Almost a year ago, Dunedin company Escea released what might be a world-first hybrid – part fireplace, part central heater – and it's now set on exporting to the world, starting with the signing of a distributor in Norway that opens the door to Europe.
Escea has been exporting to Australia for 2007 and done well by its own admission – as founder and CEO Nigel Bamford says, that's often the way it goes for New Zealand manufacturers. It's also done business in the US and UK, but the Norwegian deal will be the first time its latest D series product range will be sold outside of Australasia.
Long, frameless and elegant, the new line of gas fireplaces incorporate an efficient heat exchange system that's the result of years and millions spent on R&D.
"It's a visual aesthetic that looks really cool in architecturally designed houses."
As Bamford puts it, if you're running a "beautiful fire" it's a shame to lose the heat through the flue. He says Escea's hybrid technology takes that heat and pumps it around the house, providing central heating. (If the heat remained in one room you'd end up "cooking" so the system distributes it to other areas.)
"Most of the houses we're selling in had central heating," Bamford explains. That meant two lots of installation costs and two bulky, separate physical items.
The new hybrid D series of fireplaces is a convergent product, bringing together two not dissimilar concepts into one object.
Escea tries to give customers solutions they don't yet know they want, Bamford says.
"We knew what the mega trends in our industry were," he says – namely, energy efficiency, whether you're making cars, TVs or fireplaces.
"It's irresponsible, it's not going with the flow if you're wasting energy. It's a bit of a no brainer."
Another feather in the cap is its free remote control technology - there's a web-based browser version and smartphone apps for iOS and Android. Owners of the new Escea fireplaces can turn on their fireplaces from afar, on the way home or simply before even getting out of bed.
As the energy industry isn't known to move especially fast, he says Escea isn't too worried about competition or IP protection.
Bamford, a finalist for the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2006, started Escea in 2002 with Alan McGregor and Garth Milmine, based on the idea that the home fireplace should not only be efficient and easy to use, but should also be a thing of beauty. Escea produced its first fireplace in 2005 and in 2009 moved to its own purpose-built factory (all design and manufacturing is done in Dunedin), which houses the production line, in-house power coating plant, development offices, and showroom facilities.
For three years in a row, the company featured on the Deloitte Fast 50 Index, and today employs around 40 staff.