Marketers talk about building brand awareness, getting seen, being known. What if your brand is known the world over, but you have the task of introducing it in the Americas? Eric Graham is on the show this week discussing how he is doing that with Seeley. An Australian brand that is ubiquitous everywhere that isn’t the Americas. We discuss how he is leveraging solidified brand and marketing strategies to replicate global success in an emerging market. Plus, we talk about wine, what’s better than that?
From There to Here:The Story of an International Brand Expansion into North America Transcript:
Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.
Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how you doing, mate?
Carman Pirie: I am living on the edge. Did you see how I was just taking a drink of water as you were introducing the show? I mean, that could have went completely sideways.
Jeff White: I wasn’t. I don’t know. When I do the intro I just kind of look at the mic. I’m sure if you-
Carman Pirie: Oh, it’s a whole Zen focus thing.
Jeff White: Yeah. No, I just gotta get into the mood, you know?
Carman Pirie: All right. All right.
Jeff White: Kind of run that thing on autopilot. Our podcast director and kind of showrunner, Rich, actually thought that we prerecorded that because it sounded so consistent, so I take that as a badge of honor.
Carman Pirie: Were I you, I would take that as a badge of honor, as well.
Jeff White: But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today.
Carman Pirie: People are wondering, “Was that a backhanded comment, the were I you part?” And it was.
Jeff White: Yeah. No, I’m well used to that at this point.
Carman Pirie: I’m excited for today’s show. I like trying to unpack these-
Jeff White: Manufacturing conundrums.
Carman Pirie: Well, these unique marketing challenges, right? And this one, part of the marketing challenge is driven by a difference in climate in certain parts of North America, which is just like… I appreciate there are products that impact or deal with climate and therefore it will impact the marketing, but I just love that, how this product is… In some ways, its adoption is being governed by and manipulated in some ways by how people are moving inside the country. It’s fascinating.
Jeff White: Yeah. It is, for sure.
Carman Pirie: Anyway, I don’t want to give it all away.
Jeff White: No. I don’t want to give it all away, either.
Carman Pirie: Our guest will do a better job of describing it than I did.
Jeff White: One hopes. And if you think that’s a backhanded compliment, it was. But in any event, let’s get started. So, joining us today is Eric Graham. Eric is the Marketing Director for the Americas at Seeley International Americas. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Eric.
Eric Graham: Thanks a lot, Jeff and Carman. It’s a distinct pleasure to be here with you guys.
Carman Pirie: Well, look, Eric, it’s early in the show, so let’s not judge it just yet, but-
Jeff White: Your opinion of us could change rather rapidly.
Carman Pirie: Let’s introduce our listeners to Seeley International and tell us what y’all are up to.
Eric Graham: Yeah. Absolutely. So, Seeley International is actually an Australian-based manufacturer of evaporative cooling products for both the residential and commercial segment. We are based in Adelaide, Australia, and I actually work for the Americas division of our company. Director of Marketing for North America, Central America, and South America. And what we manufacture are evaporative coolers, again, for commercial-residential. We have an array of units. I want to say we have around 18 different models in different price ranges, from affordable all the way up to units that can power essentially almost an entire school or school gyms that are about half the size of storage containers, and everything in between.
So, we operate primarily, or our products operate primarily in desert or dry climates, so we are based in Denver, Colorado, where we have an extremely dry climate. And if you just think about drawing a line from the Canadian border all the way south through Denver, parts of Texas, and everything west, and then all the way south from Mexico, Central America, literally to the tip of Argentina, those are our markets. Our cooling products are evaporative, what a lot of people might remember as being kind of a swamp cooler, and it operates on a similar technology in that you use water to cool the air that comes into your home or business from the outside.
Although our technology is extremely advanced, we have literally some of the smartest engineers on planet earth. I’m a little biased, but our technology and the way… You would think that the simple act of just cooling air is a simple process, but it’s really, really technically advanced, and so I’m really learning a lot about the engineering behind cooling products, and how we cool the air, and make it more efficient. More efficient from an electricity standpoint, but also how we can replace the air in a home or business multiple times per hour.
So, that’s kind of the gist of our company.
