iKeyless, the replacement key company, quietly expands in NuLu

Some entrepreneurs will do anything to get on the public’s radar, dumping tons of money and effort into marketing and PR at the early stages of their business for the sake of name recognition. Sometimes that’s a great idea, sometimes not.

iKeyless, the key replacement company, played it cool.

“It was actually our strategy not to talk about the business,” Bruce Burton, director of marketing, said. “We already had more work than we could handle.”

Recently, though, iKeyless’s Car Keys Express and its other enterprises have scaled tremendously, and the company is ready to share its successes.

That funky building that used to be Flame Run Gallery at 828 E. Market St. belies that the company’s compound spans three buildings and houses around 100 employees. The NuLu company HQ is nearly 50,000 square feet.

Inc. Magazine recently listed Car Keys Express in its Inc. 5000 for fastest-growing companies, at No. 2485, with 2015 sales of $28.9 million.

The company started in Mark Lanwehr’s bedroom as a website, selling refurbished keys directly to consumers through eBay. In 2009, he made the decision to go direct to the dealerships with Car Keys Express, vans loaded with around 600 keys each and the full workshop to rekey and reprogram any type of car key.

Everyone loses car keys from time to time. If you’re a used-car dealer, likely many of the cars that come into your dealership are missing a key. But car buyers expect two keys these days. Are you going to let the lack of second key become an issue at the negotiating table? Are you going to go to the manufacturer for a second key?

Enter Car Keys Express, which schedules proactive visits with area dealers. The technician takes all of the dealer’s one-off keys and creates duplicates for them in the van, right there in the parking lot. The cost to the dealer starts at $29 for a transponder key, $79 for key/remote combinations and $99 for most keyless smart remotes.

For comparison, the wholesale price for a replacement smart key for a 2016 Nissan Sentra online is $130.89.

There are now around 150 Car Keys Express vans in 42 states, each one kitted out with keys and a workshop. The company now has contracts with thousands of dealers nationwide. These aren’t franchises; iKeyless owns and supplies every van.

“The opportunity in this space is incredible,” Burton said. The company says it also services every major car rental company in the United States.

“In the early days, I’d buy boxes of car remotes. I started to sell them online, but learned that they were more valuable if I knew the vehicles they worked on,” Landwehr told IL in an email. “That data didn’t exist anywhere, so I began working on my own database. It took me three years of working night and day, and ended up with a 40,000 field database that matched keys and cars. It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done–tougher than grad school. But it became the cornerstone for the database we still use today.”

iKeyless’s research and development department, Solid Keys USA, created what it deems “the world’s first” Universal Car Remote that is sold on Groupon, at Walmart Canada and Ace Hardware. Plans to expand to more retailers are in the works. The remote is a replacement for the first generation of remotes where the key and the remote are separate.

This Universal Car Remote works like a universal television remote, it comes with codes for each car type. It can be programmed for 216 different remotes, covering 70 million vehicles on the road today. The company released it last year for $50, but it retails now for $25. A replacement from the dealership would be anywhere from $75 to multiple hundreds of dollars, the company says.

Solid Keys USA was awarded Product of the Year at the 2015 Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo in Las Vegas for the remote.

Burton stressed that iKeyless was more than a manufacturing company; it’s a technology company. “We’re very much ahead of the aftermarket curve,” he said. The company is producing high-tech solutions using sophisticated tools, he added.

“We’re bootstrapped, profitable, and proud,” Landwehr said. “In the early days, I obsessed over reinvestment to fuel expansion. We wanted to avoid attention from competitors, so we intentionally flew under the radar. Our website was vague, we posted jobs without our company name–we grew the business without making a big noise. Now that we’ve got a national footprint, we’re just now telling our story.”