Galway family firm getting a warm reception for green fireplace device

Appearing on RTÉ’s Dragons’ Den can be a nerve-racking affair, but the one thing those who are successful in winning investment all have in common is an unshakeable belief in their product.

That was certainly the case in 2016 when Joseph and Carmel Goodfellow, a father and daughter team, pitched a product invented by Joe and developed over seven years by their firm, Celtic Product Development.

EcoGrate is an electrical device which fits easily into an open fireplace and retains around 80pc of its available heat output to warm the room, most of which would otherwise escape up the chimney. As well as reducing the amount of solid fuel needed by at least half, it cuts the amounts of CO2 and particulates being emitted into the atmosphere.

As a product, it clearly ticks a lot of boxes for those with open fireplaces; it makes them greener, cleaner and cheaper to run – all without taking too much away from the feel of open fireplaces we all know and love.

So it was perhaps no surprise they snared a Dragon in Eleanor McEvoy, founder and chief executive of Budget Energy, a Northern Ireland-based provider of low-cost electricity, but they managed to get two when Barry O’Sullivan made a joint offer with Eleanor of €80,000 in return for a 25pc share in their firm, and one they simply couldn’t refuse.

All the same, they must have been glad when the Den experience was over? “To be honest, they really do try to get you off guard and you also kind of think that it’s going to be fairly quick but you’re actually in there for about an hour. But when we got over the initial pitch, we kind of relaxed and then got into it,” says Carmel.

The idea for EcoGrate came about by accident, after Joe was asked by one of his sons to fit a French stove into his open fireplace to replace an electric fire, but was inspired to build a smaller, more efficient device.

At that time, Carmel had just returned to Galway from South Africa, where she had worked for years as an estate agent. “Because I wasn’t employed at the time, I did all the market research for it and once we knew it was definitely viable, we went ahead with this and set up the business.”

Joe has an extensive background in electrical and mechanical engineering, with more than 45 years’ experience working for multinational companies such as Digital, APC and C&F Green Energy, for whom he designed wind turbines. But he has also built and designed all kinds of things in his spare time, such as a fully working mini-replica of a steam train engine that secured him an appearance on The Late Late Show many years ago.

“He had an awful lot of experience with patent applications and design work and I suppose it just kind of came together and I’ve stuck with it ever since,” says Carmel.

EcoGrate did take a lot of market research, and good old-fashioned cold-calling and door-to-door before they were confident they had a market to aim for, she says.

The design and development of EcoGrate has taken seven years to date, including obtaining the safety certificates and testing to relevant EU standards, but it took a lot of work to market it in the beginning, including resolving the issue of how best to demonstrate it.

“If we got it into a fireplace retailer they can’t actually put it on live display,” says Carmel. Stoves are relatively easy to demonstrate in a showroom “but to put in the EcoGrate, they’d have to build a false wall, put in a proper flue liner and put in the EcoGrate and then get somebody to light it and monitor it and look after it basically during the day”.

So they built a small showroom to create a dedicated live display at their premises in ClareGalway corporate park.

The product is available directly through their website, but the firm is now beginning to secure distribution channels, such as through Eleanor’s Budget Energy firm.

A lot of sales came through word of mouth, and with that they have built up good testimonials which can make all the difference in marketing a device like this.

“We’ve had a lot of enquiries, and the contact is a lot easier. We’ve got a lot of marketing materials on our Facebook page and with a site and things like that they can actually get a good feel for how it works, adds Carmel.”

It undoubtedly also helps that EcoGrate has won its fair share of awards, including finalist in the 2016 Green Awards and the 2013 Hearth & Home Exhibition awards.

Joe also does freelance design work as well, and patent applications for other businesses and individuals, so it is no surprise to hear he is also the brains behind Celtic Product Development’s newest device, the KegAid.

It is an electro-hydraulic lifter for heavy beer kegs, crates, gas cylinders and a variety of other cumbersome loads. The lifter is designed to be compact enough to use in tight spaces, such as a cold room or behind a bar where space is at a premium. It can stack kegs three high, and move them horizontally as well.

The primary purpose is to create a safer working environment and prevent injuries, but it can also reduce staff workload and thereby save businesses time and money. Additionally, the product is easily manoeuvred, is multi-purpose and requires minimal maintenance and staff training.

But where the EcoGrate is sold directly to consumers, KegAid is aimed primarily – though not exclusively – at the hospitality industry. So in terms of marketing, it was back to the drawing board for Carmel.

“The KegAid is newer and a bit more difficult because it is business to business, but our first main customer was the Dalata Hotel Group and they tried it out and helped us as well when we were designing and developing it… they’re delighted with it.”

As EcoGrate sales continue to grow year-on-year, CPD is developing a number of new products and building a business relationship with a UK partner. It has also turned into a serious family affair with not just Joe and Carmel involved but three brothers too. Galen and Ciaran work on putting products together, while Damien is a graphic designer who does all the branding and logos.

Developing a mechanical or electrical product entirely in-house is a long road, from design, prototyping, developing, testing, manufacturing, marketing and sales, but things are clearly speeding up for CPD.

“I suppose the main thing is you have to be really determined and there’s many bad days. It takes a long time to get something off the ground… and I suppose you have to just be really determined and stay at it. You have to really believe in the products,” says Carmel.

And, of course, there’s the feelgood factor of having Dragons behind you. “They’ve been a great support. Eleanor is a lovely, lovely lady, very down to earth. She’s really worth her weight in gold.”

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