From the Morgan family’s kitchen table, to a 50,000-square-foot facility in Colorado Springs, Colo, Westone Laboratories epitomizes the American Dream.
Randy Morgan, president and CEO of Westone
It is an American tradition that trailblazers are born in a log cabin. And the log cabin birthplace is not confined to individuals, but to companies as well. It was this tradition that Ron Morgan followed when he founded Westone Laboratories Inc, Colorado Springs, Colo, in 1959. A hearing instrument traveling salesman, Ron believed he could make earmolds and other accessories that were of higher quality than those of the companies that were in existence in the late 1950s.
After a few calls to find the best materials available, Ron Morgan found himself at the kitchen table of his family’s Colorado log cabin making earmolds. Since then, that kitchen table has grown into a large metaphorical “banquet table,” jokes Ron’s son, Randy Morgan, president and CEO of Westone.
Westone Laboratories was founded by Ron Morgan at the kitchen table of the family’s log cabin in 1959. Today, the company’s 50,000 square foot Colorado Springs headquarters is housed in two buildings.
An Array of Products
The company now makes an array of more than 2,800 products—from custom earmolds to ear protection devices. The protection devices range from those for swimmers to musician monitors to communication devices for police and military personnel. In addition, Westone also manufactures hearing instrument supplies such as impression materials. “If it goes in the ear, we’ve got our hand up wanting a piece of it,” says Randy Morgan.
From its humble beginnings at a kitchen table, Westone now has four locations in three states, including a production facility in Kalamazoo, Mich, and two production facilities in the Seattle area. Its Colorado Springs headquarters covers 50,000 square feet in two buildings. Throughout its four sites the company has 135 employees. Randy Morgan says that more than just the size of the facility and the number of employees has changed since his father founded the company. “[The field] has changed enormously,” he says. “The range of materials that are available to us, the knowledge that has been gained over our 40 years of acoustic modifications, have taken us way beyond simply putting amplified sound in the ear. The shaping of sound and how large a role the earmold can play are phenomenal. We make this little, seemingly low cost product and it can make or break a $2,000 sale.”
One thing that has not changed since 1959 is Westone’s guiding philosophy. “We’re not big on mission statements . . . in fact, our idea of a mission statement is ‘have fun, make money,’ and we simply run the company based on the Golden Rule. . .treat other people how you want to be treated,” says Morgan. “When an employee comes to me with a customer that has an issue and they’re not sure what to do, because the customer is asking for something that seems, perhaps, out of the ordinary, my answer to them is, ‘If you were that person contacting Westone, what would you want? Now go do that.’ And you always come out ahead, because people want to be treated properly, and if you treat people with respect, essentially treat them the way you want to be treated yourself, it just comes back 10 times over.”
But following the Golden Rule and having high-quality products are not the only ingredients in the formula for success Westone has been brewing since 1959. The company also prides itself on its superior customer service.
Serving the Customer
The customer service department is designed with the human touch in mind. The company maintains 23 customer service phone lines to reduce waiting. There are no automated menus to choose from, and it is company policy that a phone is not allowed to ring more than three times. The company has a group of four technical service people including two audiologists who spend their entire day calling customers or receiving calls from customers to help process orders.
Westone Laboratories employs 135 people at its four sites, and handles all production including machining and painting.
And fielding calls from clients is only half the customer service job. Representatives also call customers if an order is incomplete. In the first 5 months of 2003, the company made 13,000 outgoing calls to customers just so orders could be processed correctly. This attention to the customer has paid off in loyalty, says Morgan. “Our customer base is extremely loyal,” he says. “We’ve seen a lot of buying groups come and go, and labs that come in with low-ball pricing and ridiculous offers . . . and while a certain amount of customers will go over and check them out, it’s almost a given that they end up coming back, because of what they receive from Westone: a quality product, service to back it up, fair pricing . . . they always say, ‘You know, for the little price differential between Westone and whomever, you get so much more from Westone.’” This loyalty has also translated into longevity with several companies having been Westone customers since the days of Morgan’s father.
Filling orders to the satisfaction of the customer is only one way Westone services its clients. It also maintains an advertising subsidiary, in-house creative services, and art and computer staffs that can help dispensers more effectively market and dispense Westone’s products to their customers. It is up to the dispensers how much, if any, assistance they want from Westone’s marketing professionals. “We can be as involved, or step back, as much as the customer wants,” says Morgan. “We can provide services as simple as ‘here’s our product’ all the way up the scale to assisting them with advertising, and anywhere in between. If they just need some ad slicks or some ideas or some logos to put on their own Web site, we can work it at whatever level. We essentially have a full-scale ad agency in-house, but it’s only for our own use and our customers’ use.”
In addition to its marketing and creative staffs, Westone also has photographers, machinists, chemists, and audiologists on staff.
All development and design is done in house.
Fundamentally, it is the customer that makes Westone stand out in the hearing market, says Morgan. “We stand out because our customers talk about us,” he says. “We keep the largest advertising presence of any earmold laboratory in the world, so you can’t pick up a trade journal without seeing Westone. My goal about 8 years ago was to make Westone the Kleenex of the hearing health care field, so when people think earmold they think Westone, [and] that’s happened in the music world.”
The connection between Westone and its customers is put into sharp focus with the company’s monthly newsletter—a tradition started by Ron Morgan and carried on by Randy—which goes out to all of its customers. “[Our newsletter] became such a thing that if we miss our mailing date, our phone starts ringing,” says Morgan.
As important as the customer is to the success of Westone, the development of new products is also a key component.
New ideas can come from almost any source from employees asking “what if” to customers who need a particular problem solved. All development and design—like all the functions at Westone—are done in-house. Westone also works with hearing instrument companies to develop exclusive products for them.
Turnaround on a new design can take a matter of hours, says Morgan. “We can start literally from a napkin drawing at lunch today and, by tomorrow morning, I can have a finished prototype, complete with packaging and suggested marketing materials, on my desk, all done in-house,” he says.
The advantage for the company in having a reputation as problem solvers is that a particular, customized client solution may evolve into a new product.
Morgan says that the company has at least a 6-month backlog of ideas in all stages of development, a list that is in no danger of being exhausted any time soon. “In terms of new products, we’re pregnant with potential,” says Morgan.
Westone Laboratories prides itself on its customer service, which includes filling orders to the customer’s satisfaction.
Like the hearing industry, Westone is evolving, always looking at how it can be part of the next technological wave. “The earmold business is changing. . .the 3D imaging technology will eventually make it to the earmold labs. It’s still too new, still too limited to be very applicable at all, but that will change the face of the industry,” says Morgan.
But as the technology changes and evolves, one tradition will not change for Westone and that is how it does business.
Chris Wolski is associate editor of Hearing Products Report.