AIMS, expanding lines, plans manufacturing in Reno

Like many tales of successful businesses, the AIMS Power Corp. story starts in a garage.

Now it wants to come home.

“It was founded in 2001 and it was just me,” says Bruce de Jong, founder and president of the Reno power inverter company.

The former test engineer for Lockheed Martin and Cisco Systems Inc. had recently sold a business he owned with his brother and then relocated to Reno from the Bay Area. He started AIMS with a line of cell phone batteries and inverters, an electronic device that converts direct current to alternating current, but a few years later dropped the battery products when advancements in cell phone technology made them obsolete.

“I focused on the inverters, expanded into four product lines and growth has been a steady 16 percent a year, averaged over those 13 years,” says de Jong. “I went from one customer to probably having millions of inverters in the market now. We have different sales channels now so we probably have thousands of customers.”

The AIMS product line is narrowly focused but can be used in a broad range of applications, a mixed blessing for business. On the one hand, the line of inverters ­— the largest of which, a 12-kilowatt converter, could be used as back-up to power a small house — has dozens of applications. The company’s first customer was Heartland America, the online catalog company that sells electronics, recreation goods, clothes and housewares. From there, de Jong says word of mouth built up and now AIMS products are used in recreational vehicles, trucks and emergency vehicles including those of the Reno Police Department, for emergency disaster relief and by hunters who power remote cabins.

“Emergency back-up power is a big part of what we do,” says de Jong. “When Hurricane Sandy hit, we were busy shipping out inverters left and right.”

The company sells direct and through resellers and original-equipment manufacturers, which incorporate AIMS inverters into their own products. One OEM makes a battery-powered cooler for sports stadiums, and a handful of others make retractable road barricades to be used during power outages caused by disasters or terrorism.

But the biggest challenge, says de Jong, has been breaking into mass merchandisers like Walmart or Home Depot.

“They’re already selling 20 product lines from another inverter maker so they’re not going to take us on,” he says.

AIMS has expanded its product line to include cables, connectors, even solar panels, to provide a more complete package for certain applications. And the company late last year started attending trade shows to get more visibility.

“We went to a work truck show, disaster planning, RV show,” says Sean Nichols, AIMS vice president. “We’re going to one in Latin America and to the California farm show because we sell inverters for off grid well pumps.”

The company also plans to manufacture a new product line in Reno, says de Jong. Right now, AIMS works with up to 10 Asian factories to co-develop products, but de Jong would like to both expand the line and manufacture some of it in state. The company already sells some portable solar generators, but hopes to announce a bigger version, to be made here, within six months.

“We’re trying to bring out some more value-added products we can manufacture here,” says de Jong. “So we can offer a solution made here.”


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