Carman Pirie: That’s really cool. Yeah. I think as we talked about the way that you were approaching kind of spreading the word about Seeley and evaporative cooling, you mentioned I think that initially you’re putting a lot of focus on more brand awareness work than you are bottom of funnel. I’ve gotta say, not a lot of manufacturers start at the brand awareness side. Most are a little bit inverted of that. Now, of course, I think the fact that you probably sell a lot through distribution would contribute to that, but I guess talk to me about that choice and how you’re thinking about the prioritization of awareness at this phase.
Eric Graham: Yeah. And a lot of that for me, because we are a small team. I’m a team of one handling a large territory and a large group of distributors and contractors that we have in the western half of the United States. So, because we’re not necessarily selling directly to the end user, there’s not… I don’t get quite the benefit of doing bottom of the funnel marketing as it pertains to my business. Where I do get involved in the bottom of the funnel or at the purchase end of those decisions, especially for the end user, whether it’s commercial or residential, is that I help support the marketing activities of our contractors. Because they are really the ones that are gonna be selling our products to the end user. They’re gonna be the ones that are gonna have those face-to-face interactions. So, even in my short period of time, I’ve gone out and simply spoken with contractors to say, “Hey, what are some of the roadblocks you’re facing and how is it that I can do to support you guys?”
So, my time is split. My marketing activities that I do with Seeley are very much top of the funnel. It’s getting our brand awareness out because that kind of activity, I feel, is going to support our distribution network and our contractors. Because if we get people, the end users, to start asking those questions and coming to people like, “Hey, I just heard about this amazing new brand called Breeze Air. This Breeze Air evaporative cooler. Can you tell me more about it?” They’re probably not gonna call me directly. They’re probably gonna call their HVAC contractor in any given number of states that we have.
So, I want to make sure A, that the residential user, the commercial user of our products is gonna be educated, they’ve seen and heard our brand, and then they start raising their hand to ask those questions. And raising your hand could be a virtual Google search just simply starting that search of like what is evaporative cooling and how does it compare to air conditioning? So, again, when I look at top of the funnel stuff that I’m doing, it is really about educating the consumer about what it is that makes us unique, what it is, how we’re so much better than an air conditioning unit, how we can lower your electricity bills in the summertime when it’s hot outside. Those are the kind of things that I can do, but then I do also a lot of support, consultation, and even what I would call co-marketing strategies with our contractors and distributors because those are the ones that we really want to get to the bottom of the funnel. Those are where the sales happen.
So, there’s a lot of different activities that I do on any given day, any given week, to support that. But that’s where I say my actual work with Seeley is very much top of the funnel but the consultative approach, the strategizing approach is more bottom of the funnel. I just don’t do a lot of bottom of the funnel. I’m not doing Google AdWords campaigns. You can’t buy a cooler on our website, for instance, so it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for me to drive tons of traffic to my website. I would actually rather drive traffic to our contractors and our distributors.
Carman Pirie: Help me understand the contractors-distributors relationship here a little bit. When you say contractors and supporting the contractors, are they authorized contractors, or trained contractors, so there’s not really a big push to bring in new HVAC installers into the fold?
Eric Graham: No, that’s not… I mean, yes and no. We do do a lot of training, so our units do go on the roof of homes and businesses for the most part. They install really easy because they’re really lightweight, so literally one installer can install a product for residential, for instance. But there are some intricacies because they are complicated products. We run on wired and wireless remotes. We run on Wi-Fi remotes. We can actually attach multiple… We have homes, especially businesses, but we even have homes that have multiple just based on the size of the home. They have multiple products of ours on their roof and they can connect them through the technology that we have in our controllers. So, there is a lot of training. That’s a big part of what we do starting around the first of the year in the cooler months. The cooler months of the season, I should say. We’re doing training.
So, I’ve been in El Paso, Texas, Albuquerque, of course Denver, Las Vegas, California, and we’re doing these trainings with the contractors to show them how to install the product, how amazing our product is. Because a lot of times, because there is a lot of turnover even in the contractor industry as it is in most industries right now, so we have to stay top of mind even with our contractors, too. So, that training kind of works as training to do the install, but also keeping us top of mind because we’re not the only game in town. We think we are the best. I think some of the evidence and data that we have can back that up. But I just need to get that out.
