Tato Corcoran was born & raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and spent the first decade of her professional career in Silicon Valley. At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, she started flipping homes & building a portfolio of rental units in Milwaukee. In 2022 she acquired Brandt Molded Marble, a sleepy manufacturing business on its way to extinction. Tato has spent the past year+ transforming that business into one worth owning.
You say [you acquired] a sleepy manufacturing business. Can you talk about that a little bit?
When COVID started, and I was here in Milwaukee, and I was still kind of going back and forth between Milwaukee and California. I still had my friends there and whatnot. But I was like, “Okay, now's the time.” What is it that I want to pursue? And it dawned on me one day that I could buy a house here, which you really can't do in California when you're 26. So I thought I'd make it an Airbnb. And so I bought my first house, and that led to an absolute real estate obsession. I ended up flipping, wholesaling, buying followable, I've probably done at least a couple of dozen real estate transactions and have a portfolio now that I've kept. But then it felt like the next natural step that I actually saw some of my peers pursuing was to buy a small business. And I'm sure you ladies are intimately familiar with a statistic about baby boomers retiring, it's like a daily rate of 10,000 or something like that. But essentially, no one has an exit plan. So I had some peers pursuing the acquisition of these businesses for very low dollars. And I thought I could do that. You basically have to be scrappy, resourceful and organized, right? I talked to 1,070,000 small business owners just to get a feel for what interested me. And I ended up I originally found this business near the middle of my search and it was broker listed at way too much. And I said to the broker that I don't know anything about manufacturing, so I can't even consider that. And then sure enough, a month or so went by and he called me and the owners were about 14 days from disclosing store and liquidating. So, turns out that [the former owners] had an owner operated business for 35 years. So very well established, and was absolutely an expert in this particular space. He is chemically speaking an expert on molded marble, and he was very active in the business. By the time that he was trying to sell, he was running a skeleton crew. They had their 12 customers who were super loyal to them, and vice versa. He knew exactly what top line, he needed it to put X dollars in his pocket and only need two people and only work 40 hours. And that was that, like he had it down to a science. And so it was sleepy in that it was just not growing.
How are you setting up Brandt Molded Marble to really find success as you move forward now that you have it?
[The former owner’s] existing customer base, which relatively speaking was quite small, was really strong. He serviced all of the main entry-level specs, single-family residential builders in the area. So again, while his top-line dollars were very underwhelming, I knew that his customers were super sticky like they weren't going anywhere. They dominate the spec space here, which again, is a really hot space. So I was like, “Okay, that's positive.” He had zero commercial customers. He also worked with like two general contractors to renovators. There are a bajillion renovation contractors within the Greater Milwaukee and Madison areas who are a perfect fit for the product, and vice versa. So massive opportunity there. So it was just a matter of (there were a lot of layers) to me taking this thing from something that was nothing to something. The first six months were sheer survival. I have never walked into something so blind and underprepared in my entire life. And I have no regrets at all. It's a blast now.
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Lori Highby 0:05rental units in Milwaukee. In:
Ooh, yeah. Hi, guys.
Tato Corcoran 0:50
I'm so excited. I really appreciate it.
Lori Highby 0:53
So Silicon Valley to Milwaukee. I mean, there's a story there, right.
Tato Corcoran 1:01
Yes, so my dad was born and raised outside of Milwaukee, in the suburbs. And but he went to college in San Francisco, loved the fact that it didn't snow there and never left. And so he fast forward, had my sister and I, and we were born and raised outside of San Francisco. But as we grew up, my sister decided to go to you to UW Madison, and be a badger, where she met her now husband. And in a nutshell, when they graduated, he got a job in the Milwaukee suburbs. And so they kind of planted their seeds here. So my dad sort of did a 360, which she's a little less than thrilled about, but they were they got married before COVID. And then they were having their first baby the two days or two days before the COVID shutdown. So what I thought was supposed to be like a week off from my job at Salesforce ended up you know, I was I was here they, the next thing you know, we're all shut down. And I had, I never went back to work again. In fact, all my again, it was like suffocation. So all my stuff was there. Like I didn't even have a chance to clear anything out. And that started the kind of evolution into me being the entrepreneur that I am today. I've always been super entrepreneurial, and have learned not to fast forwarding the story, but I always knew that I would go work for myself I had no idea the capacity or what that was going to look like. But because I never went back to the office, it kind of turbo speeded if you will, you know, my side hustle that became now my main hustle. So I was the absolute poster child for why ambitious Millennials should never be allowed to work from home because I basically started math until I left. So yeah, so that's in a very tiny nutshell.
