S2E19 - Sam Coggin, MD and Head of Operations of The Coggin Group

The Coggin Group is a family run and owned business based in the heart of Lancashire. TCG’s  mission is to provide businesses and organisations across the UK with a sustainable approach with regards to providing both new and upcycled sustainable office furniture, furniture maintenance and ethical disposal. 

Sam joined the company in 2011 and since then has absorbed himself in all aspects of the business and is now Managing Director. Sam’s passion for sourcing new sustainable office furniture and upcycling unwanted office furniture has led to the creation of the TCG Sustain brand and an increased involvement in adopting a 360° approach to business through the concept of the circular economy.

Highlights:

  • How TCG evolved into a furniture supplier.
  • The problem of broken casters in office chairs which can be easily replaced
  • Upcycled furniture has demand in different markets
  • Secondhand vs upcycled furniture 
  • The challenge of reducing carbon footprint of TCG
  • The vision of remanufacturing office furniture at a commercial scale
  • Procurement should be aware of the benefits of upcycled furniture

Useful links:

The Coggin Group Website

Importance of Reuse Video

Transcript

Intro: (00:08)

Welcome back to the Green Element Podcast where we feature business leaders and innovators transforming their operations to be more environmentally and socially sustainable. I’m your host Will Richardson and I can’t wait to meet our guest today and help you on your journey of sustainability.

Will: (00:27)

Thank you very much for joining the Green Element Podcast today. We are looking forward to hearing all about your organization, the Coggin group. You sell furniture. If it’s new, it’s able to be remanufactured and reused very easily. And then you also sell furniture that has been remanufactured, had a life before it’s current new owner. Could you tell us a bit more about your organization and how you and what you do please?

Sam: (00:55)

Exactly. Yeah. So thank you very much Will for having me. Um, is a pleasure. Um, so yeah, so we have come into the industry as a traditional removal company. I mean that’s kind of where it span from and where the idea on being able to collect furniture from clearances. We always thought I’m a dad knew back then there was still a lot of value left in the furniture that he was clearing and everybody else in the space was just clearing it out, getting paid a bunch and throwing it away.

Sam: (01:22)

Um, so back in 1989 and when it really started kicking off for us to be able to get our hands on good quality furniture that was coming out of, uh, government buildings, uh, councils, places like that. So it’s all high end furniture. And before my dad really realized how good the furniture was, it was in such good condition and it was being thrown in. They kept getting thrown away. We thought, hold on, wait, can we sell this? And it was to a completely different market and we understood that way back then. You know, we couldn’t get that furniture to the same market be in the governments and the councils, they had to have new and it wasn’t so much that they didn’t want second hand. They just wanted to know that they could keep getting the same stuff. And obviously once you start buying secondhand upcycled remanufacture furniture, it’s very difficult to get a constant supply of the exact same furniture.

Sam: (02:09)

So that’s the worry. And I still kind of the worry at the minute. So the way we was able to come on to the market and do well with being able to resell second, I’m finished cause that is the hardest thing. It’s very difficult to get value out of secondhand office furniture as it’s known. Fortunately for us, my granddad sets us back, set the business back in 1969 as agricultural merchants. So we had a huge network of farmers that at the time needed to start buying filing cabinets, a desks. They needed personal set of drawers and we already had hundreds of farmers in our area that were making use of the furniture that was able to take away from the government buildings. And then we had an already an established network of farmers that required the furniture. So that really got the ball rolling at the time my dad was doing it.

Will: (03:00)

And was there a driver back then do you think for sustainability or was it just economic drivers?

Sam: (03:08)

Economic. 100% and you know, we were coming across good quality furniture and we were 60, 70, 80% of the price of the same furniture new. Although the clients didn’t really know that because they’d never sent, you know, a 600 pound office chair. They were just used to buy in, you know, what was deemed, you know, a 50 pound 60 pounds. Yeah. So they didn’t really know what they really valued was the quality of the furniture that we were getting. Even though it was secondhand upside callers, we still really call it, um, they like the fact that they could buy something that was, that’s been on the market already for five years and it then lasted them another 15, 20 years. You know, we had a case not too long ago where we had a client ring us and it was one of my dad’s farmer connections, um, complaining about a chair.

