Birchfield Interactive PLC

Origins

Birchfield Interactive plc was founded in 1997 by its three directors, Chris Griffiths, Jonathan Case and Richard Coles. Following the Lanarkshire food poisoning outbreak in that year, Local Authorities were subject to new food hygiene legislations. Jon and Richard (then environmental health inspectors) saw an opportunity to team up with Chris (already an experienced computer programmer) to develop a training CD-ROM. They went on to sell the program to 50% of local authorities in the UK and most of the countries airports. A school that had tried the software suggested that there would be a high level of demand for other CD-ROM titles designed for food technology departments in schools. This got the ball rolling and Birchfield began to create educational software for food technology and subsequently other subject areas. One of the initial challenges faced by Birchfield in the education industry was the general reluctance of many teachers to embrace the opportunities that ICT could offer in the classroom. In the last few years, however, more and more teachers are being encouraged to use ICT to enhance their teaching by Local Education Authorities and recent government initiatives are also encouraging schools to spend money on software. Before 2000, the industry was mainly dominated by a few large companies with strong reputations such as Granada Learning. This meant that newer companies such as Birchfield had to work to establish their brand in the market through developing relationships with Local Education Authorities and teachers.

Success Factor

Birchfield’s successful new product development model has strongly contributed to its outstanding growth over the years. The company has developed a successful formula through which high quality software products can be brought to market far quicker than the industry norm using an innovative re-usable in-house programming code. This model allowed for lower development costs in an industry where new product development is a key factor of success and in the last year alone, it has developed over 80 titles. In addition, by developing and distributing its products through its own in-house functions, Birchfield has been able to retain control over the entire development and distribution process from beginning to end and has therefore been very efficient in maximising its income. Keeping in close contact with customers through strong relationships with teachers also helps to ensure new products are in line with demand. Sales of products are primarily achieved through direct marketing activities and this has grown in its coverage and sophistication over the years – for example, the company currently manages direct marketing budgets of approximately £60,000 a month and this is set to increase in the future.

The Future

Through focusing on increasing brand awareness, Birchfield aims to become the pre-eminent provider educational software in the UK. Initially, this will involve increasing and upgrading the range of classroom software so that the company can offer comprehensive solutions for all subjects and age ranges. A re-branding exercise was recently undertaken to consolidate the company’s new image and the company is looking at all opportunities to promote this new image, for example, by attending as many exhibitions and events as possible. Through an expanded marketing department, the business also hopes to build closer relations with schools and Local Education Authorities as well as current third party distributors. It is anticipated that Birchfield will have established a stronger presence in the USA within three years time and has been working with two key partners in the US - Imex Consulting and De Marque - to conduct research into the market and establish the most appropriate sales channels. A full launch of the US products is planned in September/October 2004.