Well, I think that it is a great reason for ambitious Millennials not to go back to the office, because we're all big fans of entrepreneurs here at at the broadcast. So I, you know, I did my, my research, and I came across this phrase, and I was like, oh my god, I have to pick her brain because you are very good at something that I suck at. That is putting things in order. You love doing that. And here I want to read this quote so great. This is from you. I love to take a ball of chaos and put order to it. Wow, I That scares the ever loving hell out of me. So since I got you here, tell me what what's the first step? Like when you're just like, Oh, hello, ball of chaos. The first thing you do with the ball?
Tato Corcoran 3:50
Well, yeah, so it's funny. I do remember writing that that's on my website. And it is true. Historically, all of my chaos has stemmed from executive leadership of corporate America. So I was at Salesforce for almost 10 years if you guys are familiar, before I quit, and I was an executive assistant to multiple leaders within the Office of the CEO, so obviously really big 70,000 person fortune 100 or whatever company and I was always like, the closest layer to the sun. And so that was my everyday life. Like it was always shitstorm and it was you had to you know, always look good have a smile and have an answer. And so that became second nature to me is just well, you know, I have the answer and not sure what it is I'm gonna find it and I'm gonna look you know, like I'm not stressed at all. Doing it.
That smile. Um, first thing you just mine, okay, got it.
Tato Corcoran 4:53
I'm a I'm a huge advocate. And to this day, what I was getting at was that that is a totally different from what they can So I live today. And in fact, I hadn't bought my business yet when I, or my current business rather when I wrote that quote, and so now that means a completely different things. But I was in corporate America, and today I am a massive Resource Finder. I was just talking about this at lunch. And it's not meant to be like self, you know, degrading or whatever. But I am a sociology major, no offense to theology majors total joke, like, I don't know why I even bothered to go to college basically acquired no skills in college, I don't have quantifiable hard skills, necessarily, but I am as resourceful as they come as fearless as they come. And I'm a people person. And so I have been successful by, you know, not in a big way. But genuinely making relationships with every single person that I come across, because everyone is smart in some way. And you never know, you know, kind of what value that relationship can bring you at the time or down the road. And so I had a huge network. And through, you know, my corporate America times, and that was, that was step one of like, the ball of chaos, it's like, here are all the problems. And here I can think of one person per problem where I know I can at least start. And while that's chaos is totally different, it has absolutely run through as I've now stepped into first, I was in real estate, and I still am a little bit, but way less full time now I'm in manufacturing. And that has that has remained true. I mean, I had no idea about anything. When I bought my company, I still mostly don't. But I sure as heck know, a lot of amazing people who are so insanely smart in this space, and I lean on them for pretty much everything.
Yeah, it reminds me of the quote, it's not what you know, but who, you know, you know, certainly we've heard.