Our training kind of does two different purposes, but to answer your question about does it make sense to bring in more installers, absolutely. Because we want to spread our network of contractors far and wide in these cities. When you think about Denver, Colorado as around 3-4 million people just in this metro area alone, it is kind of 80-20 rule where 20% of the contractors account for about 80% of our sales. But we would like to see that expand south into Colorado Springs, or even though we have a large presence in Nevada, we would like to see that go into Reno and other places. So, the more we can expand that network, the better off we’re gonna be.
Carman Pirie: And is it the kind of thing where most HVAC installers are well aware of evaporative cooling, but they may not be aware of your brand? Or are they predisposed to other types of cooling products even?
Eric Graham: Yeah. You know, I think a lot of it, a lot of what the contractors do, there’s a lot of companies that are competitors. The Tranes, the Ruuds of the world, and they can throw large marketing dollars, they can throw incentives to people, so that certainly does influence it. But at the end of the day for us, we really want to again educate, because a lot of times and a lot of what I’m hearing is the contractors and even the salespeople for the contractors, so it’s not always just the installers that we’re talking to, they have some highly technical and really, really smart salespeople that actually go out and make these sales calls. And they do, they have options to choose from. We’re not the only game in town. But again, we feel like we’re the best, and if you’re a contractor that values putting the best products in for your customers so that they’re not gonna break down, we have a 25-year warranty on the cabinets of most of our products.
Again, we want… If you want to be the best contractor, we want to align ourselves with the very, very best because we think we have the best product and we want them to be able to sell the best product. Because again, it’s the sell is that these products are gonna not only save you money on your month-to-month electricity bills and your cooling costs, but these products… We have products that have been in the market for 30 years. Our company is 50 years old, and we still have products that are out there. And to be perfectly honest, and maybe I shouldn’t be saying this, but one of the challenges the contractors kind of laugh about is like, “Oh, man. Your products last almost too good. They last too long in some cases.” Which is kind of funny to hear.
And I get that. But we do have maintenance opportunities, we have maintenance contracts, because just like a sprinkler system that you would have in your yard that has water, our products do have water circulating through them, so there are shutdowns and startups in the spring you have to do. So, there’s a lot of opportunity for recurring income for our contractors, as well, but again, if you want to sell the best products and do the best thing for your customers, that’s where I feel like we can really fit that profile. Because there’s so many products out there that… We call them the metal box air conditioners, or metal box swamp coolers, and they… Especially even in the dry climates, they rust out. They cause water leaks and such. And our products just simply don’t do that.
So, we do have a number of selling features for these people that can put a contractor in a position to go, “Man, I trust these guys and I will trust them not just with my cooling products, but when I run into potentially plumbing issues and other things I’m gonna call these guys, as well.” So, I think it’s a well rounded approach if you’re a contractor and you want to sell the best that it can lead to other income strategies, not just cooling.
Jeff White: I’m wondering. You talked about how part of your strategy is to really take this potentially unknown technology, unknown product, and bring it to the consumer, but of course you are selling via distributors to contractors, to end users of the products. Are you seeing any relatively early evidence of kind of that bottom-up actually working? Where people are requesting the Seeley products by name to contractors when they’re reaching out for some kind of installation, or a new build, or what have you? What are some of those early indicators that have shown that this is the right strategy?
Eric Graham: Yeah. I mean, some of the metrics that I certainly look at, and some of them are simply anecdotal, and when I say anecdotal it’s literally, again, because I go out and visit contractors all the time because I want to talk to them face to face. And again, I think I’ve alluded to it earlier that some of our contractors are… They’re having hiring issues. They’re having issues having properly trained staff to be able to do these things. Because they are technical products. All HVAC products for the most part, whether it’s a furnace, an air conditioning unit, an evaporative cooler, they’re highly complicated and in many cases you’re cutting holes into a roof or into the side of the house if the ductwork isn’t already present. So, you want to make sure, obviously, that there’s not gonna be leaks, and that quality work is gonna be done.
