Glowing results for Eartheat Ltd after University Support

Wigston-based green energy company Eartheat has transformed the way it does business thanks to timely marketing expertise from the University of Leicester’s School of Management. In just nine months the company, run by husband and wife team Richard and Jo Walkden, has doubled its turnover to over £600,000 and created the equivalent of 3 new full-time jobs, taking the company to 7 employees.

Eartheat provides advice, site surveys, installation and maintenance of energy-efficient air and ground-source heat pumps and solar systems. Started in 2008, the company was reliant on regular orders for heat pump installation from a limited source and began to realise that growth would only come about from a root-and-branch review of operations, preferably with the help of business and marketing experts.

The Innovation Partnerships project team at the University of Leicester organised and provided fully-funded 24 days technical advice and mentoring support in marketing for Jo Walkden whose previous responsibilities included office administration. Between April 2011 and February 2012, Jo went through an intensive support programme to embed and build her understanding of the green energy sector, how to target potential customers, the products supply chain and promotional strategy. In reality, both Richard and Jo worked through the School’s tasks and exercises together, even whilst on holiday, tackling what was for both a steep learning curve. As a direct result, the company was able to redefine its product offering and service, switch the focus to a different set of customers and concentrate on specific regions of the country. The resultant redesign of their website using the marketing knowledge and skills from the University team has achieved a significant rise in visitor traffic and enquiries to current record levels of over 800 website hits a month.

Mother-of-three, Jo has by her own admission developed a thirst for marketing after working with the University: “I never imagined I could absorb so much valuable information, let alone be running an internet marketing campaign. I feel that Rich and I have total control over the direction of the company, who we want as our customers and suppliers, and the niche service we provide. The mentoring and new knowledge I have received from the team of experts at the University has given me the confidence to develop in my new role, and a real excitement to try out new sales and marketing ideas.”

Looking ahead to a steady rate of growth, South African-born Richard believes the University has helped them to recognise that their real strength lies in providing great customer service: “The University held a mirror up to our business and helped us see where we were strong and where we needed to change. Jo and I have great vision and hopes for Eartheat but we lacked the know-how to make it happen. It has taken some great academic minds and practical application of their knowledge to make the leap into some serious marketing and business development.”

Dr Matthew Higgins, senior lecturer in the School of Management, coordinated the programme of work, and his team of experts in B2B, consumer behaviour, branding and services made many trips to Wigston to assess implementation and progress: “The Walkdens have really impressed us with their desire to learn and put new ideas into practice. Their approach to business development was previously rather ad hoc; like many small firms they were serving everyone who enquired. The marketing audit showed them just how good they are in what they do and what else they could be doing in a very niche market. The transformation has been amazing; this is a different company from the one we first visited, I am really pleased to see that they are now fulfilling their business goals.”

Anjuu Trevedi, Innovation Partnerships project director at the University of Leicester, said: “It has been a pleasure to work with and support Jo and Richard at Eartheat to realise their ambitions through Innovation Partnerships. The potential for new jobs and wealth creation is quite evident, but it is the transformation in their leadership and vision which has been most pronounced and which will bring most benefit in the future.”

Professor Kevin Schurer, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at the University of Leicester said: “The project with Eartheat Ltd is a great example of how the University of Leicester is using its expertise and excellence in research to support companies to grow and reach their potential.”

The success of this project has led Eartheat to request further project work with the University; analysing their innovative technology through consultancy and taking on a marketing student on a placement to help with their new promotional programmes. Plus their sister company Thermofloor is interested in seeking support through Innovation Partnerships.

Innovation Partnerships is a University of Leicester scheme, part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund, offering up to 100% funded support to SMEs in the East Midlands to tackle some of the major resource and environmental efficiency challenges of today such as reducing energy and materials consumption, using sustainable materials and energy sources to optimise their carbon footprint.

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