Every customer who registers is provided with a unique web page that they can share with others in order to begin earning immediately.”

Customers who successfully refer three friends or family members within 30 days can earn $50 and keep earning every time they share North American Power’s products. Additionally, customers interested in the business opportunity can sign on as independent representatives to achieve greater earnings.

This “zero-risk, zero-investment home-based business opportunity” is one of the three pillars of North American Power’s culture. Combined with the other pillars of sustainability and charity, this approach turned North American Power into one of the fastest-growing entities in its industry. The company experienced 400 percent year over year growth from 2010 to 2011—from $25 million in 2010 revenues to $124 million in 2011 revenues.

A Social Enterprise

With a degree in economics and a focus on social entrepreneurship, Greg Breitbart brings a slightly different perspective to his job than most CMOs. North American Power was initially launched without a formal corporate giving program, but his focus on “doing well while doing good” has led the company to integrate philanthropy into every aspect of its operation.

As he explains, “We knew we would donate, but we wanted to do it in a unique way. Many companies donate without it being noticed. We wanted to engage our customers in deciding where we donate. This way, we ensure that the giving program makes the greatest impact on our community while also connecting our customers to our company. We have found that our customers are more likely to stay with us because of our charitable giving program, and they are much more likely to share the business with others.”

He continues: “The deregulation of energy is the greatest opportunity to hit this industry, but it’s not connected to hearts—it’s a commodity. By connecting our business model to charity and to network marketing, we bring the heart component that is allowing us to build a compelling case for this commodity product.”

This image has also allowed the company to shift the way it promotes success among its representatives. While most direct selling companies celebrate earnings, North American Power celebrates their representatives’ giving. For example, at a recent gathering of top producers, a special acknowledgment was given to a representative in New Jersey whose organization was responsible for nearly $14,000 in charitable donations and is now on track to collectively contribute more than $150,000 in 2012.

This message of emphasizing “giving over receiving” is a critical element of the brand, according to Greg Breitbart: “When you feel that you’re sharing something good, it’s much easier to share than something that is just about making money.”

This has allowed the company to avoid making a distinction between their customers and their representatives. They want to focus on “giving everyone the opportunity to give.” Additionally, this provides representatives with the ability to focus on recruiting people to support their cause instead of simply changing their energy supplier. For example, says Greg Breitbart, a customer with a child who is suffering from a specific condition could steer her referrals to support the charity that addresses it.

Children who were helped by Save the Children share a story book during class in Zimbabwe.
Children who were helped by Save the Children share a story
book during class in Zimbabwe. Photo Credit: Save the Children – Eileen Burke
Children play at a Save the Children Child Friendly Space in Ishinomaki, Japan, 13 days after the town was struck by a devastating tsunami.
Children play at a Save the Children Child Friendly Space in Ishinomaki, Japan, 13 days after the town was struck by a devastating tsunami. Photo Credit: Save the Children – Andrew Wander

Mission to Millions

The initial approach to corporate giving was Perpetual Giving, which was offered as a fundraising program for local charities, churches and associations. Aimed at smaller groups and with no dedicated staff to drive it internally at North American Power, the program struggled.

According to Greg Breitbart, “We quickly learned that the program could be more beneficial to larger organizations with a strong base that could support it, which led us to Mission to Millions. The pitch was much easier, and it was more successful for everyone. We even had nine of our nonprofit partners attend our last annual conference.”

In 2011, the company donated more than $100,000 to partner organizations, including Action Against Hunger, Malaria No More, Dress For Success and Little Kids Rock.

Launched in April 2011 alongside the launch of the network marketing business opportunity, Mission to Millions is an ongoing philanthropic initiative that allows customers to direct $1 from North American Power’s funds to deserving charities each month when they pay their bill. In 2011, the company donated more than $100,000 to partner organizations, including Action Against Hunger, Malaria No More, Dress For Success and Little Kids Rock. The company is on track to exceed that amount of giving in 2012 just based on first quarter donations.

“The name of our philanthropic giving program is the implied goal—to donate $1 million per month,” says Amy Nelson, North American Power’s Director of Charitable Partnerships.

“We wanted to show the impact of the program, so we focused on organizations that could do a lot with a dollar,” she says. “When customers register, they can see national charities as well as a local list of charities that are only shown to people in their market. We utilize Charity Navigator to screen new charities to ensure that they are good stewards of the funds. We also focus on organizations that make a lasting impact.”

According to Kerry Breitbart, the initiative “took me an evening to digest at first, but made much more sense as I thought about it.” While it was initially intimidating to consider donating 15 percent of the company’s profit each month to charity, he confirmed that net profits have increased significantly, thanks to the program’s ability to attract new customers. Additionally, while Mission to Millions was intended to be simply a part of the company’s branding, it has now impacted “all other aspects of the business, including our focus on sustainable energy.”

Save the Children

One of the largest beneficiaries of the Mission to Millions program so far has been the international Save the Children charity, which works in 120 countries and eight U.S. states. According to Megan McLain, the Associate Director of Corporate Partnerships for Save the Children, “Our mission is to create lasting change for children. Our core focus is on health, HIV/AIDS, livelihoods and emergencies. We serve the whole child in all aspects.”

McLain says she has been deeply impressed by the team at North American Power, whom she describes as being “so passionate about this mission and making it an integral part of their growth.” Additionally, she explains that the company’s gifts of “unrestricted resources” are very unique among corporate donors, who frequently direct dollars to specific focus areas. Receiving unrestricted gifts “is vital to everything from keeping the lights on to running a program in East Africa.”

A Happy Surprise

Twenty years ago, Kerry Breitbart went to a physician who specialized in endocrinology at the time. After he launched North American Power, he was re-introduced to the doctor as someone who was interested in the work that his company was doing. The physician was intrigued by the deep impact that the company was making not only on its customers and on its charitable partners, but also on the happiness of its representatives.

The physician’s name? Dr. Deepak Chopra.

“North American Power offers a unique opportunity to create a life of abundance for anyone who wants to help create a sustainable and healthy world.”
—Dr. Deepak Chopra, mind-body medicine expert and advisory board member

Having since emerged as an international speaker on the topics of spirituality, happiness and mind-body medicine, Dr. Chopra immediately recognized the difference within North American Power’s business model. He is now on the company’s advisory board. In a written statement, Dr. Chopra says, “North American Power offers a unique opportunity to create a life of abundance for anyone who wants to help create a sustainable and healthy world.”

Kerry Breitbart says, “Deepak has taught us that, while making money is important, how you make that money makes a giant impact on your happiness. Many of our reps were once in programs that were focused only on how much money they could get, and they are now focused on how much money they can give through North American Power.”

The CEO says he knew that the charitable giving program would make a big impact on its beneficiaries, but he was surprised by the impact it made on the company’s representatives. The company launched a Facebook page for its representatives, and most of the feedback has been focused on the charitable giving component.

“Deepak has said that our business model hits on four of the five pillars of happiness,” says Kerry Breitbart. “We have an opportunity to become a $1 billion company and to make an impact on what it means to be a good corporate citizen. We want to promote an enlightened form of self-interest in which giving is as important as receiving.”