So, what I’m hearing in certain cases even here in Colorado is some of these contractors, and they simply sometimes will literally just wave the white flag for a period of time because… and they tell me, “Eric, we don’t have people right now that can do this. We’re getting the calls.” And they’re literally referring calls to their competitors because they do want to service their customers and do the right thing for them, and they’ll actually pass the information along to other contractors that aren’t having the same issues in terms of hiring staff and getting these things done.
So, I know the phones are ringing. I know people are asking questions about these things. That certainly is one way that I’m looking at it. I always try to support our distributors and contractors. Just looking at how much traffic is being driven to the landing pages on their websites for our brands. Even looking at even though we do have a U.S. version and a Latin American version of our websites, and I’m paying close attention to web traffic and those digital analytics, if you will, on the website. How much time people are spending. Are they watching some of our videos? Are they lingering on our site? Looking at time on site. So, there’s a number of different metrics and indicators that I’m looking at to see. Are people listening? Are people looking this up?
I look at Google trends to see. Are people doing searches for evaporative coolers? And again, I know we’re not the only ones, but the market right now is… We have a really, really strong niche in our market for these evaporative coolers right now. I know that probably a lot of people that are searching are probably searching for us or one of our brands, such as Breeze Air or Climate Wizard, two of our primary brands. There’s a lot of different indicators that I can look at to say, “Yeah, some of the stuff that we’re doing is actually working.” But some of it, you know, just like all marketing, and looking at attribution, where are things coming from, is hard to measure. And again, some of it is just what are the contractors hearing. Are people asking these questions? And in many cases they do have a lot of people asking these questions, so sometimes I can measure it. Sometimes I can’t. But for the most part, and obviously it’s very seasonal. We do a lot of our production and content creation in the colder months when people aren’t thinking about this, and aren’t searching about this, and we really start to ramp up in spring, and then really start hitting it hard in May and June. Right now is really our busy time and when I can start to see are we really moving the needle, because May and June are probably the months where I’m looking like, “Okay, the work that we did last fall, and winter, and even early spring, is it paying off now?”
And those are a lot of my indicators.
Carman Pirie: It makes sense. I want to unpack this challenge of basically migration inside of the U.S. from shall we say humid climates or moist climates to drier climates. How is that impacting how you’re thinking about this marketing challenge and kind of the requirement to get consumers aware? I mean, basically are you looking at it almost like the totality of homeowners, the percentage of them that don’t know about evaporative cooling is actually getting higher because they’re from places that haven’t been exposed to this product?
Eric Graham: Yeah. That’s exactly right. And it’s really interesting because again, I don’t necessarily want to ignore… I mean, we were in a trade show out in Washington, D.C., which is one of the most humid places in the United States not that long ago. Some of the biggest HVAC conferences that we do are Chicago, Atlanta, and some of these places. There is still a benefit, I think, even to have our word be known in some of these places, because you never know who is going to be listening to you. Because people talk, especially on the commercial side.
We deal with a lot of engineers on the production side. On the commercial side, sorry. Where again, where it matters how many cubic feet of airspace that you’re trying to replace with cool air in your facilities. There’s an incredible amount of math that goes into, especially on the commercial side of things, on how you cool a warehouse, or how you cool a data center, or even a kitchen in a restaurant for that matter. And the engineering network, if you will, on the commercial side of things is relatively small in the grand scheme of things. And they all talk together. They all read the same publications. They have huddle groups. They have meet groups all across the country. They’re in colleges.
We have one of the best engineering schools in the country here in Golden, Colorado, right outside Denver, called the Colorado School of Mines, and they’re producing some of the best and brightest engineers, so I’m literally talking to the next generation of engineers, as well, so they all talk together, they’re all part of the same groups. Whether they’re out east, out west, so the commercial side of things is really more all-encompassing, if you will, because they talk, but I would probably say about 95% of my residential marketing efforts go towards, again, the western half of the United States just based on the climate.
