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Company focus Jan 17, 2022

In conversation with Alvaro Solis

In conversation with…
Alvaro Solis,
General manager of Solmatec in Costa Rica
A Reliable Controls Authorized Dealer since 2018

Why did you choose to align with Reliable Controls?

Before I started my own company, I was a customer [working for a user]. For years I saw how contractors were more interested in closing a deal than giving their clients what they really needed or fulfilling expectations. When I started Solmatec, I wanted to do things differently. The clients are the ones who use the system, so their needs should come first. If you give clients a limited system, they are only ever going to do limited things.

I believe we have a responsibility, as technology companies, to create systems that go beyond what clients thought possible. That’s my vision—to help clients achieve more than they thought they could. I went from site to site, fixing systems in ways that other vendors had said wouldn’t be possible. I realized I needed to find a vendor who supported the integration of various products, the way BACnet is meant to work. I looked into a few large companies, but they were more focused on making money. When I came across Reliable Controls and saw their people and technology you can rely on slogan, I had hope.


Karina Silva, our regional sales manager, was surprised during our first meeting that I never asked about the price of Reliable Controls products; I was most interested in the compatibility aspect, because that’s how I knew I could make a difference for my clients. When I looked into Reliable Controls—their values and how they treat their customers—I discovered they have the same vision as I do for my company. The partnership felt natural.

The Solmatec team (from left to right): Cesar Pérez, Osiris Blanco, Alvaro Solis, Lucia Alvarado, Douglas Roque, and Andrés Reyes.


What sets Reliable Controls apart from other brands?

In the early days of my company, when I was still working with another vendor, I worried I wasn’t going to live beyond age 45. Sometimes I’d run into huge technical problems while working on a system, and I’d figure it all out in the end, but it was really stressful. I don’t have that stress anymore now that I work with Reliable Controls. Their customer support is great!


How do you show your clients you are people they can rely on?

By giving them the level of service they might expect in a developed country but that unfortunately isn’t yet commonplace in Latin America. And by that I mean planning ahead. What often happens here is people respond to a problem by offering a solution that hasn’t been thought through beyond that initial problem. For example, if someone needs a thermostat, they get a thermostat, but they don’t invest the time to check whether it’s the best thermostat for the job, or if it really does what they client needs, or whether it works perfectly with the rest of the system. We provide that level of system engineering. Even though it takes more time in the beginning, we know it’s the only way to ensure our clients get a building automation system that truly does what they need—and more.

A client recently requested we help them find ways to save energy. Their employees don’t always respect working schedules, so they didn’t think they could set timers for lighting. I pointed out that the system we had installed included occupancy sensors and that we could take advantage of those not only for lighting but also to regulate temperature. He was amazed and really glad he trusted us to install programmable controllers for the job instead of a simple thermostat. His investment is saving him money now and in the future.


When you first meet with a client, what’s your desired outcome? 

Our goal is always to surpass their expectations and help them plan for the future. The only way to do that is by taking time to share with clients what their options really are—not just what’s the cheapest but what the smartest option is. They can’t know they need something they don’t know exists. They get really excited when they realize how much we can do for them. 

In Costa Rica engineering or technical jobs aren’t yet very respected. Everybody wants to take the managerial path or become the boss, because that’s what society tells us is successful. So in general, when people don’t have a great understanding of technical opportunities, they also don’t understand the value in doing things differently. And yet there are two ways you can stand out here: Either you are different or you’re cheap. We don’t want to be cheap. We want to create really great systems with smart capabilities that support our clients far into the future. It’s not in our culture yet to think much further than today. And that’s what makes us different: We help our clients anticipate what they’ll need later on so we can get it right today.

Alvaro with his wife, Lucia Alvarado

Tell us about a time you exceeded clients’ expectations.

When the international airport in San José needed a retrofit and upgrade to its systems, the company it initially worked with said they would need to take all the airport systems offline for 2 months and install new controllers everywhere—a project they priced at just under $1 million. Shutting down Latin America’s second busiest airport for 2 months would be devastating on many levels. I told the company I could fix its problems for roughly $30,000 without disrupting any of its operations. I knew the current controllers were still working but needed a new graphical interface. I was honest with them and didn’t try to sell them a lot of things they didn’t need. They appreciated my honesty so much that they asked Solmatec to manage their system from now on, and we won the new expansion project. We’re very proud to work with them!


Has Reliable Controls come through for you?

When I first started my company, we didn’t have any customer support or any help at all. The stress I was under put a lot of strain on my family, too. Twice I thought my wife would leave me. She said if things continued the same way for another 2 years, we wouldn’t be together. I agreed and said if nothing changes, I will probably die of a stroke or something. And then I partnered with Reliable Controls. There isn’t just one time they have come through for me; they make my life better every single day. Just knowing I have a team of technical experts—the people who actually built the products—available to help me with any question I have… That makes all the difference. I sleep at night because I feel supported. It’s more than just business; it’s about having inner peace. My wife is also very happy!


What do you enjoy most about working with Reliable Controls?

I’ll be forever grateful to Karina for taking a chance on us. When we partnered with Reliable Controls, she knew we were a young company, a small company, but she saw our potential and is always looking for ways to help us grow. To know I’m part of something bigger—that I’m part of the Reliable Controls family—is really great!

Alvaro and family