Brothers Michael and Kevin Tunney and longtime friend Andrew Bedell have found their key to success is, literally, keys.
Lifelong friends and graduates of Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, the three had made a modest business selling products like KeySmart, a pocket key organizer developed by Michael Tunney with proceeds from a 2013 Kickstarter campaign.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit this year, the Elk Grove Village company found a new life through two of its product offerings.
The first, Bedell said, was the NanoStylus, which allows people to use a touch screen without their fingers. Ironically, he notes, the NanoStylus wasn't a big seller for a long while, as it was originally designed to be used to make Instagram stories.
"When it came out to use with Instagram, the product didn't take off," said Bedell, KeySmart's director of marketing. "After COVID-19, we had people start to reach out on Twitter saying, 'I've been using NanoStylus and I never touch any surfaces.'"
After the three changed marketing to focus on the ability to avoid touching screens, sales started to take off, he added.
'We sold four in February, then more than 10,000 in March," Bedell said. "That's how we saw there was this need for these kinds of germ prevention products, and that's where we came up with the idea of the CleanKey."
The CleanKey is a brass multi-tool designed to open doors, press buttons and work with touch screens. The company launched CleanKey in mid-April and in one day sold more than 19,000, Bedell said.
"The CleanKey became the fastest selling product we ever had," he said. "It's been unbelievable popular."
So popular that the company had a back order of 150,000 and is working with the manufacturer to fulfill it.
"We started with 3,000 units a day. Now we're up to 40,000 a day and we're having to rent planes to get them (from the manufacturer)," he said.
Bedell said he cannot predict how long the success of the CleanKey and NanoStylus will continue, but he estimated it could translate into a "conservative estimate" of $5 million in sales this year.
"We don't know how long the coronavirus is going to last, and we don't know if people are just going to go back to living normal lives," he said.
However, the company plans to expand its germ prevention product line, developing products that can kill germs on keys with ultraviolet light, as well as an "everyday carry mask" -- a filter-lined pouch that would carry items like keys, wallets and other items.
"The virus has refocused us. We've been able to be nimble enough and to adjust to it and come out with things that we are able to grow," Bedell said.
"We're still an everyday carry company, and that's where all our products come from," he added. "Just so happens this COVID-19 niche works really well with it."