Courting Consumers: As Enery Prices Soar Is Now A Good Time To Build A high-Profile Brand Around Low-Carbon Products?
Can a business that started life advising on and selling carbon-cutting solutions to other companies establish itself as a high-profile consumer brand. That’s the question Mark Sait – founder of SaveMoneyCutCarbon – hopes to answer.
Established in 2012 as a business-to-business venture, the company is already selling energy saving products direct to consumers, but Sait has ambitious plans to expand that side of his operation and create an instantly recognisable brand. “We want to be the Deliveroo for this market,” he says. To that end, when we spoke last month, the company had embarked on plans to raise £28 million to fund its growth.
But are energy-saving products the stuff that brands are made of?
Well,the economic and geopolitical backdrop of 2022 has certainly focused the minds of U.K. consumers on the need to cut carbon. Appearing before a committee of MPs earlier this week, Jonathan Brearley, head of power and gas industry regulator, Ofgem said the price cap on consumer energy bills was set to be raised by more than £800 to £2,800 in October, due to a tenfold spike in gas prices. This will follow a recent £600 increase in the cap to £1900, last month. Although the move – which effectively sets a maximum level for charges – reflects the cost of oil and gas in world markets, it will leave a great many people unable to pay for heating and other essentials.
So in that respect, cutting carbon is no longer simply about mitigating a global climate catastrophe, it is also about cutting bills – arguably a survival imperative in the winter months.
Capturing The Imagination
Founded in 2012, SaveMoneyCutCarbon, initially carved out a niche in helping businesses reduce their carbon costs and as Sait explains, the first port of call was the hotel and hospitality industry. “They had huge energy costs,” he said.
As Sait saw it, the market for carbon reduction solutions was fragmented. SaveMoneyCutCarbon sought to create a touchpoint where businesses could find out more about achievable savings.
Since then the company has worked with some major clients on consultancy and implementation projects. For instance, an LED lighting refit in collaboration with brewer Greene King saved the client £14,800 a year at a distribution center. Similarly, a Radisson Blu hotel in Manchester was helped to save £38,500 a year while reducing emissions by around 60 per cent, also by refitting LEDs.
Over the past ten years, the company has diversified into selling products to trade buyers and SMEs while also introducing a shopping channel aimed at cutting household costs.
Which brings us back to hard-pressed consumers. Will energy saving products capture their collective imagination?
These are, certainly, uneasy times for household energy buyers. On the one hand, looming over the current energy cost crisis is the much bigger issue of climate change. Consumers know they have to change their habits but they are also aware carbon reduction measures may well turn out to be expensive. In the longer term, today’s gas boilers are going to have to be replaced by heat-pump technology. Meanwhile, sales of petrol-driven cars are set to be phased out but as things stand, electric vehicles are a much more expensive alternative.
Arguably, there could be a danger that consumers will simply conclude that while energy is fiendishly expensive at the moment, any action to cut carbon will result in unaffordable upfront spending.
But Sait says there are more palatable options. Things that individuals can do today-relatively cheaply to cut down on how much they use. “Reducing your usage is the biggest saving you can ever make,” he says.
It’s a message that is particularly relevant as energy unit costs skyrocket. “You can’t do anything about the price of energy but you can reduce what you use,” he says.
The same principle applies to the business market. Navigating the net-zero agenda – as it applies to businesses – can seem complicated and technical. For instance, a large company might be thinking in terms of extensive carbon offsets. But Sait says the conversation has changed. “Around the time of COP26, I did a lot of interviews. I was asked a lot about carbon offsets, “ now I’m being asked about reducing bills.
So on the face of it, CutCarbonSaveMoney is well-positioned to raise the required £28 million and begin to scale up. But Said admits there are challenges. For one thing, the company addresses some very diverse markets. Corporates that already have advisers and ESG policies in place. SMEs needing guidance and support to understand the options open to them. And consumers who simply want to reduce their bills. All have different needs, pain points and levels of knowledge. To serve these markets, the company has established virtual business units, each focusing on a particular channel or customer base.
There has also been a quizzical response from at least some potential investors who might prefer an exclusive focus on enterprise, B2B more generally, or consumers, rather than a company that seeks to cover all the bases.
But Sait is confident the proposition is a strong one. Energy-saving products provide a measurable means to reduce carbon and cut bills.
And in terms of building a brand, there are precedents. Energy-saving devices may not be the sexiest product area in the world, but then again, neither is insurance, telecoms or broadband and sites such as Confused.com have become household names by enabling comparisons and savings.
And with energy costs showing no signs of abating there might never be a better time to interest buyers in the prosaic task of reducing consumption.