By Jamie Siebrase | Mar 29, 2015
Employees: under 50
Big Chill's responsibly made, cutting-edge appliances have consumers feeling red hot. President Orion Creamer has fostered styles ranging from retro to contemporary.
Big Chill began from a small idea when co-founder Thom Vernon needed a retro fridge for his vintage beach house. Back then, the mid-century models on the market were too small and inefficient, and they required painstaking hours of chiseling to defrost. Vernon enlisted his nephew, Orion Creamer, a then-recent graduate of Metropolitan State University of Denver's industrial design program, in hopes of developing something fresh.
The uncle-nephew team studied antique refrigerators and experimented with prototypes to get the look right before calling in other tradesmen for stamping, chroming and casting. The result was the Big Chill, a cutting-edge, steel-body, chrome-trim appliance that came in eight classic colors: cherry red, buttercup yellow, classic white, pink lemonade, jadeite green, orange, beach blue and black.
Today the iconic brand is internationally recognized, and the company has expanded to offer an array of matching kitchen appliances in more than 200 custom colors and three era-specific styles.
The inspiration that enabled Big Chill still drives the company forward. As president, Creamer is constantly working on new products in unexpected designs and vibrant hues; in fact, he recently returned from the Architectural Digest Home Show in New York, where he wooed attendees with some of the most innovative colors on the market and a whole new line of turn-of-the-century appliances.
"We now have three eras of style," Creamer clarifies. In addition to the latest, an early American industrial line rolling out with a stove in mid-2015, there's the contemporary PRO Line of refrigerators, stoves and dishwashers that launched in 2014 and the beloved retro line that started it all.
The company can't disclose exact sales figures, but Big Chill sells thousands of units annually, says Creamer. "We've seen double-digit growth every year since 2001, and we even grew through the recession," he adds. And all of them are Energy Star-rated, and the finishing technique -- powder coating -- emits little to no VOCs, making it one of the most environmentally responsible manufacturing techniques available.
While some of Big Chill's appliance production has moved to Reading, Pennsylvania, fridges, dishwashers and microwaves are still built in Boulder. "There isn't a lot of manufacturing happening here because it's an expensive place to be," Creamer says. That said, he thinks, "Boulder is a great entrepreneurial town, and that outweighs the cost of doing business locally."
California and New York are Big Chill's largest markets, and the company also does substantial local business. Since opening its France division two years ago, Big Chill's international sales have skyrocketed. "I think Europeans love American design in the same was we love European design," Creamer says.
Challenges: Aside from keeping up with ever-changing design trends, Big Chill's biggest challenge is navigating the tremendous growth it has experienced. "From a manufacturing point of view, meeting customer demands can be challenging," says Creamer.
Opportunities: "Our strengths are design and color, and in the next five years we really want to own those two niches," Creamer says, alluding to the possibility of expanding beyond kitchen appliances. "I'm not sure I want to get into building cars, but I don't think we always have to do appliances," adds Creamer.
Needs: "What company isn't evaluating their business?" Creamer wonders aloud. "But," he says, "There's nothing in particular we're dwelling on at the moment."