Ken Kolb’s “aha moment” came in a McDonald’s restroom. Frequently on the road for his job, the lifelong Macomb County resident often made pit-stops at the fast-food joint. On one occasion, while washing his hands, he noticed that there were only hand dryers in the restroom – no paper towels. Transitioning to this more environmental hand drying method is a fairly common trend for businesses, but for individuals like Ken, who like opening restroom doors with paper towel to protect freshly-washed hands, this causes a bit of an issue. That’s when he got his flash of inspiration. What if there was a tool that would allow you to open doors without touching them? In that moment, the Kooty Key was born.
The Kooty Key is a hook-like product made from reinforced, antimicrobial plastic. It easily attaches to keys or a purse so the user can grab it, take hold of a handle and open a door – all without actually touching the surface and coming in contact with germs. This was the goal Ken set out to achieve after his aha moment. As an Ultimate Fitness Event professional who previously won Mr. Natural Michigan, Ken is a health enthusiast. He understands how healthy living and exercise can have a positive impact on a person. But even with this commitment to well-being, Ken still managed to contract viral meningitis. In 2005, he spent a week in the hospital after being diagnosed with the infection. He’s not sure how he came into contact with the meningitis bacteria, but he knows it can be deadly and he has tried to reduce his risk for future illness by frequently washing his hands and opening public doors and handles with paper towel – what he had intended to do in that restaurant restroom. However, more and more businesses are switching their restroom facilities from paper towels to hand dryers to save costs and reduce their impact on the environment. While this is ultimately a positive move, it puts individuals like Ken in a bit of a pickle. So he developed the Kooty Key as an alternative for himself and others.
Creating the product took time. Ken first sketched out his vision for the tool, handing it off to an engineer friend who created the initial version out of steel. Ken took that to ADAPT Technologies in Rochester so they could help him flesh out the idea and make it something that could be produced on a mass scale. After applying some physics and printing several 3D models, Ken and the ADAPT team landed on an antimicrobial plastic version that would be able to open a 35 pound door while still being small enough to fit in your pocket. They also added a touch tool that would give users the ability to push keypads and buttons. Ken then took the product to Las Vegas, testing its durability by opening heavy casino doors and pulling slot machine handles. The tool worked exactly as planned so Ken put it into production and began selling it as the Kooty Key.
Initially, Ken sourced his manufacturing in China. But after a round of disappointing product arrived at his door, he made the choice to move everything to Michigan. Now made through Molding Experts in Chesterfield, Ken can say his product is entirely “made in Michigan.” He’s proud of that, but it also makes fiscal sense for him. Sourcing locally means that Ken can meet his product managers in person; they’re in the same time zone. He can also see his product on the line, which gives him the ability to personally ensure its quality. This results in five-star reviews from Kooty Key customers. According to one individual: “This is an awesome product! I feel much more confident when I go to public places now. With the flu out of control, I use my Kooty Key everywhere.” And another: “This was a great gift for my grandmother who was always wrapping her hands with her shirt or coat to open doors.”
As that customer stated, the Kooty Key is the perfect tool for individuals concerned with their health or who have suppressed immune systems. It is also suitable for individuals who work in environments where germs are prevalent, like teachers or nurses. It could even be a great gift for young people going away to college.
While there are a variety of individuals who might find this product helpful, the end result is always the same – peace of mind. Customers who use Kooty Key always say that they feel better about being out in public because the tool offers them some protection from the germs and bacteria that contaminate everyday surfaces. Ken agrees. Since he created the product and started using it, he says he’s never been sick. His family feels the health benefits too, which is certainly positive as they help run the business and have never needed to call in sick.
Knowing this, I’m personally giving the Kooty Key a try. In my opinion, there’s nothing worse than coming down with a cold or the flu, calling off and then falling behind at work. So if there’s something simple I can do to reduce my risk of becoming sick, I’m going to test it out. Who knows what the result will be, but I’ve got my fingers crossed for an illness-free year!
For more information on Kooty Key and to purchase the product, visit http://kootykey.com/.
Megan Ochmanek is a communications specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.