Author and hearing health care specialist Roy Bain has more than 45 years of experience in his chosen industry—and gives no indication of slowing down.

Roy Bain

HPR recently had the opportunity to interview Roy Bain, author of The Book on Dispensing Hearing Aids. Bain has been professionally involved in the hearing health care industry for more than 45 years.

HPR: What was your inspiration for writing The Book on Dispensing Hearing Aids?
Bain: My family and I have enjoyed financial enrichment and personal happiness as a result of what I have learned serving the hearing impaired community. During the past 45 years, I have been researching and using the techniques of the top hearing professionals, marketers, and salespeople in the hearing aid profession, and in writing this book, it is my intent to share that which I have discovered with newcomers to this field. The hearing profession has changed tremendously in the past 45 years, and it is my objective to [share] some of those changes and at the same time capture in print many of the basic fundamental philosophies that are essential for proper hearing health care.

HPR: When did you develop your interest and what motivated you to enter the hearing aid business?
Bain:Upon returning from a tour of duty in the United States Army, my primary interest and motivation was to earn a living. I must admit, having concern for the needs of the hearing impaired developed at a later time. On my first day selling hearing aids, I earned $90, [which was a lot of money] in 1960. I have never been ashamed about being motivated by earning a living, and the hearing aid profession has always provided a challenging opportunity.

HPR: You said your concern for the needs of the hearing impaired developed later, would you care to tell us what caused that change in your attitude?
Bain:Sharing the tears of joy or the enthusiastic smiles of a person being able to hear clearly again, or even maybe for the first time, has always served as an attitude changing experience. I recall one particular occasion when I was delivering two eyeglass hearing aids to an elderly gentleman. I arrived at his home to be greeted by his daughter and son-in-law. As I labored to attach the hearing aid temples to the frames of the man’s glasses—which is not always an easy task—the family demanded answers to some difficult questions. Why do they cost so much? Why does he need two? How long can he try them before he buys them? While I fumbled around with words, probably not making much sense, I finished preparing the instruments and completed the fitting. In the middle of my continuing debate with the family, I noticed a young boy was sitting on the elderly man’s lap, and the man began to cry. When I turned and asked why he was crying, he said that it was the first time he heard his grandson speak. Obviously, the fitting went well from that point. What was not so obvious was what happened to me. At that moment, crying myself, I discovered what I was doing and why it was so important.

HPR: In your book, you discuss selling hearing aids door-to-door, early in your career. What was that like and how has selling hearing aids evolved? What are some of the more significant changes that have taken place?
Bain:We sold hearing aids door-to-door not because it was the easy or best way. We sold hearing aids door-to-door because it was the only way. In the early days, the majority of hearing aid sales were made at a kitchen table. The hearing impaired would not seek us out, we had to go out and find them. Getting in the door was an art. If you couldn’t get in the door, you couldn’t make a sale. One of the more significant changes that has incurred is the entrance of the audiologist. The technical training classes conducted by audiologists during the past few decades have made a substantial improvement to the fitting process. And, of course, hearing aids have improved not only in sound quality, but they are much easier to wear and barely alter one’s appearance. What has changed only slightly is the attitude of the hearing impaired. We, as practitioners, have not been relegated to a position of order taking. Hearing aids still must be sold.

HPR: Looking back, what has been the best moment in your
business career?
Bain:Without question, one of the best moments in my career was the opportunity to assist Roy Rogers with his hearing problem. When I was a child, Roy Rogers was my hero. There was God, Santa Claus, and then Roy Rogers. When I met Roy Rogers, he exceeded my expectations. He was kind, he was generous, he was worthy of all the praise he has received, and he was the hero I worshiped. I shall always cherish the friendship my wife, Jean, and I developed with Roy and his wife, Dale Evans.

