KEEP+ Project Finance Officer
Julie Ben Abdeljelil
KEEP+ Project Manager
20 years ago Ecoffins led a revolution in funerals by being the first company in the UK to offer the choice of an environmentally-friendly coffin. They now manufacture and supply eco-friendly coffins, caskets and urns. Ecoffins had a turnover of £2.2m in 2016 with plans to grow this to £5m by 2022. To achieve this, a strategic approach to marketing, cognisant of cultural, behavioural and attitudinal mind-sets of customers was essential. In today’s increasingly environmentally conscious world, more people plan on an 'eco-friendly' burial, instead of the traditional coffin burials and cremation ceremonies. Ecoffins had started to develop a new hybrid product that would cost 20-25% less, and use fewer resources to produce than the existing ranges. Successful development of this new product could also lead to greater cost reductions for their other products as well. They wanted to examine their customer needs and perceptions of this new product and integrate them into their future marketing strategy to help reduce risk and increase market acceptance.
Ecoffins applied for a KEEP+ grant provided by the European Regional Development Fund (EDRF). This was done in the form of a KEEP (Knowledge Exchange and Embed Partnerships) - a three-way collaboration between a business, a university and a graduate employee who will work with the business to achieve agreed goals in agreed timescales. Following the procurement and project approval process during which the KEEP+ team supported the business throughout, Ecoffins chose to work with the University of Greenwich (knowledge base). Their expertise in marketing and business development and customer relationship management brought a very substantial body of commercial experience to the project. Recruitment of an Associate (graduate) was then undertaken jointly in partnership between Ecoffins and the University of Greenwich to work in Ecoffins under academic supervision. The Associate worked with Ecoffins to:
- develop a marketing strategy for further penetration of the UK market
- create a document policy of existing procedures to support a new product development strategy
- conduct qualitative and quantitative market research to identify which product features were most wanted by customers for the new product
- develop a product innovation strategy by understanding their customer needs much better to constantly innovate as a business based on research and feedback.
The aims and objectives were fully met. The results from the qualitative and quantitative research were able to inform the future design of the new product plus it helped to revise the pricing strategy. A new manual was produced for the benefit of staff; new orders were obtained from customers visited and new products were developed with supplier companies. This was a successful collaboration and led to a job offer for the graduate. Ecoffins hope to continue conducting research into new products and related markets, relevant to the current capabilities of current suppliers. They hope to further expand their sales overseas and into new territories and develop new partnerships either within or outside the funeral market.
“The selection process was smooth with good support and garnered the right candidate for the position. Support from the University was first rate, friendly and communication was easy and open. The project has helped the company to develop a better understanding of customer needs in terms of products and services.”
“Working with the associate and the company has been a real joy which has provided many benefits to all parties involved.”