Sam: (03:49)

The gas lift lifted, actually failed on the chair, which is a known problem, but something that can be easily replaced. And he said, uh, I’m gonna, you know, because I’ve got a chair and the gas lift failed on it and was like, right, okay, not a problem. We can, we can get this replaced. And then he went on to, I actually bought this secondhand chair off 20 years ago and we said like, it was a second, it’s the second one on chair that you purchased. He said, Oh yeah, yeah, absolutely. Great chair. Um, and at the time you did say, if anything goes wrong with the chair, we can buy parts. So it was kind of in the minds that they were buying something that could be prolonged, but it definitely wasn’t the agenda. It was just customer care and the service that we could provide.

Sam: (04:28)

But obviously now with the whole climate emergency and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, you know, putting all this new kind of information out there into the world. And for us it’s absolutely great because it’s allowed us to understand our business more and what it actually means for future procurement and disposal of quality of his furniture. You know, we’ve been talking to different manufacturers, big manufacturers around the UK, and they’re all gearing up for it. They’re getting ready for it. I mean, everyone’s talking about remanufactured engines, you know, ink toners, you know, computers and things like this, but office furniture is still kind of at the moment is the bottom of the list, but we’re going to see a massive change in the next 12 months on how much is actually brought up. I mean, you look at where people are going to work, they’re sitting on a chair and they’re working at a desk. What’s happening with that furniture? How was it being purchased? On what reasons are they looking to purchase the furniture, and then what happens? Do it end their life and that that’s where we’re really kind of shout to the high hills is you should be coming to us for us to supply it and then dispose of it and maintain it.

Will: (05:35)

I’m just kind of on that vein. 30 years on from 1989 it’s 2019 would you say the drivers is sustainability or economic?

Sam: (05:45)

I think, I mean for us it’s, we’re struggling to measure it because we’re only finding the larger organizations that are showing more interest, but because we deal with, and a lot of smaller businesses as well for the [inaudible] side, that the economic side is still there very much. But what we are finding there will be a lot more impact once we start getting the likes of some of the bigger organizations that are showing a lot of interest. And one way we’re able to do this because we are still a small company, you know, we’ve been in the industry for a long time, but as for numbers, we’re still a small company, but we are operating from a to 8,000 square foot facility. So it’s a big footprint as far as facility and capabilities go. Um, but for us, we’re really wanting to work more with, for the larger commercial side and wanting to work more with larger organizations that do want to source good quality furniture that can be maintained and then dispose.

 

Sam: (06:43)

We don’t want to just, you know, supply furniture that’s 98% recyclable. That’s what we’re shouting. It goes against what we’re actually trying to achieve. You know, we’re trying to provide something that’s, yes, it’s, it can be recycled at very end of its life, but we need to come in midlife to make sure not only is it being, getting maintained properly for the whoever owns it, whichever organization owns it. And that’s been done very poorly at the minute. I mean there’s not enough information really out there and the manufacturers aren’t really wanting to push the, there are spare replacements, you know, if a chair fails, they just want the distributors to go back to them, get rid of the old one that might just have a broken casters. I mean, if you know anything about office chairs, the casters, the wheels on the bottom of the chair, they just ping straight out and you can put a new one on and the amount of times I’ll walk into a building and I’ll say, what’s happening with all those chairs?

Sam: (07:33)

With that missing casters? Oh, they’re getting thrown away because the wheels are broken. We’ve ordered some new ones and I’m like its a 500 pound chair. You’re going to throw away when you could buy a 50p casters replacement. It’s craziness, but it doesn’t say much. I mean off the back of this a lot, you will see when you drive around these major built up cities and if you compete, you head around the back of these buildings, you will see skips full of furniture that has barely anything wrong with it. I mean, if it has a rip through the fabric, you know, and you can see the foam, it does look horrible. Or even at that point the foam can be replaced and the fabric, it can be reupholstered. You know, whether it’s for the organization that originally owned it or for a completely different market. And that’s one thing that we found is very interesting.

