One of the country’s leading manufacturers of ear plugs turns 50 this year, and the family-owned business has ambitious plans for its next half century.
Warren-based McKeon Products makes Mack’s Ear Plugs, which are sold in 40,000 stores and pharmacies in the U.S. as well as in 63 countries.
The company’s story began in 1962 when Raymond Benner, a bass player with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and his wife, Cecilia, bought an earplug business for $2,000 from Charlie McKeon, a local pharmacist who was retiring. Legend has it that his nickname was “Mack.”
Raymond Benner tinkered with the ear plugs, deciding to make them using silicone instead of a moldable clay mixture. The product revamp proved successful, and the company has been growing its sales ever since.
What began as a side business in the basement of an Oak Park home selling one type of earplug has evolved into a company with 70 employees and more than 294 products manufactured and packaged in a 50,000-square-foot facility in Warren.
“It’s one of these great American success stories,” said Dan Asma, McKeon’s president.
The company’s growth continued throughout the recession, and total sales so far this year are up 17%.
Last year, McKeon started selling an ear wax removal kit. It is testing at a few local hospitals a patient recovery kit that includes ear plugs and a sleep mask.
Asma said McKeon is looking to introduce health care solutions that go beyond ear plugs. It has 20 products in the pipeline and has formed partnerships with foreign companies to bring products sold overseas to the U.S.
“Our goal is to say, ‘What can we bring to the marketplace?’ “ Asma said.
Though Raymond Benner died in 2002, his two sons, Devin and Peter, continue to work at the company.
“My father’s main goal was to share his creativity with others and ultimately improve people’s lifestyles,” said Devin Benner, McKeon’s CEO.
About 15% of McKeon’s sales come from outside the U.S., in markets such as Australia, Portugal, Spain and Germany. The company exports a small amount of its ear plugs to China.
Throughout the decades, McKeon has steadily improved its ear plugs, whose noise reduction ratings are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The company has also created ear plugs and other products designed specifically for hunters, shooters and swimmers.
But the basic reasons for buying ear plugs haven’t changed much. People use them to protect against noise and water. Through the years, the company has received many letters from customers grateful for being able to get a good night’s rest despite a snoring spouse.
Contact Katherine Yung: 313-222-8763 or firstname.lastname@example.org
More Details: McKeon Products
What: Manufacturer of Mack’s Ear Plugs and other hearing protection and ear care products
CEO: Devin Benner
Revenue: Would not disclose exact number but it is less than $50 million