A life-long tinkerer, Tom Frampton, founder of Fanimation, loved working on an incredibly diverse assortment of projects from a young age. His family encouraged and rewarded his interest (how many other 7th graders had their own tool shed?), which led to working after school and summers for nearby entrepreneur Burton A. Burton in California. This long-time alliance became the Casablanca Fan Company.
How did you enter the lighting industry?
When people asked me “What do you want to be when you grow up?” when I was very young, I answered “an electrical engineer” because that was my dad’s profession. Based on that notion, my maternal grandparents enrolled me in a summertime Electrical Science class at the California Science Center in Los Angeles (formerly the Museum of Science and Industry) and I spent the following school year building a Heath Kit radio in my bedroom. I had always liked to tinker and work on my “projects” preferring that over most any other activity. In the 7th grade, I built my own wood lathe and table saw. My grandparents were impressed with my lathe and took me to Sears to buy me a proper set of carving tools and a metal shed so I could have my own work space in the backyard!
By age 17, we were living in Pasadena and through a chain of events I ended up working two blocks from my high school. Burton A. Burton – being the quintessential entrepreneur that he was – had a small machine shop and he sold some German machining equipment and was a collector, buyer, and seller of antiques. This is where I learned to work on and appreciate antiques of all types and in particularly the coin-operated one-armed bandit type [from casinos].
What have been some of the biggest changes you’ve seen?
By the 1970s, the ceiling fan industry had lost any sense of character and design and the few remaining manufacturers had some version of a simple four-blade UPS brown fan. EVERTHING changed after 1973 with our founding of the Casablanca Fan Company. Retail distribution had a rebirth, motor technology improved, remote controls were conceived, better hanging systems were introduced, and good design returned to the industry. For me, it’s been 40 years of change and it continues with advanced motor and illumination technology. Distribution channels continue to evolve and new regulations are a challenge.
[Editor’s note: Fanimation started out as part of Casablanca before Frampton spun it off as an independent company and relocated the business to Indiana]
What has been the key to your success?
I’ve always been a curious person and not afraid to take chances or plot my own course. I think most people I’ve worked with would consider me a pioneer with a rich industry background and history. My passion for this business is never more apparent than when I give a personal tour of the Antique Fan Museum housed at Fanimation’s headquarters.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started out?
Tough question, I guess just about everything! I wish I had entered the industry when I was about 5-10 years older. It’s hard enough to learn and flourish in a business, but I was also entering adulthood at the same time.
What do you think the future holds for the ceiling fan industry?
Motor efficiency, illumination efficiency, and control technology will to be the focus the next 5 years while design continues its ever-changing evolution. Change is the constant.