As an entrepreneur and part of the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserve, 38-year-old Master Sergeant Sean Brownlee certainly believes in living a full life. When he launched his Amazon store, Frontier Market Solutions, in 2012, he knew he wanted to be able to work remotely, have the freedom to continue his military work and be able to help other veterans—and entrepreneurs, in general—with growing their businesses.
He’s been able to do all that and more.
This isn’t surprising when you consider what he’s already achieved. Brownlee has earned an MBA, speaks seven languages and has been part of the special operations communality serving with Force Reconnaissance and MARSOC (United States Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command). On top of all that, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.
Getting started with Amazon
After serving on active duty for 12 years and then moving on to the reserves, Brownlee went to graduate school, and while there, he began looking at a way to create a business that would be relevant moving forward. “I did a lot of research and case studies and came to the conclusion that Amazon was going to have a big impact on the future, and I knew I wanted a way to be involved with that.”
At the end of the day, Amazon is the reason we were able to do all of this.
He began his company out of his garage with the intention of “building a business on the backbone of Amazon,” explains Brownlee, “and that’s proven to be very successful. I chose this business strategy because of the services that Amazon offers. Whether it’s Fulfillment by Amazon, which takes a lot of the pressure off of distribution, to the advertising services that have been drastically streamlined just in the past year, to all of the other services and outreach. I’ve seen a lot of people try to create a website and sell products and have minimal success because they are competing with everyone on Google, but with Amazon, you are in front of millions of shoppers right away. That’s what Amazon provides and that’s the reason why I chose Amazon to start our business.”
He began with one supplier—the rope you see on Frontier’s main Amazon storefront—and grew to acquire that business. “So now we are a manufacturer of a variety of different kinds of rope,” he says. “And that’s been really exciting. That’s kind of how we got our legs, initially, and our twisted cotton rope has been the bestseller in its category for two years. We’ve grown to sell in Canada and the UK, and all of that international expansion is because of Amazon.”
“We work with companies of all sizes on their overall brand management, helping them navigate sales on the Amazon marketplace and grow their business. We’ve helped large companies effectively control their brand presence and scale their business with long-term strategy and focus and helped smaller companies bring their product to market.”
Brownlee does all of this while working with his wife Genevieve in Washington state. “She’s been absolutely instrumental in our business. We work together every day and travel together, and she’s a very important part of a lot of the business decisions we make. It’s a match made in heaven.”
Most of his other 12-plus employees show up to work in North Carolina, where the company’s production, distribution and online management services are based. “A key piece of our growth is that I’m able to work remotely. I’m constantly traveling for business and for drilling with the Marine Corps,” he says, “and the ability to be able to continue to work, whether with Amazon or any other aspect of my business, has been critical.”
Helping veterans succeed
“I knew from the beginning that I wanted to be able to form something where I could give back to other people in the military,” Brownlee explains. He supports other service members by hiring veterans, volunteering with some of the VA entrepreneur groups and helping some of his former colleagues transition out of the military into the civilian world.
“We’ve seen that veterans tend to be, on average, more successful in starting a business than non-veterans, and that’s due to the discipline, leadership skills and everything else that can be acquired through the military. And a lot of them do want to start their own businesses. I’ve been able to help some of them understand the complexities of it—even just down to the basics of forming a business, how to structure it, the tax laws, or creating a business or strategy plan. I’ve worked with quite a few veterans who’ve formed their own businesses, and they’ve been very successful.”
“Our biggest next step is to take on more companies to work with and help them grow their businesses. We’ve had a lot of experience on Amazon managing other brands in a variety of categories—from home improvement to health and household to sports and athletics to toys and games—and we’d like to continue to grow our presence as a company and at the same time assist other companies with their growth through effective brand management.
The company has also moved into government contracting and a few other types of businesses, says Brownlee, and they plan to expand more internationally. “But at the end of the day, Amazon is the reason we were able to do all of this.”