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SEEL, Colombia: Keeping it in the family

Carlos Fernandez from SEEL

Written by Marshall Bissett

The 2016 ETC Rep and Dealer Workshop had a truly international flavor, attracting visitors from Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. In the midst of a hectic seminar schedule, we caught up with Carlos Fernandez, ETC’s Colombian dealer. “I was literally born into the lighting business,” he jokes. “I am 40 years old and the company was started by my father 38 years ago, and just like Fred Foster, he comes into the office every day.” 

Based in Bogota, the 60-person company operates out of a 1,500-square-meter (16,145-square-foot) facility trading nationally and with neighbors in Venezuela, Panama, Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru and Honduras. SEEL S.A. is considered a midsize company that goes to market in three main areas: as designers and specifiers for broadcast TV studios and post-production facilities, as integrators of audiovisual services in convention centers and hotels, and as integrators for turnkey theater systems. The company also designs and outfits camera trucks for distribution throughout Latin America. 

“Lately the broadcast business has not been strong but we have been busy putting ETC product into theaters. Luckily the government and non-profits are very supportive of the arts since no funding comes from private individuals,” explains Fernandez. 

No strangers to the theater installation business, SEEL worked with both Strand Lighting and Colortran Inc until five years ago when a meeting with ETC Entertainment National Sales Manager Nick Wurzel turned the company into “Nick’s guys in Colombia.” Now SEEL acts as both a rep and a distributor in South America. The company is proud of its prompt service and technical support. They service 20-year old installations, knowing that, when the budgets are in place, their customers will appreciate their loyalty and choose them for the big jobs. The company recently completed an installation at the Google offices in Bogota.

Carlos Fernandez and Carlos Perez

Fernandez has not always been a part of the family business. His excellent English is the result of a diverse career. After graduation, he attended classes in TV production at NYU, worked at ABC TV in New York for six months, got a degree in business and later worked for two years in Colombian TV. Looking back he reflects, “I got the chance to see the business from my customers’ point of view and that was very helpful.” 

His business training comes in handy when dealing with the vagaries of currency exchange and import tariffs. The profitability of jobs often hinges on the disposition of the dollar against the peso. “We pay close attention to this,” says Fernandez. “When the dollar drops, as it does occasionally, we buy dollars and hold them for future purchases.” Recent trade agreements such as NAFTA have lowered import tariffs and, as Fernandez points out, Colombia is not too far from Miami. 

SEEL keeps current with annual factory visits and attendance at NAB, LDI, USITT and INFOCOMM. Like many others, SEEL is facing the challenge of entering the new territory of architectural lighting. “We are here to learn how to sell this new technology – it is our next growth area and a skill we have to learn,” explains Fernandez. 

Carlos Perez works in technical support at SEEL and is on a breathless attempt to attend every possible seminar at the workshop: “There is so much going – I don’t want to miss any of it.” Perez is fully trained in ETC turn-ons and has completed several multi-hoist Prodigy® rigging installations. Fresh from a seminar on the Eos® family, his eyes were opened to the many non-traditional applications of the consoles.

Fernandez looks back on his first meeting with Nick Wurzel: “We hit it off right away and the timing was right for both our companies. The old reps were doing $20,000 and now we are up to over a million annually – I think it’s working well for both of us.”