f07a.jpg (8283 bytes)With industry consolidation and the increasingly large hearing instrument companies competing in the marketplace, HR thought it would be interesting to get the perspective of a smaller manufacturer regarding the recent industry trends. We asked Ralph T. Campagna, president of United Hearing Systems in Central Village, CT, how he sees things shaping up in the industry.

Q: Please tell us a little about United Hearing Systems.
UHS is a special company, with special origins, employees, and customers. In 1984, my dad [Ralph Campagna, Sr.] and I started manufacturing custom hearing aids for his own network of dispensing offices in Montgomery Ward stores. Soon after, we became the Phonic Ear ITE Lab and had a great time developing business with their terrific national sales team. In 1989, we went on our own when Phonic Ear focused all their energies on their FM business.

Q: What is your background, and when did you join the company?
As an art and music student in college, my life could have easily gone down a different path. Having grown up as the son of a very enthusiastic hearing aid industry entrepreneur, loving the business of helping people hear became contagious. After many years of intermittently working for my father, I made a permanent career decision in 1980 and moved from Minnesota to Connecticut. In addition to our dispensing network and manufacturing, we opened a local retail office, where as a licensed dispenser I got my first-hand knowledge of the business, and continue to own and operate that business since 1980.

Q: In today’s marketplace, UHS is not as large as some other companies, and certainly isn’t among the so-called “Big Six.” What is your niche?
In my opinion, you won’t find a better looking or fitting custom hearing aid than what we make. We have a “Real people” attitude at UHS that has evolved to what we now refer to as “Customer-centric.” Much of our success has also been due to the K-AMP circuit and the engineering resources of Etymotic Research…I believe there is no better hearing aid amplifier in terms of performance and value. I believe we have perfected the K-AMP and we now offer it in a new generation of analog, programmable, and digital models, along with our new directional technologies.

Q: What are your wishes for the future of the hearing care industry?
I would like to see the industry put some muscle behind BHI—with financial support from vendors, manufacturers, and especially hearing care centers. The current physicians program may help, but we need to get PSAs running again with celebrities. Although we have more education, more technology, and more demographic potential, people still don’t think they’re going to like our industry’s products. We need to improve our image, and to promote better hearing.
I have a personal interest in BHI because my father was one of the original founders and first president in 1973. Here is a quote from him in 1963: “Let us create an industry-sponsored advertising program to sell good hearing (as the Better Vision Institute sells better sight). Let every dispenser contribute $100. And every manufacturer and supplier contributes $1,000. We could amass more than half a million dollars each year to sell our industry to our public.” In today’s dollars, that could amount to about $5 million—wouldn’t that make an impact!

Q: UHS recently became a US distributor for Intrason, please tell us a little about that relationship.
We are fortunate to be in a working relationship with the great folks at Intrason. As the French worldwide leader in hearing aid manufacturing, they bring a level of sophistication and engineering that we could not reach on our own. Their 256-channel Digison product is on par with the most advanced digital speech processing hearing aid amplifiers in the industry.

Q: What are your predictions for 2002?
2002 will be a good year with a slight rebound. All the manufacturers have done a great job with their products. When the retail networks get established to the point where their focus is to reach more people rather than increasing their networks, we’ll see an explosion in the industry. I believe that, with such a wide spread of digital technology tiers, prices will come down and programmable percentages will wane as digitals wax. This is a very promising year for UHS; we plan on it being our best ever, and I’m grateful to be a part of it.

–P. Davies