Production Associate Byron Groves, shown at right, performs a final test of a fan at Big Ass Fans' manufacturing operations on Merchant Street in Lexington. Photo Provided.
Lexington, KY - It took 14 years for Big Ass Fans founder and CEO Carey Smith to sell his 100,000th fan. Thanks to the popularity of his more recent and relatively petite product lines, he expects to hit the 200,000 mark within the next 18-24 months.
“It won’t take 14 years,” Smith said. “I can tell you that.”
When he started the company, Smith aimed his product for distribution centers without air conditioning, but it took time for the fans with a 24-foot diameter to catch on.
“That’s the thing about business,” Smith said. “Sometimes people think it’s a good idea and it blows up, but it is never that way. It’s always slower than what you think it’ll be.”
In the early years, Smith said he tried to dissuade his salespeople from selling the fans to anyone but industrial users. Although the fans were not particularly loud, he thought the noise would be a distraction in venues such as churches or theaters. But Smith said the demand from commercial users persisted.
In response, Smith and his team looked to develop fans he felt were more suitable for non-industrial use.
In 2005, they began to work on a direct-drive motor that uses magnets rather than traditional gears to spin the blades, a technology similar to that used on some modern roller coasters. By using electromagnets, the blades were able to spin with virtually no motor noise. That led to the introduction of the Element line in 2008.
“It wasn’t as popular as I thought it was going to be, because it was just huge,” Smith said. “We looked a little bit smaller, and we were able with the Isis to hit the market. That fan has been exceptionally popular.”
Between the interest in the Isis line, launched in 2009, and the residential Haiku line, launched in 2012, sales have boomed. From 2009 to 2012, Big Ass Fans’ annual revenue has increased from $34 million to $87 million, and the number of employees has nearly tripled to 350.
The company is set to launch a new line that combines the direct-drive motor of the Element line with the size and style of the Isis. The company has also recently started to offer LED light kits for its Haiku fans and is in the final stages of developing them for each platform.
Smith said he hopes to eventually consolidate his production facilities off Leestown Road and Winchester Road into the company’s 30 acres of land on Innovation Drive. In the meantime, the company is looking for additional space, Smith said, which it will need to match its first 14 years of production in the next two.