Envirofit International is a Colorado-based nonprofit with the goal of developing and distributing well-engineered energy products that address major environmental problems in the global emerging markets that traditionally have been overlooked. The company uses centralized large-scale manufacturing, a global supply chain, and a forward-thinking engineering and R&D plan in order to successfully scale. In creating improved cookstoves, Envirofit utilizes the same disciplined, mature product-development methodologies used by modern industry.
A universal design can reduce manufacturing and marketing costs, but it puts a greater burden on the design applicability. Conduct market research to understand overlapping similarities between audiences, and consider ways of allowing for local customization.
Voice of the Customer
Voice of the Customer is a market research technique that produces a detailed set of customer wants and needs, prioritized in terms of relative importance to the user. The method consists of both qualitative and quantitative research steps and can elicit similar insights as the Human-Centered Design process.
Envirofit relies on Voice-of-the-Customer research to develop products that people want and need. Ron Bills, Chairman and CEO of Envirofit, has said:
You cannot assume that just because you have designed a slick technology that your intended beneficiaries will want it. If the end user won’t use the product because it doesn’t meet their needs, then it’s not a great product. The best way to create demand for your products is by designing a product that people aspire to own and that directly solves a compelling problem for them. You must design a product around people’s desires and wants, not around your own goals or around ideas you think people should like.
Customer feedback about preferred aspects of stove design/ functionality leads to “voice-of-the-customer” driven design traits and concepts infused into the product development process. For example, Envirofit has designed a line of stoves and accessories that retail between US$15 – US$30 in India. There are cookstoves with an LPG accessory, a double pot accessory kit that includes a chimney, a pressure cooker, and so on. The different products target different segments of the market who value different functionality and price points.
Scalability through Mass Manufacturing
Envirofit uses high volume centralized manufacturing to ensure consistent quality control, economies of scale, and capacity to meet global demand. Centralized manufacturing and strategic product development provide cost-savings that allow Envirofit to provide strong margins throughout the sales channels.
Ron Bills notes that:
The scale to which we are trying to disseminate the Envirofit stove, in order to reach a significant proportion of the world’s population, requires mass production. It is therefore impossible to achieve by building local manufacturing centres in every village where we operate. It would be like Honda starting to build automobiles in every city that they hope to sell automobiles. Therefore Envirofit’s product design and our business model has been tooled from the beginning for mass production. We currently manufacture in two locations, India and China, from which we can sell stoves anywhere in the world.
Envirofit is focused on meeting global demand for efficient cookstoves. Their product has been rigorously tested in different geographies to ensure product acceptability, with local customization through add-on accessories as needed. To date, Envirofit stoves have been introduced in over a dozen countries, such as India, Ghana, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Bolivia, Honduras, Peru, Brazil, and Philippines.
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