Tato Corcoran 6:59
And, yeah, and I think that sometimes that can get misconstrued as very, like EWZ, you know, like, Oh, you just use everybody. And it's really not that, like, I adore every person who, you know, I keep close to me in my network, and I bring value to them in some way or another to like, it's always a two way street. It's just that, you know, I'm not going to go become an expert on, you know, process flow in, you know, a manufacturing space. If this particular person who I know, who, you know, I really trust is an expert at it. And that's been his full time job for 10 years, you know, I'm just not going to be foolish enough to go try to learn that myself. Yeah,
Lori Highby 7:45
makes sense. I'm in the introduction that you that I read for you that you shared. Thank you so much. You say a sleepy manufacturing business. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Tato Corcoran 7:59
Yeah, for sure. So we can expand on this as you want. But in a super nutshell, when COVID started, and I was here in Milwaukee, and I was still kind of going back and forth between Milwaukee and California. I still had, you know, my friends there and whatnot. But I was like, okay, now's the time, you know, what is it that I want to kind of, you know, pursue, and it dawned on me one day that I could buy a house here, which you really can't do in California when you're 26. So I thought, okay, you know, I'll make it an Airbnb. And so I bought my first house. And that led to an absolute real estate obsession, like rabbit holes like no other. I've devoured every piece of real estate content I can find on the internet. And I, to this day, still love it. But I ended up flipping, wholesaling, buying followable, I've probably done at least a couple of dozen real estate transactions and have a portfolio now that I've kept. But then it felt like the next natural step that I actually saw some of my peers pursuing was to buy a small business. And I'm sure you ladies are intimately familiar with a statistic about baby boomers retiring, it's like a daily rate of 10,000 or something like that. But essentially, no one has an exit plan. I mean, it's just what it is, you know, kids don't want to take over their parents business. And I have found in my short time that most nearly every business no matter what you try to tell me is not saleable. So I had some peers pursuing the acquisition of these businesses for you know, very low dollars. And I thought, wow, you know, I could do that. You basically have to, you know, be scrappy, resourceful and organized, right? Kind of a theme. I'm like, I can do that. So I looked at everything like Everything under the sun I looked at I talked to 1,070,000 small business owners just to get a feel for what interested me. And I ended up I originally found this business near the middle of my search and it was broker listed at it is that forever though, and he wanted way too much. I mean, it was just the get no interest. And I said to the broker, oh gosh, you know, I, I don't know anything about manufacturing, so I can't even consider that I'm sorry, you know, but thank you. And then sure enough, a month or so went by and he called me and he was like, hey, the owners about 14 days from disclosing store and liquidating. So, if you have any interest at all, you know, you should come take a look. So, turns out that he had own he had well, he had owner operated business for 35 years. So very, very, very well established, he is is slash was absolutely an expert in this particular space. He is like Chemically speaking an expert on molded marble. And it was very active in the business. And he, you know, had undulations over the years. You know, he was huge at one time, and then really scaled back. And by the time that he was trying to sell, he was running a skeleton crew. I mean, he had to, he had three full time employees, one was headed back to college, so really to and himself. And he was just the epitome of like, they had their 12 customers who were super loyal to them, and vice versa. He knew exactly what top line, he needed it to put X dollars in his pocket and only need two people and only work 40 hours. And that was that, like he had it down to a science. And so it was sleepy in that he I mean, it was just not it was not growing, it was it was just there, you know, it just existed to serve his life purpose. And not that that's a bad thing, that's totally fine. In my opinion, that's not a business, it's just basically a job. But it was in the construction and renovation space, that pretty much everywhere in the United States is, you know, still a great space, but particularly here in the Midwest, you know, especially fueled by COVID. And the fleeing of the coasts is just roaring here. And so I thought, Alright, I'm definitely going to do a second look into this business. And then it became apparent that he owns the 10,000 square foot manufacturing space, and wasn't just renting it from someone else. And so then it was very obvious to me that I could just basically offer him the value of the land and take everything else. And even though it was risky as heck, because I had no idea what I was doing. I knew that absolute worst case, if I, you know, burned the business to the ground, I had a great building and could rent it or whatever. And, you know, was in real estate, which was my space comfortable. Anyway, so cool.Kris:
Yeah, I would say, you know, for people listening, it's actually a really fun kind of story of when people dream about taking on new businesses, but they're, they're risk averse, or they're not really willing to jump into it. That fierceness that you talked about earlier really comes into play here. I'm curious, obviously, you see potential in this business, how are you setting up, you know, brand, molded Marvel to really find success as you move forward? Now that you have it?Tato Corcoran:
So that is a very difficult question. So I will try to be succinct. So synchronous isn't really a strong suit of mine in case you're not gathering that but so that his existing customer base, again, which relatively speaking was quite small, was really strong. He serviced all of the main entry level spec, single family residential builders in the area. So again, while his top line dollars were very underwhelming, I knew that his customers were super sticky, like they weren't going anywhere. They dominate the spec space here, which again, is a really hot space. So I was like, okay, that's positive. He had zero commercial customers. And so he was not doing anything in the apartment space, anything in the condo space, anything in the senior living space. Huge, huge, huge opportunity. The amount of multifamily going up across the Greater Milwaukee and Madison areas is virtually insatiable, and that's, you know, not even counting the Greater Chicago area, which is only just over an hour. Super, super achievable market, right. So massive, massive opportunity there. He also worked with like two general contractors to renovators. Okay, there's a bajillion and 17,000 You know, Renovation Contractors, again, within the Greater Milwaukee Madison areas, who are a perfect fit for the product, and vice versa. So massive opportunity there. So it was just a matter of, there were a lot of layers, to me taking this thing from something that was nothing to something. The first six months were sheer survival. I have never walked into something so blind and underprepared in my entire life. And I have no regrets at all. It's a blast now. But last June to December, we're like dark times. I'm always super candid about this whenever I can be for people who are considering starting or acquiring a business that, you know, unless you're buying something really well oiled for, you know, minimum $3 million ish, maybe even more. There, there's some reason why you're getting a good deal, right. And again, it's a good deal. So it's a good purchase. But operationally, I just, I had a ton to do. First of all, I had to learn the product inside and outright, I literally had no idea what manufacturers don't was before April of last year, so I had to completely self educate. You know, I did lean on my staff, I leaned on the owner who I bought from and, you know, anybody in the industry? Who would give me their time? And then I had to figure out, Okay, what does our pricing make any sense? Right? Like, I'm losing money. So what's happening here, keep in mind, it was a massive supply chain crunch. So we'll just throw that in. My raw material cost went up. 75%, pretty much the day of closing. So we were we were already under priced by at least five years. And then you throw that in the mix, it was such a mess. So I had to, but I couldn't just go to all my customers and say, Hey, I'm new. I know absolutely nothing. You don't trust me at all. And also your prices went up? 40%. So you know, you have to, again, with the ball of chaos, you have to take like what are all the problems? And and what are the most important problems? And what is what are the biggest things I have to do, you know, before I can knock the rest down. And so it was product education, for sure. And then also customer trust, I had to become the best friend of each of my 12 customers and not just get them to like me as a person, which is, I would like to think, you know, pretty easy, but really trust that I could execute on the day to day on the day to day such that if they didn't know the owner, ownership transfer, they would have no idea or one thing to ask. And so I made that my first and foremost priority. And then from there, I figured out okay, you know, I'm running around, I was probably in the car, six hours a day at least running between job sites, because I was so understaffed. No idea how the former owner did what he did. I mean, we were just so understaffed, so then, so then I'm in a place of zero strategy, right? So then I was okay, how do I delegate what I can, so that I am at a desk and not in a car and figuring out you know, things such as pricing things such as who are, you know, new and better customers, etc. So, the kind of path to quote unquote, success now was was really varied. And it was just a matter of triaging chaos. And I say, quote, unquote, success today, because it's successful, Margaret, for me is that I have tripled our staff, and they're all amazing, I adore them. And I'm making money. That's fantastic. But I personally consider myself still kind of at the starting line, because all I've done is went from survival to, you know, sums up, and now I'm entering into that next phase of like, okay, let's flourish like I have. I have a vision, I've so much I want to do and so I'm just at like that starting line, you know what I mean?Kris:
Yeah, yeah. Oh, congratulations. Yeah. Getting to where you are? Yeah. Yeah.Erin:
I think I think yeah, you know, it's, it's such a good story because of, and I like the use sleepy because it seems like it was strong, it was just kind of a little bit dormant. And the timing is so great. For example, I am going to be entering a major renovation of my home and now I'm excited to look at your product andTato Corcoran:
Absolutely, you have my number.Erin:
I've just become very aware, very intimately aware of what that market is doing right now. And, you know, coming back to the source of our show, anybody that listened to you would have no doubt that a woman can take over a manufacturing business and make it flourish. Like it's it's you know, the the fundamentals are the same in terms of good business. It's those relationships that you pointed out. It's knowing your product is believing in your product. And it's, you know, timing, being smart at the right time. So I'm so glad you shared your story with us. I really want the takeaway for a lot of our listeners to be, because like you said, the the wave is coming of retirement, the silver tsunami, and people are retiring and leaving behind some of those very important manufacturing businesses that are really at the heart and soul, in particular, in the midwest of our manufacturing industry. And hey, listeners, you you can do this. I mean, yeah, it's really hard. But listen to the amazing potential out there. And I just am so grateful that you came on today to share your story with us, because I want everybody to hear that and to take it into consideration. Maybe something they could do, or somebody that they love can do. Yeah.Tato Corcoran:
