An industry expert shares the steps required to build and keep business from going elsewhere.

Assistive listening devices (ALDs) can be found in almost any environment nowadays. The Home & Garden Television (HGTV) show I Want That! recently featured an alarm clock that has a flashing light and a vibrating pad. ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition recently used a variety of alerting devices for a family in Michigan. Local and national news programs have featured ALDs as “what’s new and cool” in the marketplace. Newspapers have published articles on ALDs as “make your life easier” items. Businesses outside the realm of hearing loss are starting to carry and promote ALDs. And this is only the start of what is happening in the ALD marketplace. All told, mainstream USA is recognizing the value of ALDs.

ALDs are not new devices. These products have been around for years. So what has changed? As the general population ages, devices and technology to make life easier for people are attracting more attention. These products are new to the vast majority of the population, and they are interested in buying them. Are you ready?

Bringing Clients into the Office Earlier
One of the big challenges that the hearing health care industry faces is getting prospective clients to come into the office. When there are other items, besides hearing aids, available for clients to assist with communication, industry professionals will be able to draw clients into the office earlier in life. For example, Mr Jones is 49 years old. He does fairly well communicating in life; however, he has noticed that talking on the phone has become more difficult for him. Rather than going into a phone store, Mr Jones comes to see someone in the hearing health care field, because that individual has set herself or himself up to be the communication professional. That office is able to help Mr Jones get what he needs, and he is happy with the new amplified phone.

What is so great about this situation is that the client now recognizes the power of amplification. He is enjoying the benefits of his phone, and he is also realizing that he needs amplification to cope with his communication troubles stemming from hearing loss. When Mr Jones is ready, he will come back to that same office to get a hearing aid, which will greatly improve his life and, in turn, the hearing health care professional’s business. In addition, Mr Jones will probably—and statistically speaking, is certain to—share his experience with friends and family. That business now has an advocate—a free referral source. Perhaps then, the office sells 10 more amplified phones. Hearing aid sales? Maybe. But so what if they are not? These are now customers. Customers with an identified hearing loss. Customers with whom to share a message and information. Customers who will most likely move to a hearing aid when the time is right for them. When choosing the right ALD supplier, one that offers product support and effective materials, this is a total win-win situation.

Solutions That Consider All Aspects of Clients’ Lives
Hearing aids are fantastic tools to help people hear. ALDs complement and accessorize hearing aids. For example, there is a device available that uses the “T” switch on hearing aids to effectively communicate on a cellular phone. This cellular neckloop is just one way that an ALD accessorizes a hearing aid. By bundling and packaging hearing aids and ALDs together, hearing health care professionals offer a total solution that meets all of a client’s needs, and that client will keep coming back to that same office for all of their needs.

Are ALDs profitable? That is the big question—and it is a sensitive issue at that. There is a reason that revenue from ALDs either is not discussed or is mentioned only as an afterthought. Based on our entire database, the average hearing health care professional has an annual ALD sales volume of $1,500 to $2,000. Not exactly a source of revenue that a business depends on. So, this leads to the next logical question: Why dispense ALDs?

One ALD a Day
What if you could dispense one ALD a day? The business model for that uses averages. Here is how they were calculated. By looking at the most popular ALDs (an amplified phone and a TV infrared system) and averaging their sale price, it would look something like this:

Average Retail Cost: $164.48
Average Dealer Cost: $101.97

Using this information, the average profit per sale would be:

Average Profit: $62.51
Average Profit %: 38%

One ALD a Day: Sales and Profit Analysis

Sales: $164.48
Profit: $62.51

Weekly (5 days)
Sales: $822.40
Profit: $312.55

Now an office is netting $312.55 per week by selling only one ALD a day—maybe just enough to take the staff out to a nice lunch.

Sales: $3,289.60
Profit: $1,250.20

Each month, that office is realizing $3,289.60 more in total gross sales. Not too bad, for selling only one phone or TV infrared system a day.

Sales: $9,868.80
Profit: $3,750.60

Quarterly, the office is seeing almost $10,000 in sales. If that business is doing $100,000 in hearing aid sales, per quarter, one ALD a day is netting an additional 10% in overall sales.

Sales: $39,475.20
Profit: $15,002.40

Now things are moving and grooving!

Keeping up with ALDs
Businesses are funded and driven by the ability to sell hearing aids. Hearing aid manufacturers are constantly improving and introducing new products into the marketplace. Hearing health care professionals are keeping up with this information. As with hearing aid manufacturers, ALD manufacturers are constantly improving and introducing new products into the marketplace.

In order to keep up with what is going on, it is beneficial to team up with an ALD supplier. Many companies that carry a wide variety of ALDs are more than willing to provide the information being sought. Those companies are the source to go to for the latest and greatest data. They can provide literature, artwork, support, fulfillment, etc. Get to know the ALD supplier. A checklist of characteristics and value-added services that a quality ALD supplier should provide include:

1. Fair margins: A cost leader, not a price leader. Yes, you can find almost anything cheaper on the Internet, but know from whom you are buying products. Do they understand your business? Can they support the product? Are they reputable?

2. Product support and industry knowledge.

3. Simple, concise catalog.

4. Marketing materials you can use to promote ALDs.

5. Best of class product selection: not just a huge selection, but rather the best products for your business.

6. Specialized services, such as drop-shipping.

7. Convenience: online ordering, e-mail capabilities, 24-hour fax capabilities, etc.

8. Technology that complements the hearing aids and services that you provide.

You are the Communication Professional. You have a vast understanding of what can be done to improve hearing—something we all know is a first-order event in communication. You have, at your disposal, years of schooling and experience to help a client fully grasp the value of technology and improved communication. You can bring in a prospective patient earlier in the buying cycle, provide them with total solutions, and keep a customer for life. Leverage this to the benefit of your business and your future. Do not let a customer walk out your door without a complete solution. Even more important, do not undermine your value and knowledge by referring a customer away to a big, mass-market retailer for products you can provide and do so at a profit. Why help build business for some large retailer down the street when you could be building your own? You are the Communication Professional!

The world is starting to see the value of ALDs, and right now people are looking for a Communication Professional to help them. Are you that Professional? N

Michele Ahlman is the president of ClearSounds Communication, Burr Ridge, Ill.