Sam: (08:16)

You know, the larger ones want to be able to purchase, um, let’s call it sustainable office furniture, but not because we’re trying to say it’s a hundred, you know, it’s 90% recyclable is because one, we can maintain it and then we can ethically dispose it by upcycling it to a completely different market and argument that we keep coming up against is um, especially by the manufacturers. They don’t want us to keep that product on the market for a long period of time because the threat to them is to think that staying on the market with the original owner and when it’s not, it’s going to a completely different market that otherwise generally think about paying, you know, 500, 400 pounds on a single chair. You know, you can fully furnish a small office, um, for that same amount. Um, as you’ll probably know. So, yeah, we are finding it very interesting in the mandate and the more backing that we get from bigger organizations to say, you know, this is valid, this can work.

Sam: (09:15)

And we’ve got proof of it working over in the States. You know, I’ve been talking to some guys over in America and they’ve done it, they’ve cracked it and they are disrupting the way it’s been done over there. And that’s what we’re really trying to bring over into the UK and possibly try and get into Europe as well. What would you say your business superpower was? A hundred percent upside cycling office furniture. You know, the amount that we bring in is a crazy amount. We never liked throwing anything away. You know, we’ll keep it when it gets to that point, it’s like, why are you keeping, why are you keeping hold of that? But everything, if we’re to prove a point, all quality office furniture has replaceable parts and that’s key to us. You know, if anyone knows this in the industries, Oh yeah, go to Coggins for some good quality secondhand furniture or upcycle furniture.

Sam: (10:01)

You know, we’ve tried to get away from calling it secondhand furniture because it just devalues it as soon as you say it. Whereas if we call it upcycles, I mean when it sounds more current or people are more understanding what it is cause it’s not recycled furniture now maybe recycling’s different terminology. So we thought upside call is great for us right now, but we do really want to across the board remanufacture every single piece of furniture that we come across. You know, we’ve got a heck of a lot to do, but that’s the ultimate goal is to be known for remanufacturing in a, in a commercial scale.

Will: (10:31)

So whereabouts are you based?

Sam: (10:33)

We are based in Forton just outside of Garstang, if you know Garstang that’s all you’ll know. Preston, Preston and Lancaster. Basically between, between both and just on the side of the A6.

Sam: (10:47)

Okay. Well yeah we were very fortunate to find the facility and where we’re up. Very, very fortunate. But it is perfect for us right now. You know, I have a big dream of of having a self-sustain in facility and having almost acts out as a facility that we can show people around. We can get CEO’s and CEO’s to come around and actually get involved with upcycling and remanufacturing office furniture. Um, so they can understand it more because it’s just so unheard of. And there actually has been information put out that’s actually been wiped off the internet. We’re trying to figure out how we can centralize it in one place and that’s why we created TCG Sustain, which is just The Coggin Group Sustain. And that’s how we brand all of our upcycled and even remanufactured office furniture. So could people in this space and we can put it all in one place.

Sam: (11:37)

So it’s not in different blogs or forums or anything like that. We can have it all in one place. Everything about the importance of remanufactured office furniture because it’s still really, isn’t anyone out there put in a lot of information out there. They get an information and hold onto it. Cause I think the fear is the big gun manufacturers getting hold of it. And not wanting to support independent upcycled remanufacturers because they are scared, it’s gonna disrupt that current. I mean essentially. Well what if anything, if they’re saying that this sustainable and the ethical and they want to be part of, if that created a product that they say is top quality, that product shouldn’t only have a lifetime of 12 months to two years, you know they put them out there with 10 year guarantee. So why a business wants to undergo a rebrand or do you want to change up the work space to attract new talent?

Sam: (12:28)

Why does it get thrown away? Why is there no incentive to say to that organization, listen, yes, you haven’t a rebrand. It’s not because the furniture’s failing, but why not talk to someone like, Oh, you know, it’s every manufacture and let these guys come in and take it away. And that might be the agenda, but it often doesn’t happen at all.

