Going Big in the Bluegrass State
September 27 2013 by Steve Rosenbaum
Mid-Market Company of the Week: Big Ass Fans
Carey Smith worked until age 30 in insurance and reinsurance, literally pulling staples from policies at times. He eventually started a company that installed sprinklers on the roofs of industrial buildings to cool the interiors. Smith traveled the country installing sprinklers by day while spending nights sleeping in the camper bed of his truck. The business never grew beyond $1.4 million in annual sales, and Smith used its small profits to fund his venture into fans in 1999 at age 46.
Carey Smith founded the HVLS (High Volume Low Speed) fan company in 1999 and within a year had sold less than 150 cooling fans. Taking a cue from his customers and acknowledging that he truly made “Big Ass Fans,” Smith changed the company name and sales took off.
This month Smith’s Lexington, Kentucky-based company sold its 100,000 fan. The firm is on track to generate $125 million in revenue this year, up from just under $90 million in 2012.
“We’ve grown at over 30% since the recession and prior to the recession we grew at a greater rate than that,” Smith said.
At its founding, Big Ass Fans had six employees, today it boasts 435, assembling product in its Kentucky facility with suppliers no more than a half-day’s drive from its HQ.
In 2010, Smith and The Big Ass Fan Company were named Kentucky Manufacturer of the Year in the mid-size business category.
One of the keys to Smith’s success – innovation. Big Ass Fans maintains an internal “Skunk Works” staffed by 40 degreed engineers driving innovation and product development. The company holds 93 patents and 144 patents pending.
Who: Carey Smith, Founder & CEO, Big Ass Fans
Size: $125 million
Location: Lexington, KY
Goal: To build a “200-year company” that will have a legacy beyond his lifespan
Unusual fact: Has the world’s only R&D lab built for the advancement of thermal comfort technology
Unique factoid: Big Ass Fans recently served as a backdrop on NBC’s America’s Got Talent
Read : Forbes / Big Ass Fans Getting Bigger