Binghamton Entrepreneur Handles Nielsen Spinoff With SBA Financing

Ranga Ranganathan and Gary OliveiraNielsen Hardware owner Ranga Ranganathan

Some people see an opportunity and they run with it; in Ranga Ranganathan’s case, he saw an opportunity and latched on to it. Five years ago, when the opportunity presented itself, Ranganathan purchased Nielsen Hardware, a Binghamton-based manufacturer of latches, handles and wing turn catches used in telecom, medical, military and agricultural applications.

At the time of the purchase, Nielsen Hardware was a small subsidiary of the Actuant Corporation. Ranganathan was Nielsen’s general manager and business leader and felt that he could spin off and run the company on his own: “I wanted to do something different and I always wanted to be an entrepreneur.” 

With decades of management experience and a master’s in mechanical engineering, he just knew that he could succeed as the owner of Nielsen Hardware. Ranganathan convinced Actuant of the merits of the spinoff and that he was the right buyer for the company. Once he had sold the idea of divesting Nielsen, the biggest obstacle was finding the right combination of financing sources to make the purchase possible.

That’s when he turned to the U.S. Small Business Administration for assistance in securing the necessary capital to purchase Nielsen Hardware. “Financing is always difficult, and banks really prefer hard assets. This company was heavier on accounts receivable instead, so we had to create a ‘five-layer cake’ of financing to find the formula for success. Partnering with KeyBank and NYBDC through the SBA 7(a) program, Statewide Zone Capital, Binghamton Local Development Corporation, and SBA Small Business Investment Company Cephas Capital finally put the deal together,” explains Ranganathan.

After the purchase was completed, Ranganathan brought longtime Nielsen manager Gary Oliveira with him to the spinoff as vice president of operations and their collaborative partnership has continued to help grow Nielsen Hardware. The company operations were split from Actuant’s other local subsidiary Elliott Manufacturing in nearby Hillcrest and moved to 20,000-square-foot leased space in Binghamton.

Under Ranganathan’s ownership, the company has a fresh commitment to staying nimble to customer feedback, providing value-added products in a mistake-proof process, and reducing turnaround time for quotes to less than three hours.

Ongoing challenges facing the century-old company include business dynamics where a product grows irrelevant or the profit margins for the product make the sale impossible. Ranganathan’s knowledge of Nielsen’s strengths and weaknesses has helped him guide the company through headwinds: “Unfortunately in this business, sales can disappear just because products are no longer used. One type of our bestselling latch was used for 3G and 4G towers around the world. Each tower has an electronics box that required four or six Nielsen latches. Companies that made the electronics boxes themselves went out of business because they couldn’t handle the decrease in sales. For us, it was a dramatic drop that we had to counterbalance.”

“Here is a company that has a rich history in manufacturing in this industry and in the Southern Tier of New York State,” said SBA Syracuse District Director Bernard Paprocki.  “The SBA financing that helped Ranga Ranganathan purchase Nielsen Hardware has allowed the company to remain in Upstate New York where it continues to contribute to the economy on a local, national and international level.”

Considered the world’s leading source of engineered hardware since 1854, today Nielsen’s 22 employees manufacture metal latches, handles, and wing turn catches for customer cases and containers that need to stay secure. Nielsen products are used by industry leaders like Bose, Stryker, John Deere, and Lockheed Martin on everything from musical instrument cases to Hellfire missile cases. The recent devastation from the 2017 hurricane season led to a spike in sales for Nielsen, which supplies the latches used inside individual gas pumps.

The company’s products are sold worldwide, and export sales account for about 20 percent of company revenues, with loyal customers in Turkey, France, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Romania, India, China, Canada and Mexico.

By growing market share and turning customers into partners, Nielsen sales have increased 27 percent in four years. Nielsen engineers developed a record number of new products last year, including a recessed handle and 12,000-pound drone latch, which generated an additional 30 percent growth in sales revenue in 2017. The pace of the business can be intense, with the Nielsen team committed to meeting customer needs regardless of the time or day of the week.

In addition to organic growth, Ranganathan acquired a Pennsylvania-based competitor with revenues of $3.5 million and four employees in 2015 and J&P, an Alabama-based customer with $4 million in sales and 21 employees, in 2017. Although the companies now have the same ownership, Ranganathan runs them as different businesses while taking advantage of vertical integration.

“The culture here at Nielsen is to view every problem as an opportunity. Our goal is to provide design innovation, world class manufacturing and dedicated customer support,” says Ranganathan. “It’s been a great experience and I think if we stay disciplined and true to our core competencies, we’ll be able to create a portfolio of sustainable companies.”

Company Name: 
Nielsen Hardware
Location: 
Binghamton, NY
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