When you’re in a humid climate, evaporative cooling just doesn’t work nearly as well. When you have lower humidity levels in the 30% and lower, 40% and lower, our units can compare and even blow away air conditioning units. So, again, we want to get that message out to the people that again, it’s bottom of the funnel, because people are in their homes, they’re looking for new ways to cool their home, and so that’s gonna be my market primarily in the residential side. So, I really divide my time between those two markets, and it’s really geo focused more on the residential side, where it’s a little bit more national on the commercial side, if you will.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. And I can see it having to almost peel back a little bit. I mean, I can imagine a homeowner or somebody that’s born and raised in New York, for example, they’re not searching for an evaporative cooling unit. They’re searching for an air conditioner.
Jeff White: I didn’t even realize until I took a biking trip to Moab, Utah through Grand Junction that Colorado actually was desert. I always thought it was more like Alberta where it was all forest and mountains. So, if you’re from the East Coast and you’re moving out there, and you haven’t really considered that before, you’re not even necessarily aware of the exact kind of climate you’re moving into. Amazing place, but not what I was expecting in Grand Junction.
Eric Graham: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And even just an hour drive away the climate varies quite a bit in Colorado. And really across the western half. I mean, the same thing happens in California, where it’s a little bit more humid, a little bit more moist up north, and then the farther south you go, the farther inland you go, the drier it gets. But even still, our products perform really well along the coastal lines, as well.
Jeff White: I want to kind of dive into that geography question a little bit because I think we mentioned this earlier in the episode, but Seeley is originally based in Australia, where I think even more of their climate is certainly more arid and desert based. Products existed there for a long time. Still a bit of a new entrant in North America. How has that impacted both how Seeley is going to market and how you are addressing that challenge? Kind of the Australia-America divide.
Eric Graham: You know, there’s a lot of learnings that I can have from our Australian team, and we are in constant communication as to what’s been working for them. We would probably be probably 10 years behind in terms of where they are from a marketing standpoint to where I am, and that’s mostly just because of the educational, the awareness piece. Our brands in Australia are big. They’re huge. They’re one of the top selling, top leading brands in Australia, and that stands to reason because we’ve been there since 1972, so 50 years where we just… We don’t have that footprint here.
You know, we ran into some challenges that set us back, like all manufacturing companies when COVID hit, and supply issues were coming into play, but it also kind of allowed us a little bit of a reset, as well. But I take a lot of the learnings of what they’re doing in Australia and then I start to implement that here, and we almost kind of use… I almost think of Australia and our team in Australia as like a proving ground, a testing ground, where we do actually have actual testing facilities where they test our products against competitors, for instance.
The one good example of that is the winery business. We never really thought… It wasn’t even on our radar that wineries could be a potential client of ours. And Australia, all of a sudden, discovered this untapped market, because there’s obviously tons and tons and tons of wineries all across Australia, and one of the challenges that a winery faces, and it was kind of that lightbulb moment, is a lot of evaporation in the aging process where you put the wine in the barrels, and it sits in these… You want to have a very, very stable, cool temperatures in these aging rooms, these barrel-aging rooms, and all of a sudden it was this lightbulb moment of like, “Whoa, our products would be perfect for that.”
And then the next thing you know, these wineries are going, “These are the most unbelievable products there are,” because we can add… On occasion, we can add a little bit of humidity in the air. We can get the cooling temperatures down in those mid to upper 50s that a winery and the aging rooms need to be. And we can also eliminate or significantly reduce something that’s called angel share, and that’s the evaporation of wine during the aging process, and wineries don’t like that because typically even in America when you have evaporation of wine, you have to start adding more wine to that, so you’re mixing two different batches of wine together just to get back up to those levels in the barrels themselves. Otherwise, you’re gonna be losing around 14, 15% of your wine in the aging process.
Well, what we discovered was not only can we cool these barrel aging rooms in Australia, but because of our products and the way that evaporative cooling works in adding just a tiny bit of humidity to the air in these places is that we can almost… I don’t want to say eliminate, but we can significantly reduce that angel’s share or that wine evaporation in the aging process, and then for us it was like, “Holy crap. We can do that here.” So, now all of a sudden we’re doing booths at winery trade shows and talking about our products. And we just got one of our first big wineries up in Napa that’s gonna test one of our units in their tasting room on an extremely well known worldwide wine brand that I don’t want to mention at the moment, but it was one of those lightbulb moments again for us where it’s like, “Well, if it’s gonna work in Australia, let’s do it here.”