HPR: In your book you explain that for hearing professionals to fully understand their patients, they should [temporarily] experience hearing loss. Tell us why you feel this is necessary.
Bain:For years I had been telling hearing impaired people, “Wait until you hear the rain with your new hearing aids, you won’t believe how loud it is.” And then I was fitted with my first set. I left the office headed for the airport. As the car pulled out from under the shelter, I asked, “What is that noise?” I couldn’t believe my ears, it was the rain, and now I understood, for the first time, what I had been telling others. Nothing is quite the way you imagine it. In the book I explain how a person with normal hearing may simulate and experience the effects of a mild hearing loss.

HPR: There is a section in your book on how to properly explain hearing loss to the prospective patient. How does this enhance the patient/provider relationship?
Bain:Because of the suspicious nature of the hearing impaired, it is important that they are given information that is easy to understand and that removes all doubt related to the existence of a hearing loss. If the prospective patient does not understand what you have told them, they probably will not purchase hearing aids from you. In addition to understanding what you are saying, they must perceive you as an expert. When you explain the hearing loss in an easy to understand professional manner to the prospective patient, you demonstrate that you understand the problem and there is a greater chance that they will accept your solution.

HPR: After building patient confidence, and explaining the need for wearing hearing instruments, how do you encourage the prospective patient to purchase?
Bain:If you demonstrate the fact that a hearing loss exists to a reasonably intelligent person and follow it with a sensible solution, the outcome is usually positive. However, most people procrastinate when it comes to hearing correction and therefore need a little motivation.

HPR: Speaking of new patients; as Baby Boomers age, their need for hearing correction will naturally increase. How do you convince individuals who can barely admit they are aging, let alone admit they have a hearing problem, to purchase hearing instruments?
Bain:The Baby Boomer generation is better educated and, possibly, more sophisticated than we of the past generation—and have a keen respect for logic.

To answer your question of how to motivate the Baby Boomer who denies his or her problem, if I may, I will borrow the “Sound Sorter” motivator from the book.

To the prospective patient you say:
“Seventy-eight (the prospective patient’s age) years ago, when you came into the world, your most important possession was your brain, but it was empty. You had five senses: touch, taste, smell, vision, and hearing. The purpose of your senses was to gather information and send it to your brain to be sorted and stored as knowledge. Everything you have stored in your brain today got there through your five senses. How sharp and alert you will be tomorrow will be determined, in part, by what your brain receives today.

“As I look at you, I see you as part of a picture. I can see in front of me and out to both sides. I can see in color, and I can even tell the texture of your clothing just by looking at it. While I’m looking at you, if I take hold of the edge of the table, my sense of touch tells me it’s about one inch thick and that it has a hard, smooth surface. If I take a taste of coffee, I can tell whether it’s hot or cold, bitter or sweet, and, in fact, if it is even coffee. If I smell something, I can tell where it’s coming from. I can tell whether the smell is pleasant or foul, and I might even recognize what it is.

“Without turning my head, if someone speaks, I can tell you from which direction it is coming, whether it’s a man or women, old or young, happy or sad, and whether the person is getting closer or going away. I may be able to recognize who is speaking by the sound quality of their voice. What is most amazing is that I can recognize these sounds as words by which we can communicate. It is man’s ability to communicate that sets him apart from all other creatures on earth and gives him the power to rule the universe.

“You are 78. If you’re like me, you have had many good times and a few you would like to go back and rearrange. But, of course, those 78 years are spent and cannot be changed. The challenge now is to make the rest of your life the best of your life. What you are deciding is whether you are going to accept hearing and feeding your brain only part of what is being said, or are you going to do what I would do if I had your problem? I would have the best hearing aids available. What would you like to do? Would you like to hear better?”

When the prospective patient says, “Yes,” you say, “Sit over here and let’s get you started.”

HPR: How else can you spark an unmotivated buyer to purchase hearing instruments?
Bain:Often properly using the spouse or loved one is the key to success with an unmotivated prospective patient. In the book I have given a lot of attention to the importance of the spouse and how best to ensure their attendance. I have been told that this message alone makes the book worth reading.

