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Sean Bandawat: American Made Entrepreneur

By establishing trust and perceived value, he turned a dying business into a thriving family of businesses.

About 60 years ago, a young man named Warren Buffett bought a small, troubled New England textile company called Berkshire Hathaway.  He turned it into a property and casualty insurance company, then a holding company, and then he became the richest man in the world using Berkshire as his investment vehicle.

We recently had the pleasure of working with another young man, Sean Bandawat, who may be on the same path!

Fostering a Business Mindset

From a young age, Bandawat witnessed his father, who was a successful entrepreneur, in action.  More importantly, his dad was his hero, role model, and primary business advisor.  While in college at the University of Southern California, Bandawat creates several internet-based businesses —most notably RateMyFraternity.com and RateMySorority.com, allowing students to learn and read reviews about fraternities and sororities across the nation, and College Zoom, a counseling service that helps students apply to America’s best universities.

Bandawat attended USC Marshall’s Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, perhaps the best school in the country for entrepreneurship.  He’s in his senior year, and his capstone project, his final assignment, is to write a business plan.  For some, it’s a lot to handle, but for others, like him, a guy with entrepreneurship in his blood, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime!

All of the students focused on start-ups for their assignment, except one.  Yes, you might have guessed who the one was.  “A lot of people think you have to start a business to be an entrepreneur.  Once I understood that I could buy a business and be an entrepreneur, my life changed. There are so many advantages to be past the start-up phase,” he explains.

Doing His Homework

So, naturally, he hires a business broker, reviews every listing he can find, but is unable to find the right fit until a family member mentions a company, Bromwell Housewares, that might be for sale.  After some research, he learns that Bromwell Housewares is the oldest kitchen wares manufacturing company in North America, founded by Jacob Bromwell in 1819, and is also the country’s 34th oldest continuously owned and operated company.

He also learns that the company is on the verge of bankruptcy. Their annual revenues have dropped from millions to $90,000, and they cannot possibly support their operating costs.

A mere 23 years old at the time, Bandawat approaches the owners and realizes he has found the right fit. He starts putting together his business plan, helping him “solidify the acquisition plan and takeover strategy for the business.” One thing he had learned at USC was that “the more problems a company has, the more opportunities there are” to bring about change and make it attractive.  After negotiations, they structure an arrangement whereby he takes immediate control and ownership, in exchange for an agreement to make a series of payments over a period of years.

From Plans to Action

Of course, Bandawat completed his capstone project and put his business plan into action! By the way, as you might have guessed, his business plan was awarded the Top Undergraduate Business Plan in 2011.  Additionally, USC honored him with the Most Outstanding President and Lifetime Achievement awards. And, the dean of the business school is now a member of his Advisory Board.

Immediately, Bandawat re-named and re-branded the company to celebrate the founder, Jacob Bromwell. Next, he addressed the biggest problem —the 30,000-square-foot factory had to be closed —the company could not be profitable if it remained open, “the ship was sinking.”  After a matter of months, the factory was closed.

In addition, the company’s product line was too extensive, so the decision was made to keep the core items that were selling well and phase out the others, a reduction of 90%! They stopped selling to the retail establishments and focused on specialty retailers and direct-to-consumer sales. And they re-positioned their higher end products, focusing on attracting affluent consumers.  It’s been eight years since he took over Jacob Bromwell, and sales have multiplied as the company has grown!

Business Leader on the Rise

So, what’s the next step? Like Warren Buffett, he views Jacob Bromwell as a holding company for other businesses that would complement his. While he is in no rush to do so, he has been able to acquire two companies in the last couple of years.

He acquired Billy Twang, a barbecue company whose high-end utensils were being manufactured by Bromwell.  And, last year, he acquired Made in America Co., the world’s largest retailer of American-made products and a powerhouse promoter of American manufacturers and brands. The three brands currently are Made in USA focused but are not necessarily bound to that for future acquisitions. They realize that to grow further they may need to look outside that niche and are therefore not limited to only American-made companies.

Recognized for his success with Bromwell, he was invited to the White House last year as part of a group of business leaders, an event he refers to as “one of the coolest experiences” of his life. Bandawat presented a few Jacob Bromwell products and discussed the importance of keeping manufacturing jobs in America.

We look forward to the future of this rising star, and I for one will be excited to watch from the sidelines.  To learn more about Bandawat and his companies, please visit jacobbromwell.com, billytwang.com, and madeinamerica.co.