Cloak of secrecy: Frank Seeley
Cloak of secrecy: Frank Seeley

Something special was expected when Australia’s air conditioning retailer and dealer community descended on Melbourne’s Star ferris wheel conference centre for the launch of Seeley International’s self-described groundbreaking new technology.

Often when covering these launches, the PR team or a member of the comms team will let slip what’s in store, either by accident or (strategically) intentionally, but not this time: management were tightlipped right up until the officially unveiling, with some proclaiming that it was such a secret they themselves hadn’t been briefed on the new products.

This Apple-esque devotion in clandestine operations is not a huge surprise for Seeley International, the company founded and still led by its erstwhile, erudite, handsomely bearded patriarch Frank Seeley, a man who carries his AM with deserved pride and is certainly more worthy of a knighthood than Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark.

Looking older than I’ve seen him before but still smiling as he greeted key customers and happily chatting with his swarming brood of a family, many of whom hold key positions within the Adelaide-based appliance Camelot, Frank Seeley sipped from red wine in the lead up to his presentation; the dais flanked by two rounded protrusion, each cloaked in black velvet. Projections carried the text, “They said it couldn’t be done… with Seeley International… Expect the Impossible” in a faux Mission: Impossible font.

Clearly, Seeley International is a company not afraid to raise expectations to the roof, so much so that, beforehand, the assembled retailers, dealers and sales staff were treated to a 30-minute ride on the Star, which towers well above the Melbourne skyline from its Docklands home.

Always a family affair, Kari Seeley was the MC, introducing her father, the enigmatic Frank, arguably Australia’s all-time greatest inventor; certainly the best still with us. When a mobile started ringing mid-speech, in a unique interlude to proceedings, as if determined to underscore his eccentrics, Seeley provided the audience with a impromptu tutorial on the best smartphone ringtones to not interrupt public speakers.

Seeley spoke passionately about innovation. “It’s at the very core of everything we do,” he said, again taking a shot at Seeley’s cheaper rivals. “We have delivered many world firsts to this industry, providing energy efficiencies that were beforehand unheard of. We keep working to get the best industry ratings in the industry. We don’t do it without a cost but every cent of the cost is well worth it.”

Frank’s wife Kathy Seeley was next at the mic – she was filling in for Harold Seeley, who is in hospital suffering from an infection (and we certainly wish him the best) – and she cast a brief explanation of the scientific supernova before pulling the curtain on Seeley’s Supernova, which falls under its Braemar brand. This new range has a “Super-Six Star” rating, which apparently means 6.8 stars, and it will be marketed as “the highest star rating in every rating”.

“This Braemar ducted gas heater is now able to deliver the cheapest whole of home heating in Australia, saving consumers $438 per year in running costs compared to electric reverse cycle ducted air conditioning,” Frank Seeley told me. “This is a superb testament to Seeley International’s commitment to ever-continuing research, development and innovation, which allows us to keep pushing the boundaries and remain the pace setter for the global industry.

“When people invest in our products they are buying the best on the market, knowing they are Australian-designed and manufactured, using premium grade materials and are supported by Australia’s first comprehensive 7-year warranty.”

Testing times: Paul Proctor.

Paul Proctor, Seeley’s CEO, then rose to speak. With warmth in his heart, he described working with Frank Seeley as a “partnership” and “wild ride”. Proctor said he’s more excited now about the business than every before. “We have built up a head of steam that is almost unstoppable,” he said, before reporting that the company has more than 50 engineers, a figure that is ever growing.

“They (engineers) don’t just work on innovation; but we have engineers in supply, product and manufacturing. We have three or four levels of mistake-proofing: if a product is dead on arrival, it’s because someone dropped the box in transport.”

In a warning to its rivals, Proctor said these engineers will also be ramping up the testing of its competitors’ products, with regards to efficiency. “When we tested a rival’s products in the same lab, we found that they were over-claiming by 26 to 61 per cent.” Proctor didn’t name this competitor but he did say it was one of the other two brands making up the Big 3 in Australia.

Proctor then shifted focus to Seeley’s next big reveal, the first Australian inverter integrated cooler, which has been designed in Australia and will be assembled at the company’s Albury plant.

Chris Wealthy, CEO, Australian Gas Association was next to speak. He was unclear for some time during his speech why he was present. He provided a long history lesson on the Association, littered with several bon mots about unzipped flies and quoting Donald Rumsfeld’s Unknown Unknowns paragraph, and including a sincere digression regarding the impartiality required in the role he holds.

Following this, Wealthy explained that it was he who developed the star rating system used on inverter gas coolers, such as the Braemar models being launched, and then he went some way to explaining the aforementioned 6.8-star rating: “Seeley International pays absolutely no respect to our labelling system,” he said. The system only goes up to 6 stars because that was the presumed limit of efficiency for these types of appliances. The Supernova range is closer to 7 stars than 6 but it will only carry 6 stars because that’s the upper limit. Well, it was the upper limit.

“I cannot say that one manufacturer is better than another so I am just going to let the fact speak for themselves,” Wealthy said, and shortly after declaring that Braemar’s range was the most efficient anywhere in the world, he himself announced the world’s first 7-star ducted gas heater.

Great innovation and great product – undoubtedly – but it was a weird progression of events: an industry figurehead proclaiming his impartiality before literally lifting the veil on a new product he has virtually endorsed.  Imagine the Governor General declaring Tony Abbott Australia’s best PM shortly before an election. Kari Seeley presented Wealthy with a bottle of wine to thank him for his speech.

The new products are quite remarkable. The top of the range Braemar heating unit is gas-powered and goes in the roof, either of a new build or an existing structure. It’s all a household needs to stay warm, with up to 10 zones controllable via Seeley’s MAGIQ Touch Controller and smartphone apps are on the way for truly remote control. This 7-star can save around $500 per year of a household’s energy bill, Seeley claims, and it can be accompanied with add-on cooling unit running off electricity for year-round comfort.

Shane Chisholm, head of Seeley International sales, concluded the official presentations with a rousing call to arms for the assembled sales teams to support the new range by recommending it to customers and closing sales.

Braemar's new 6.8-star Supernova gas heating solution.
Braemar’s new 6.8-star Supernova gas heating solution.
Braemar's world first 7-star gas heater will be assembled in Albury.
Braemar’s world first 7-star gas heater will be assembled in Albury.
Seeley's own MAGIQ Touch control panel.
Seeley’s own MAGIQ Touch control panel.