Will: (12:47)

When it comes to running an ethical and sustainable business, what would you say your biggest struggle so far has been and how you’ve overcome it?

Sam: (12:55)

We’ve received very little support. Everything that we have done, we’ve done ourselves. It’s always been our own money and everything that we’ve made, we’ve pumped back into the business to really get it going. We’ve not really had anyone approach or saying, yes, you’ve got a great model, you’ve got something really great here. Let us come and really get this going.

Will: (13:12)

You know, we’ve had to be very vocal and it’s one of the reasons I’m doing this to really get us out there and we’re not seeing very much support in the way of remanufacturing grants or grants to allow us to do more R and D in this space so we can actually get the message out there. Because for me, a big thing of mine is to try and get more people involved involved in this space. We don’t want to own this space because it’d be impossible for us to be able to please everybody. You know? There’s a handful of organizations that are doing well what we’re doing well, there’s just so I think because they’re so busy and doing what they’re doing, it’s just information for those who are dealing with them at that. At any one point, you know, no one else really gets to know.

Sam: (13:56)

And that’s where I’m trying to be really vocal. You know, I want it to really go out there to create interest because everybody that have spoke to you, you’re onto something. Just keep pushing it the way you’re pushing it. And for the last three years, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. But, we’re seeing other companies, I mean bug bear of mine was I found out, a company that received a grant for remanufacturing, um, have had to pretty much close the program that the program down because it was gonna upset the distributors too much if they were seen to be re manufacturing. So why not take the grants away from the main manufacturers and look for independant, smaller businesses that could really do something with it. You know, it’s our livelihood to do this. So why not give it to us when it’s, it is our agenda to provide quality office furniture. If you give it to a manufacturer, why would they want to preserve something that they need to continue with and making new products to survive?

Will: (14:51)

Can I, can I ask about how you reduce your own environments and impact and carbon footprint of your business and what you would say your single biggest challenge or frustration is?

Sam: (15:03)

We’re quite efficient. I mean cause the numbers are still low. We don’t generate a lot of our own waste. I mean we do work with a, I can never pronounce the name rightSuez they are committed to obviously really diverts and I mean well they only take our production waste away, which like I say, it’s very little. I mean I don’t know if you’ve come across our eco cube, if you’ve heard of it. It’s actually a piece of soft sitting. Um, so it’s a cube shaped, soft sitting. One of the hardest things we do struggle to get rid of that costs us quite a lot is chipboard. So obviously you’ve got a desktop that your chipboard. So what we’ve decided to do is create a product where it takes a 400 mill by 400 mill section of any piece of MSC and we can turn it into a soft seated cube that can be covered with reconstitute foam and sustainable fabric and that allows us to divert. So we’re trying to dive, we’re trying to reuse what we would consider as our own waste. But like I said, because we don’t produce a lot, we’ve not had major issues. I mean everything that we do have is recycled and obviously scrap metal once it’s no longer can be used for the processes of you know, replacement parts. Obviously everybody knows scrap metals worth something. But we’re getting to the point now where we’ve worked with a local company tools called Preston Plastics and they help us with the recycling of plastics, zero five plastic zero seven plastics and that’s generally what you see on the back of a chair, the plastic molding and then you’ve got the base of the chair as well, which can be recycled. Um, cardboard. You know, we will have our own cardboard compacting system where we can bale the cardboard and the same company who does the plastic recycling takes that away for us. So we’re still playing with different ways of doing it, but we’re trying to get as much value out of everything as we can. Chipboard is probably the hardest and the most expensive things to get rid of. But we’re getting better, you know, we’re finding out manufactures of big chipboard jumbo sheets. Um, we’ll take it and recycle it, but the charging a premium to do so.

Will: (17:02)

That’s great. That’s cool. It’s great that you’re basically practicing what you preach, really. Have you any advice or for anyone listening to this podcast and what you think that they should do or what you’d like them to do?