Because they have some of those more capabilities to do that with their staffing levels, and again, where people are more receptive to try their products out in Australia, where it’s more of a known brand, and then I can capitalize that on the case studies they create and bring that stuff back over to my audience over here and go, “Look what we’re doing in Australia.” Or even, “Look what we’re doing in Saudi Arabia. Look what we’re doing in Italy. Look what we’re doing in South Africa,” which is all where we have offices and markets, as well. And I can utilize that information because again, as a one-person team, it’s really, really difficult for me to do that much content creation, video creation, case study creation, but if they’re already doing that, that’s where I can really capitalize. So, there’s a lot of learnings to be had from what they’re doing in Australia.
Carman Pirie: My gut tells me that the American market… Look, don’t get me wrong. U.S. Southwest can get pretty extreme in terms of high temperatures and extreme dry, et cetera, and Nevada, Death Valley or what have you doesn’t need to look to anyone else for instruction on what to do, but at the same time Australia has a mythical kind of toughness to it or something. There’s like-
Jeff White: Mythical? I think it’s real.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. It’s like practically every wild animal there can kill you and is poisonous. Many of the plants are. You know, I think there’s a funny opportunity from a marketing perspective where these brands have been proven in Australia, and kind of the extremeness that can almost communicate, I think you could have some fun with that.
Eric Graham: Yeah. Well, it’s really funny because again, I’ve been here for a short period of time. And some of the marketing materials that we have and some of the things that I’m creating. And it’s really interesting to see how polarizing it can be at times when we simply have a little symbol on some of our marketing materials, or even a banner ad, or something like that where it says manufactured and produced in Australia on the U.S.A. and Central American, South American-facing marketing materials. And in many cases, even people within our own office are like, “Let’s maybe take that off. That’s not even gonna have any cache with anybody here.”
But when I ask the question of people, even our contractors, and I’m like, “Hey, what do you guys think about this Australian made on our marketing materials?” They’re like, “No, no, no, no, no. Leave that stuff on there. People love that.” And I think it’s exactly kind of the point that you’re making, Carman, is like Australian has sort of this unique like, “Oh, wow. If it’s Australian made it has this je ne sais quoi, another premium element to it,” which it is. But I find that really fascinating that even people sometimes on our own team are like, “I don’t know,” but the actual end user, they like to see that kind of stuff.
To your point, yes. No, absolutely.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. That’s really cool. Look, Eric, I look forward to checking back in with you as this marketing challenge unfolds. I think it’s going to be interesting to see the success ahead. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and expertise with us today. It’s been a pleasure.
Eric Graham: Yeah. Mine as well. And I would be more than happy to come back and talk with you guys because I’m learning every single day, so you could probably interview me here in a couple weeks and I might have different stories to tell you.
Jeff White: I’ll make a note of that. Thanks a lot, Eric.
Eric Graham: All right. Thanks, guys.
Carman Pirie: All the best. Announcer: Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring, with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at kulapartners.com/thekularing. That’s K-U-L-Apartners.com/thekularing.
Eric GrahamMarketing Director, Seeley
I am Eric Graham, a continuously curious and learning professional who embraces a unique blend of adventure, outdoors, marketing, and volunteerism. With a passion for riding bikes, coaching kids, fly fishing, and exploring the breathtaking landscapes of the Rocky Mountain west, I am most at home here in my state of Colorado.
Graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in mathematics, I am one of those nerds who thrills on finding a story in the data. Beyond the realm of numbers, I have dedicated 12 years as a volunteer head coach of a high school mountain bike team, shaping young riders and guiding them towards success…and also letting the kids shape and guide me even more so.
With a 15-year track record in marketing, including a decade leading a few successful marketing agencies, I am still trying to master the art of crafting compelling brand narratives. My current role is as the director of marketing for Seeley International- Americas, but I still catch myself dreaming of days riding trails.