Our customers transform our materials into something wonderful through innovation and creativity. Our “Community Stories” series shines a light on some of our hardworking customers and the materials that make up their creations. This week’s focus is on Tactical Keychains, a one-man operation that designs, manufactures, and ships everyday carry (EDC) items to your door.
We had the great opportunity to have a conversation with the man himself, Brad Martin.
Online Metals: What is Tactical Keychains and how did it get started?
Brad: I started off working on wind turbines for 7 years, and the end of our local utility contract was coming up. Rather than waiting around to lose my job, I decided to do something about it. I made my first product, the Bottle Grenade Opener, on my little hobby CNC mill. The Bottle Grenade Opener launched on Kickstarter.com in December 2012, and with little advertising and no online presence it grew way faster than I ever could’ve imagined.
That was when the light bulb went off! “I can do this.” After multiple requests for new products I saved up, purchased a Tormach 1100, quit my job, and start doing this full time. Although it took a while to get started on Social Media, today I have expanded my presence on Instagram to over 40k followers. Crazy to think a guy in his garage in Iowa can make a living by creating innovative products fueled by complete strangers I now call my friends and customers!
Brad has expanded on his product line through continuously finding needs in is everyday life, and was able to make those products a reality. Let’s walk through his great product offerings:
OnlineMetals: So what do you currently offer, and how did you design those?
Brad: First, there was the Bottle Grenade Opener. My very first product, the Bottle Grenade was also something that I “needed.” If I wanted a beer I would have to use my shirt to twist off the top of a Bud Light Platinum. In turn putting holes in my shirts, but better than in my hands. So I designed a bottle opener that would allow anyone to easily twist off the top. I still use it today, and I designed it in 2012. Back then I really didn’t have a “shop” just tiny little benchtop machines to work with. It took 45 minutes to make 1 bottle grenade. The bottle grenade is still on the Tactical Keychains logo.
There’s also the WTF (Wrench that Fits). I needed a little wrench because when I worked on wind turbines, climbing down and then back up a 300′ ladder wasn’t something I liked doing. I wanted something that would act as a wrench, key holder, prybar, and meet all of my other needs in a small package.
Next, we have the TUKK. I needed a small knife for opening packages. My most recent knife, the TUKK XL was also made out of necessity. Who doesn’t need a utility knife that’s small, effective, and you can change the blade in 5 seconds?
Last, there’s the TWEAK & TWEAK TRAY Well, the TUKK XL lead to the TK-Tweak precision screwdriver because I needed a quality screwdriver to assemble my TUKK XL. It was really just for me, but people said they also wanted one, so I made a few hundred and I’m currently sold out.
…and the materials that make them
Online Metals: What are the major materials you buy from Online Metals, and why do you choose them for your Tactical Keychains products?
Brad: I buy the majority of my materials from Online Metals, basically anything I can’t get locally. I live in rural Iowa, so I can really only get mild steel around here (think farmers). You can look on my website and every product I have was made with material from Online Metals. It’s just too easy to order from, and if there are any issues with shipping (damaged package, bent material, missing pieces, etc) you reply and ship out a replacement right away.
I use aluminum, brass and copper in my products, but have bought multiple plastics and metals for projects around the garage.
The business side of things
Online Metals: How do you manage success in 480 square feet?
Brad: As you can imagine, building a business in a 2-car garage in rural Iowa is difficult. I always feel all alone, like I’m on a deserted island. Everything I need, I have to buy online. That in turn raises costs, takes extra time, etc. On top of that, space has been a major issue over the years. I’ve gone from bench-top machines to full-size CNC Machines.
Through trial and error I bought used machinery and eventually worked my way up to new machines. It has been very tricky logistically, that’s for sure. I’ve learned to be much more organized. It’s important because I have zero wall space and my basement is packed with inventory, shipping materials, my office, etc.
I use about 50% of my house for my business so it’s not all just out of the garage. I just “work” in the garage. Work… well, it’s not really work, I have fun too. I have great support on Instagram from a great community of people. We just have fun, come up with new products together, and make things better.
Online Metals: Where can people find your work?
We’d like to thank Brad for taking the time to speak to us, and also for being such a great customer of ours. Work like his is what makes our jobs exciting! We look forward to his continued success and seeing what cool things he’ll come up with! I also have some ideas for gifts now…