First impressionsdomatter. So what does one think when the first thing heard over the phone is the receptionist's voice saying, "Good morning, Big Ass Fans, how may I help you?"

Are you kidding? Is that an impression you want to leave with your customers?

It is if you are the employees of Big Ass Fans, Lexington, Ky. The company uses its unique moniker to create interest in its products - 6-foot to 24-foot low-velocity ceiling fans, which are designed to move up to 210,000 cfm of air over an area as large as 20,000 square feet "for about a nickel an hour," according to the company.

But if the large ceiling fans are the focus of the company's marketing efforts, the products have to share center stage with the company's name, as well as with a famous sports celebrity. The spokesperson for the company is former NFL lineman William "The Refrigerator" Perry of the Chicago Bears, a man whose girth arguably gained as much attention as his performance on the football field. It seems there is no end to the play on words.

Big Decisions

Bill Buell is the "marketing guy" for Big Ass Fans. He prefers not to be called director or manager, just the "guy." Buell gaveThe Newsa little background on the company name.

"The company has been around for five years and was initially known as the HVLS Fan Company," said Buell. The original name was derived from an acronym for "high volume, low speed." "The [current] name really came from customers three or four years ago, who said, ‘Those are really big ass fans.'"

"I came in two years ago, saw that the company used the ‘big ass' theme in a few of their ads, and thought, what a great branding opportunity. This is the way to get business. It took some gentle cajoling, but Carey Smith, our CBA (chief big ass), finally relented after being worn down by my constant adolescent whining to change the name to Big Ass Fans."

Buell saw a lot of marketing opportunities in this rotund name. "As a marketing guy, you want to get people's attention before you get them to do anything else. And we are led by three parts: we want to grab attention, maintain interest, and motivate."

Buell figures the name grabs people's attention, the product features and spokesperson Perry maintain interest, and the marketing/advertising campaign motivates customers to buy the fans.

"It's been a successful formula," he said. "Our business has at least doubled or tripled each year for the past few years."

But if Big Ass didn't have a good product to sell, the posterior humor wouldn't be enough to sustain the company's growth. The company has been successfully selling its products through distribution channels and directly to end users - such as large warehouses and dairy farms - where distribution has not been available.

Big Ass Fans has been actively seeking qualified distributorships. Buell noted that his company puts prospective distributors through a process to determine if they are highly qualified - and see if they have a good sense of humor. "We don't have the whole country covered yet, but we are looking," he said.

The fans can be a "value-added" product for HVACR contractors to sell, once the purpose of a large ceiling fan is explained to customers. "People intuitively think that fans are used for cooling," Buell said. "But they are valuable in the winter, too."

Buell gave an example of an end user who saved a lot on energy costs during the winter because of the company's fans.

"We have a Toyota parts distribution center that was paying $35,000 to $40,000 each month on heating gas alone," he said. "They put our ceiling fans in [to force the heat down from unit heaters]. The heating bills went down to about $5,000 to $6,000 per month.

"Our fans at half-speed gently bring the air down. Some super-heated air at the top of the ceiling can have temperature readings in the 90s and the floor can actually have temperatures in the 60s. The floor needs to be heated, where the people are."

Don't Forget Merchandising

Big Ass Fans is hoping others have fun with its company name, too. The company offers merchandise with the company logo on its Web site, Items from T-shirts to bumper stickers to coffee mugs are available, and sales of some items have been exceeding expectations, according to Buell.

"We are selling women's skirts with our logo on the, er, rear end," he said. "We did this for a few giggles - to be funny. All of a sudden, we started getting orders and one woman even sent in a picture of herself wearing the skirt."

Big Ass Fans has assembled several pages of comments about the name from curious visitors to its Web site. The company likes to show how the name has become a conversation piece among customers, as well as among people who have no interest in buying the product but simply are drawn to the name.

Here are a couple of examples of comments posted at the Web site:

  • "I was shocked by some of the negative comments made by people to your company's choice of name. I found it to be a gutsy marketing tactic. You're not selling Bibles or children's toys, so what's the big deal about the name? It got my attention, made me laugh, and I'm probably going to buy one! Good luck, and great job."

  • "Your name is highly offensive to some people who are your potential customers. All I'm suggesting is, there's another way to do business, without offending people. Why not take the higher road? Looks like you're having fun w/the controversy, and certainly profiting from it, but does the end justify the means?"

    Buell joked that his company does not really have any competition. "We are very unique in what we do," he said. "Business is tough enough as it is. We want to have a little fun with it.

    "You can't market a product if there isn't a product that works. Ours is very unique. It is a great product."

    Maybe it's just another example of a company that is succeeding by the seat of its pants.

    Publication date: 11/17/2003