Sam: (17:17)

Yeah, I mean obviously when we’re in the procurement stage of buying furniture, I think you should definitely look, ah, organizations that are supplying upcycled office furniture. Um, because there’s a lot out there and a lot of people don’t really know where to look. So I mean that’s just a quick Google search and your find a lot of the right people. But if you really want to support us and what we’re doing, look for the ones that are really shouting about upcycling remanufacturing, and the longevity of it. You know, there’s a lot of second hand dealers out there that will sell secondhand furniture as a by product service of the main agenda, which is you’re selling lots and lots of furniture. But if people can really look into what companies like ours are doing, you know, there’s us, there is Premier Sustain. There’s obviously Greg of Rype Office.

Sam: (18:02)

Um, there’s open, it’s the Hills. These guys, we’re all on the same mission to really get this going. Um, but yeah, I think people should, if they can, I mean, we do understand that it is hard as a small business to go out and spend a lot of time looking for sustainable office furniture. Um, and like I said, a lot of the startups that we deal with and the smaller businesses, they’re in it to find something that’s affordable and while they’re purchasing it, we try and educate them in a way where they’re not going, listen, we’re not bothered about the impacts of this. We don’t need a certificate to say how much CO2 we’ve just prevented by buying a second hand desk. We have to do it. In a way where if you haven’t any issues with this secondhand piece of furniture, just know that we’re here to keep it going for you.

Sam: (18:45)

If you want to change the color of it, we can reupholstery it. If you want a replacement gas lift, we’re here to do it and then they actually ask the question because of the whole climate crisis and everything else they do ask. Now they go, why do you do that? Do you not just want to keep selling us a new one every time? No, we don’t. You know, we could, we could do, um, we would probably be more profitable doing that. The main thing for us is to be pushing something out and having people be able to find some information on upcycled and remanufactured office furniture and that’s why we’re trying to centralize it under TCG Sustain. We have just released a video on the importance of reuse and so we look for people to go and see that that’s

Will: (19:25)

Maybe we could put a link to that on the podcast notes.

Sam: (19:28)

That’d be awesome. That would be really great. Definitely. We are inviting people to, if they feel like they can help us with this and we’re open to hearing what people have got to say, maybe how we should change. Certain things changed if you know the message to get across because we haven’t perfected it. You know, we’re still learning our own craft. Yes, we’ve been doing it for a long time, but we’re only as good as what we know right now. And one thing that we’re finding and we’re really learning is by, letting other people in from the same space, whether it be a service for service or just finding out some information on how they met, how they got into someone on the sustainability side, on the sustainability angle. Uh, yeah, we would love to talk and possibly collaborate and really work some kind of partnerships and synergy partnerships. Definitely.

Will: (20:16)

Brilliant. Well thank you so much for today. It’s been really informative and we’ll be putting all your, all the show notes in and where can we find out more information about you as a company and yourself as well maybe?

Sam: (20:30)

Yeah, definitely. We’re very active on LinkedIn. I think this is where what we’re doing really fits. We’re all over social media. You can search the Coggin group. I’m pretty much any social platform, um, TCG Directors and other brands does such actually a sub brand, which is a platform where we resell our upcycled office furniture. Um, but yeah, if you search Sam Coggin on LinkedIn, that’s the best place to catch me. Definitely.

Will: (20:51)

Brilliant and all of those will be in the show notes. Thank you so much for today and yeah, go back to your honeymoon. Thank you so much for doing this on your honeymoon. I can’t believe that.

Sam: (21:01)

No problem. I’ll thank you very much Will.

Sam: (21:05)

Cheers. Bye. Bye.

Outro: (21:09)

Thank you so much for listening to the end of this episode of The Green Element Podcast. Do take a moment and share this with your friends and colleagues and rate and review this podcast, whatever you get your podcasts. I’d love to know what has been your biggest takeaway from this conversation? What are you going to do differently? Please share your thoughts across social media and tag us so we can see them too at GE underscore podcast, the links and show notes for this episode. Visit our website, Green Element dot co.uk for slash podcast. Thank you again. I hope you’ll join me on the next episode and together we can help create a better world. 

 

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