HPR: In your book, you speak of motivating the hearing impaired by using an appropriate “motivator” at just the right moment. Please explain how these “motivators” evolved, and tell us how well they work?
Bain:Each “motivator” presented was developed through my personal experience working with the hearing impaired. Each was designed to answer a patient’s objection to the purchase of hearing aids. Properly presented, these “motivators” will help overcome almost every objection and lead to a happy new patient.

HPR: Tell us how you came to establish AudioCare. What is its mission?
Bain:Aside from a few early pioneers, such as John Kenwood and Raymond Rich (both of whom are still practicing today), there was little attention being paid to the hearing impaired. I entered the hearing aid field at 21. After 2 years as a hearing aid salesperson, I became a field representative for Beltone Electronics and at 26 I opened my first retail hearing aid office in Riverside, Calif.

During my retail years, I served as the president of the Hearing Aid Dealers Association of California, and helped the industry negotiate its way through a very trying time, a time when the industry was under siege. In 1976, I co-founded Nu-Ear Electronics, which we sold to Starkey in the fall of 1989. After managing Nu-Ear for Bill Austin for a few years, my sons and I started AudioCare. AudioCare does not sell hearing aids to the dispenser; AudioCare’s purpose is to help the dispenser market his or her product to the patient.

HPR: What are some of your favorite marketing techniques; which media have you found to be the most effective for attracting new patients . . . and why?
Bain:Wow! I could fill the pages with this one; but I won’t. The short answer is, in today’s competitive marketplace, a multimedia approach is necessary to survive and prosper. New patients are the lifeblood of a practice, and most practices can benefit from an occasional transfusion. If you have only one source to acquire new patients and that one source dries up, your practice is in trouble.

Most dispensers would love a referral stream that would keep them busy, but there never seems to be enough to go around. Advertising is not only beneficial to a growing practice, it is a necessity. In a few small markets, TV advertising is great, but in most markets its cost is prohibitive. Radio commercials are intrusive and quick. All too often when the commercial comes on, the mind of the listener goes off. Newspaper advertising is excellent, however, very competitive. There may be six ads on the same page with the latest airplane crash or serial killing, all competing for the readers’ attention. All media are good, but I have found direct response mail to be the most effective. If done correctly, you will have a captive reader who has been targeted because they best fit the profile of a potential patient. It’s quantity versus quality. When you use direct response mail, you are shooting a rifle at your target market while, with most other approaches, you are shooting a shotgun. You may be reaching a greater number of people, but they don’t need your services.

HPR: What is your advice for the audiologist and the traditional dispenser looking to expand their practice?
Bain:Make sure your practice formula is financially sound. You may have adequate technical expertise and the ability to make the sale, but that is only part of the equation. If you are spending a dollar and a quarter to make a dollar, the worst thing you can do is to grow. Your revenue equals 100%; your cost of goods should be around 25%, meaning you should be selling your product for four times what you are paying for it. Your selling cost will probably be around 20%. If you are making all the sales yourself, you are making the long dollar. However, you should also be generating a practice profit. If you are not, you have created a great job for yourself, but it will be difficult to grow using this formula. Your advertising should be around 15%, and your general and administration costs should be about 20%. If your returns are average, your practice will make a profit. Make sure the financial formula is proper before you expand.

HPR: Do you have any advice for audiologists and hearing health care professionals who are just beginning their dispensing career?
Bain:Learn the basics. Find someone who has a proven system and copy it. If it works for them, it can work for you. In the beginning, don’t question why it works and don’t change it. Learn it first before you try to improve it. Ask yourself this question, “To succeed in a retail hearing aid practice today, what training percentage should be technical expertise and what percentage should be the ability to close the sale?” Analyze your training and determine your need.

HPR: In wrapping up, would you like to share any final thoughts with the professionals who read Hearing Products Report?
Bain:Motivational speaker Zig Zigler once said, “You can have everything you want in life by helping others get what they want.” The more hearing impaired [patients] your readers help back to the wonderful world of good hearing, the more successful they shall be . . . I wish each a great success.N

—R. Schuyler Silverman

The Book on Dispensing Hearing Aids is published by InfoQuest. For more information call Ron Bain at (800) 974-4100.