No, absolutely. i It's funny, though, the whole a woman can take over manufacturing thing is like a whole other episode.Lori Highby:
We've looked at that. Yeah, yeah.Tato Corcoran:
I mean, it's crazy, butLori Highby:
love it. I know, we've got a tight timeline here. So I just want to quickly do the I just learned that because we love this section. So Chris, you got something real quick? What did you just learn recently?Kris:
Yeah, I just learned to as you guys know, I'm a huge fan of the US Women's National Team, and they are the whole world cup. We've all been watching New Zealand and Australia. We don't have to talk about the US team or the Brits here because there's not enough time for that. They were the first self governing country, New Zealand was to give women the right to vote. And that really surprised me. I did not know that. Qe is very interesting. Yeah. So you know, they actually couldn't stand to vote. So you couldn't be elected until 1919. But they were actually what was the euro? Did I write it down? I didn't write it down a wisdom that 1800s where they actually gave the right to vote, you know, and we really didn't have the right in the US for women to vote until 1920. And that was really predominantly the white women vote again, hold another episode to get into that. But I found all of that very interesting in New Zealand. Aaron, what about you? What have you just learned?Erin:
Well, I recently been sold a Barbie movie and I everybody has to see it. It's just a requirement. We can discuss it a different time. But I like to learn more about Barbie and one of the things that I learned when I was doing the research was the the original the maker, her last name is handler forget her first name. She wanted to make a woman sized doll for little girls because all the dolls up to then had been babies. And she just couldn't quite to like, figure out what would look like. And then she was in Germany, and there were these little dolls that truckers would put in their car. Kinda I think like, sexy lady, you know, like the hula dancer on the bubble thing. And she was like, That's it. That's my prototype. And she brought that back and you know, the rest is history. We know how successful those dolls have become. So learn Thank you Barbie.Kris:
I never I never owned a Barbie. But so now you have a new fact.
Now you just was not too late.Erin:
You shouldn't receive a Barbie in the mail some days. I know they've got sports Barbies. Maybe that would be the one that would be interesting ballplayer Barbie. Maybe soccer for me that would work. Yeah. All right. All right. Laurie, what you got for us?Lori Highby:
Ai every single time? No, I've been email. No, I've been studying this like crazy. But there's, you'd be surprised and you might not even realize this. But sometimes if you're just doing doing some sort of messaging with like, a chat on someone's website or Facebook Messenger or Instagram messenger, whatever. AI is actually doing a lot of that nowadays. I mean, it takes a little legwork to get it set up the right way. But more and more companies are leaning into this and I'm just gonna keep preaching AI because if companies are not paying attention to it, they're going to be falling away into extinction. Slower Holy. So I just, I feel like every single day, I'm learning something new on how someone or a business organization entity is implementing AI into, into their practice. And it's just, it's cool and scary at the same time. Yeah.Erin:
But I like that your call to action link get to it. Something I've been trying to work on with my staff is like, think of AI first, like, you have a problem. You're trying to solve something could ai do this for me? And getting into that mindset, I think will help people evolve more, you know, intentionally instead of having to just like be thrust upon them. So I think that's really good advice. Thank you.Lori Highby:
Awesome. Tato, what about you? What have you just learned?Tato Corcoran:
Okay, so I recently watched the movie burn with Bradley Cooper, just like as a random rom com available to me on Netflix one night. And I had no idea that the Michelin star restaurant rating system was actually created by the Michelin tire company, because back in the day, they wanted you to get in your car and drive around to all of these quote unquote Michelin rated restaurants so that then you needed new tires more quickly. Oh.Lori Highby:
I love that I do.Erin:
See, that's that clean and clever marketing? I don't think I could do that. Right. Because you're drawing these connections that have never been, right. That is, that's awesome. It's like so fancy, right? Then starts.Lori Highby:
Elevate, so to know if anyone was interested in getting in touch with you, what's the best way that they can reach you?Tato Corcoran:
Yeah, absolutely. My personal email is on tatocorcoran.com, which seems way fancier than it is. I'm completely not famous. I'm very approachable. But I just have very unique name for the URL that was available for $5. So go to my website and find my contact info and shoot me a note or LinkedIn. I'm very findable. Nobody has my name.Lori Highby:
We will include all that information in our show notes. Thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show with us.Tato Corcoran:
Thanks, you guys. Bye.Lori Highby:
All right, this wraps up our episode, please reach out and we appreciate all of you