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Stefan Menden, Group Chairman, Eurocentres, Germany

Stefan Menden is a serial entrepreneur with successes running digital-focused businesses in the graduate and travel space. He acquired 70-year-old Eurocentres in 2018 and spoke to The PIE about his new ambitions for the established brand.

 

Photo: The PIE News

"We change our offering daily; what's in the e-mail tomorrow depends on what people want today"

The PIE: Why did you decide to acquire Eurocentres?

Stefan Menden: Eurocentres is a 70-year-old brand in our industry. Eurocentres stands for quality, for a strong team for a great network of agents and partners and schools. I had the feeling the market moved faster than the company did because it was constrained by its corporate set-up and being managed by a team far away [from the UK].

They were looking for a new partner, somebody who would bring in [an approach] that could really change the company. So we saw the opportunity – we thought ‘it’s a great company’, and it remains so. It reminded me of some of the things that I’ve done in the past.

“We are completely committed to our agent network”

The PIE: What have you done in the past?

SM: So you know growing a company with a lot of digital marketing, and with a kind of startup-oriented entrepreneurial culture. With another company kind of turning it around from kind of a corporate setup to an entrepreneurial setup.

I founded my first company in 1999 at the University of Cologne. I was a student and I started the company in the graduate recruiting space, basically offering career advice to students. I founded a couple of other companies and they always had a Digital DNA.

I also founded a company called Just Book that we sold to Secret Escapes and then I ran – until now actually – the biggest Secrets Escapes territory of Germany, Benelux and Scandinavia, from Berlin.

The PIE: That’s a very big bold direct-to-consumer brand online. Do you have plans to do something similar with Eurocentres then?

SM: No we are completely committed to our agent network. I do see that there’s an opportunity to support that with digital marketing, with building a younger brand, with building better promotional material.

Eurocentres is a strong brand within the industry. But in many countries, people don’t know the brand. So I think we have to invest into creating that brand awareness again with something like going to a graduate recruitment fair in Germany; Using my network of companies in Germany to really put the brand out there. That definitely helps both agents and direct bookings.

The PIE: It’s still a consolidated market in terms of standing out among the many many English language teaching brands. What are the USPs of Eurocentres as an English language provider?

SM: Eurocentres has always had this strong academic track record you know, being a permanent advisor to the Council of Europe, being part of forming the CEFR [qualifications comparison framework], being at the forefront of adding 21st-century skills into the CFR and within our curriculum already.

That’s where Eurocentres is unique, in actually delivering a high-quality education at a very competitive price. I was surprised to see that our prices are very competitive but the quality of education is outstanding. By any way of measuring, if you measure our net promoter score, if we measure our trust pilot reviews, if we measure our British Council accreditation report.

The PIE: I know your background is marketing directly to the consumer, and quality is sometimes a nebulous term isn’t it? I’m wondering how you are going to be using your marketing skills to present what quality means…

SM: It’s a very good question that we haven’t entirely solved. How can we get that message across that we are defensively probably the highest quality provider of language training?

And you know, even Mercedes launched a smart brand for a small different car. The market demands not only quality but cultural experiences. So the question to ask is how do we change our product such that beyond the quality of our offer, it offers other things.

The PIE: what have you learned from the success of Secret Escapes that you can bring to this business model?

SM: So the one thing what I really learned from Secret Escapes and what I think explains why Secret Escapes was so successful and outpaced many of the bigger companies was that it turned around the value chain in the travel industry.

“The market demands not only quality but cultural experiences”

So incumbent big travel companies like TUI and Thomas Cook had their own inventory and then tried to sell it. They have their own hotels in Turkey and if nobody wants to travel to Turkey, they have to highly discount, push it out into the market.

Meanwhile, we were changing our offering daily. What’s in the e-mail tomorrow depends on what people want today. We found opportunities in the market.

For the language travel industry as well, we should think about what the customer wants first, we should turn around the value chain. We should think what the customer demands and not how we’re expecting to fill our schools. I think it unleashes a creative thinking process around ‘how do we learn from what other industries have done’.

The PIE: You also embed digital learning into all language training courses don’t you?

SM: Yes, all Eurocentres courses for English and French and blended. The MyEurocentres platform allows students not just to enjoy its proposition from an academic perspective when they are part of a classroom. It’s also an opportunity for them to use it as a kind of Facebook, meet other students in the school they’re at and elsewhere within our network of schools. It allows them to book excursions.

They can enjoy it from 24 hours after they book and receive a confirmation of a course. So whether they join a live lesson six months down the line, nine months down the line, a week after, they can always enjoy the benefit of this online community.

“For the language travel industry, we should think about what the customer wants first”

The PIE: I didn’t realise the blended approach was such a clear product positioning.

SM: It’s coming back to my point about being a customer first. MyEurocentres platform provides real-time constant feedback and we as a company can see where the pain points are, which teachers get the best reviews, which schools are getting the quickest results and we can then have this feedback loop to improve and innovate.

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