To be successful in business requires a combination of hard work, timing, working with the best suppliers, and genuinely listening to the needs of your customers. Patterson Fan Company (PFC), headquartered in Blythewood, South Carolina, is an example of all these factors and more.
Patterson Fan Company takes a concept and manufactures a product that is not only extremely effective but long-lasting and powerful. “Customers usually try to buy too big a fan, because they are not used to what our fans will do,” says company President and Chief Executive Officer Vance Patterson.
As ‘The Authority in Air Movement,’ Patterson Fan Company manufactures fans from giant high-volume, low speed industrial models to dock door fans and more. It serves a range of industries including distribution and fulfillment, food processing, manufacturing, government, rental, and construction. Clients come to the company to address any issues they have in their building’s air movement. “Even air-conditioned buildings have hotspots,” states Vance.
Patterson says the company’s best-sellers are its fourteen-inch, eighteen-inch, and twenty-two-inch models, priced at about $400 to $700 and a great example of the adage ‘You get what you pay for.’ Vance Patterson concedes the fans are not cheap, but often the only reason a customer comes back is to purchase additional fans, not to replace existing ones.
“If they try ours, they want ours, because they are not going to have to replace them,” he says. Other fans on the market, such as ordinary cage fans, are largely throw-away products, and unlike Patterson products, last only a few years.
Patterson Fan Company started small but has been growing at fifteen to twenty percent every year and continually coming out with new products and investing in emerging markets. It now has a full-time staff of about sixty-five and up to one hundred, including temporary employees, in the busy summer months.
PFC began as a side-line to Solar Shield, Inc. owned by Vance’s father G.V. ‘Pat’ Patterson. Solar Shield sells evaporated roof cooling units, an environmentally-friendly sprinkler system used to keep rooftops wet in the summer to keep heat from coming in. ‘Pat’ Patterson had a background in the ventilation business since the 1950s and was the first national sales manager for Jenn-Air, which made the original spun aluminum fans that went on the roofs of restaurants.
A self-described, hands-on “nuts and bolts kind of guy,” Vance was in the restaurant business in Indiana at the time, but moved to South Carolina to help his father with Solar Shield installations. One satisfied customer, Oxford Shirt in Vidalia, Georgia, said the roof cooling system installed by Solar Shield for Oxford’s 80,000 square foot facility worked well and kept temperatures lower inside, but they had to shut off their fans because they could not bring in hot air during the day. After checking with some of his old suppliers at Jenn-Air, Pat found a solution in Atlanta and sent fans to Oxford Shirt.
“My dad, having been in manufacturing, was happy just to sell them and wanted to set-up a distributorship,” says Vance. “I looked at it and said, ‘You know, dad, we could make that fan,’ and he said ‘No way do I want to get back into manufacturing.’”
Two weeks later, however, Pat changed his mind. The pair checked with suppliers in Indiana, gathered blades and motors, and assembled their own fans, which worked extremely well and they were soon designing and creating more sophisticated fans. Sales exceeded the expectations of father and son, soon surpassing those of the roof cooling systems.
Pat and Vance discussed the bold new business with their wives and used everything they had to fund the new Patterson Fan Company in 1989. The company grew rapidly, making INC. 500’s list of the fastest-growing private companies in the country. Although Pat Patterson passed away in 1996, he lived to see the company that he and his son built from the ground up become a nationwide success.
Patterson is so confident in its products that it offers a unique, thirty-day evaluation period. Upon request, a fan will be sent to qualifying companies to test in-house. If they decide to keep the fan, they pay the invoice; if not, all they have to do is cover the cost of the return shipping. “We don’t get very many coming back,” says Vance, crediting both his sales staff and the company for selling about ninety-five percent of its industrial fans directly to the end user.
Along with its solid sales team, Patterson has booths at a number of logistics and trade shows, like Promat, Modex, and Fabtech, as well as a presence at other expositions including a national safety show for first responders and an international plastics show. Promoting the company, says Patterson, has changed considerably over almost three decades, particularly with the movement into the digital age; marketing efforts are almost entirely online.
PFC is active in fulfillment, distribution, and logistics and continues to grow. As a result of its reputation for quality and longevity, the company has seen an increase in sales to the food processing industry – which requires industrial fans as soon as possible due to condensation issues – fulfillment centers, which ship directly to the end user, and loading dock door fans.
Investing in products that customers are asking for is “why we say we are the authority. We came out with a low-headroom fan, tucked up in the mezzanine areas, which is very quiet and still moves a lot of air,” says Vance. “It’s a new product that’s come out, and they are getting really popular.”
Vance points out that PFC is not a technological manufacturer, but knows a great deal about velocities, which is much more important to the business than cubic feet per minute (CFM) for its products. Fans are encased in a housing; air flow is channeled in one direction, rather than being dispersed. This way, a twenty-two-inch fan can throw air one hundred feet out into a building. The fans can be mounted out of the way or hung from the ceiling or brackets, with no pedestals or cords in the way of the operation.
Although Patterson Fan Company has thousands of customers, it chooses to work with fewer than thirty proven, dependable suppliers. “This makes our suppliers really special to us,” he states. “We try to work with them; they work with us; we are long-term users of our suppliers, and we appreciate our suppliers and our customers and what they do for us.”
“We are certainly not the biggest in the industry when it comes to ventilation, but we are the big ones when it comes to fans, and we’ve got a very good brand out there, so we want to continue building our brand.”