Q: How would you describe your company’s primary business?
A: Big Ass Solutions is best known as the parent company of the iconic Big Ass Fans brand. We are the world’s leading manufacturer and seller of high-volume, low-speed fans for industrial and commercial spaces. As a company, however, we prefer to think that we’re in the business of innovation, and that mentality drives our development of new products and new divisions. In 2014, for example, we created Big Ass Light, which began with the launch of an industrial LED fixture so tough you can drive a truck over it.
Today, Big Ass Light is a full-service lighting company offering LED lighting for all indoor and outdoor spaces. Our residential division, Haiku Home, sells the world’s most award-winning home ceiling fans. Seriously, Haiku fans hold more than 70 international awards for design and technology. We also recently launched Big Ass Services in select markets, which installs, maintains and repairs Big Ass Solutions’ products as well as HVAC and plumbing.
Q: In brief, what is the history of your company?
A: The company was started with six employees in 1999. Originally called the HVLS Fan Company, our customers effectively changed our name to Big Ass Fans a couple years later. (After seeing our massive fans in trade publications and at trade shows, people kept calling in and asking “Are you the company that sells those big-ass fans?” We realized they were onto something.) Initially, we sold fans for agricultural spaces, primarily to keep dairy cows cool and productive. Because company founder Carey Smith had years of experience visiting un-air conditioned factories and warehouses with his previous business, he saw the potential of the HVLS fans to cool people, too. Industrial sites quickly embraced the new technology.
We branched out from there, taking cues from our customers to inform R&D projects and expansion into new product categories. For example, we developed our first silent, energy-efficient commercial fans when customers began requesting Big Ass Fans for spaces like churches and schools. When people began installing our commercial fans in homes, we acquired Haiku technology and reinvented the home ceiling fan. We developed unique business models as well, cutting out middlemen in most circumstances and selling the products we manufacture directly to customers. And because we talk directly to customers, we can channel their feedback into product and service improvements.
Our quality-first, direct-sales formula has been a success. Today, we employ nearly 1,000 people and saw revenues of about a quarter billion in 2016.
Q: Big Ass Solutions was founded in 1999. How has fan and lighting technology changed during that time?
A: Since 1999 there have been huge changes in fan and lighting technology, and Big Ass Solutions has been at the forefront of almost all of them. Ceiling fan technology hadn’t evolved much since it was invented more than 100 years ago (with the exception of the introduction of HVLS fans in 1999). We introduced electronically commutated motors in commercial and residential fans, which are now becoming the norm, and invested heavily in new control systems that save energy and provide complete automation of the fans. We launched the world’s first smart fan, the first major redesign of the ceiling fan since its invention.
When it comes to lighting, the most obvious change is the switch from inefficient technologies such as halogen, high-intensity discharge and fluorescent to energy-efficient LEDs. Automation is a growing trend for lighting as well. Unlike older technologies, LEDs can easily be fitted with occupancy sensors to save energy. From a manufacturing perspective, we’ve made great strides in the construction of the LED fixtures themselves. Each Big Ass Light LED is built of a solid piece of heavy-duty, extruded aluminum with ribbed fins to increase surface area. This design quickly dissipates heat, which is the biggest killer of LEDs. With our forward-thinking design, we can double the lifespan of traditional LED fixtures.
Q: What industrial applications can benefit from Big Ass Solutions products?
A: Every single one of them. Big Ass Fans are everywhere — 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies use them in their manufacturing, distribution, or retail facilities. Chances are any consumer good you buy was either built, boxed, shipped or sold under a Big Ass Fan. Most businesses use them for energy savings as well as comfort.
Big Ass Fans can save up to 30 percent of energy costs in winter by circulating hot air, and can lead to reduced reliance on air conditioning in summer. And the benefits of LED lighting are obvious — Big Ass Light LEDs use 50 percent less energy than the metal halides still common in many industrial spaces, and typically require no maintenance for almost a decade.
Q: What questions do your customers frequently ask?
A: The main question is “How’d you get your name?” For the answer, see above. People also want to know where we’re located (we’re Kentucky Proud) and where they can buy our products (from us, directly). Of course, the majority of questions we hear relate to our products and services. For example, we’re often asked if we can install Big Ass Fans in facilities with overhead cranes, or whether fans can be used in facilities where welding takes place. Each facility has different needs, so we tailor the answer to the individual.
Q: What successes have you had in the American market this past year?
A: In the last year we’ve seen tremendous growth in our Haiku Home division, launched in January 2016. In particular, our custom Artisan and Luxe Series, both hand-painted designs by featured artists and hand-brushed metallic finishes, have been extremely popular. In 2016 we ran out of space in our existing Haiku production facility and moved into a 165,000-sq-ft building across the road from our headquarters.
Q: What do you want to see in the future for the industry?
A: We’re seeing a lot of companies start to adopt the business model of manufacturing and selling direct to customers, which we were doing before it was cool. The current retail market for consumer and many B2B products and services drives prices down, but takes quality with it. We believe the future of American manufacturing lies in more companies adopting a lower-volume, high-quality strategy. We hope that we’ll continue to see more superbly engineered, innovative and beautiful products for the home and the workplace, products that aim to make lives better — and actually do.
Jon Bostock, chief operating officer, Big Ass Solutions