How we got funeral directors to buy coffins made of banana leaves

Lots of green bananas handing off a tree that are unripe

Who: Daisy Coffins

What: Devon-based producer of environmentally-friendly, biodegradable coffins

The issue: How to sell an unusual new product into a conservative and very traditional marketplace

Every product has its own special marketing challenges. For Daisy Coffins, those challenges are unique. How do you promote a product that most people don't give much thought to until the death of a loved-one?

Daisy Coffins sells sustainable coffins made of natural materials. Launched in 2007, the business is run by Philip Wensley, his sons, Alex and Craig Cooper and his friend, Andrew Baxendale.

This innovative new venture has grown out of their existing handicraft business, Devoncraft. Thanks to their contacts with craftsmen in Indonesia, they have been able to establish a sustainable business using natural materials like water hyacinth and banana leaf, which are readily available in the Far East.

The expansion into coffins was a natural step, says Andrew Baxendale. "We were already importing from the Far East and had the labour, the materials and the skills. We saw a niche for environmentally-friendly coffins as we could see the funeral business was moving that way and the demand for natural coffins was increasing."

Breaking into a difficult market

But raising awareness of the new type of coffins has not been easy, as Baxendale explains. "Funeral directors have a captive audience - 95% of people go to a funeral director - so they don't have to go out and sell their services. The funeral industry is essentially quite conservative."

As a result, it can be difficult to persuade funeral directors to offer alternative styles of coffin made from sustainable materials rather than the more traditional chipboard or mahogany veneer. The end-user, meanwhile, is making their decision at a difficult time and often takes the easiest route.

When it comes to marketing, "we have had to be reasonably creative," says Baxendale. The strategy has been to promote their products on two fronts. "First of all, we had to sell the idea to funeral directors and that meant knocking on a lot of doors," he says.

"At the same time, we have been demonstrating the product at retirement exhibitions and county shows. Generally if you get it to the end user, their reaction to the product is extremely positive. Showing the product at exhibitions is also a chance to do some market research and get feedback."

Other marketing activity includes both advertising and PR. "Our website is also very effective and we are planning some targeted pay per click advertising in the future," says Baxendale.

Stressing the unique selling points

Daisy Coffins certainly have several unique selling points. They are completely natural and sustainable and therefore totally environmentally-friendly. They are also incredibly well-made - large leaves are wrapped around a robust softwood frame. And their natural appearance is a far cry from the traditional austere and depressing dark coffins.

With more and more people opting for alternative funerals, including woodland burials, demand for natural coffins is rising. Even so, promoting Daisy Coffins more widely is an on-going process. One way is to encourage people to think ahead about their funeral wishes. They could even buy their coffin now rather than leaving it to their loved-ones to have to guess what they wanted.

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