Chris Perkins, founder and CEO of Lightning Enterprises, reflects on his companys decade of growth and position in the hearing industry.
Recently the staff of Hearing Products Report (HPR) had the opportunity to discuss the evolution of Lightning Enterprises, Limington, Me, with its CEO and founder, Chris Perkins.
HPR: When and where, and by whom, was Lightning Enterprises founded?
Perkins: I founded Lightning Enterprises, in Limington, Me, in April 1999.
HPR: Who is the chief decision maker at Lightning Enterprises? How many individuals currently make up the company team?
Perkins: We have several key people in-house who direct product development and company direction, and we also rely on several outside contract sources for product and engineering support.
HPR: Tell us about the growth of Lightning Enterprises. What is the companys mission?
Perkins: Lightning Enterprises began as an observation while working for a hearing aid manufacturer. I noticed that many of the hearing aids we received for repair were units that could have been quickly and easily fixed in the dispensing office in just a couple of minutes. One problem I noticed was that much of the equipment available for in-office hearing aid repair was borrowed technology from other industries. I decided to start a company focused on developing equipment specifically designed for hearing aid repair and maintenance, giving hearing health professionals and labs better tools and techniques.
HPR: When did the company launch its first product? What was that product?
Perkins: Our first product was a two-lamp stainless steel UV cure unit, which is still in wide use todayand was introduced when we first launched our company in 1999.
HPR: Lightning Enterprises offers a broad spectrum of products to the marketplace. What are the companys current primary product lines? Can you give us a summary of these products and their uses?
Perkins: Our primary product lines are hearing aid vacuum pumps and UV cure equipment. Our vacuum pump systems include both professional and consumer models, and are cerumen management tools for cleaning hearing aids. Our UV cure units can be used to perform anything from light repair or build-up to manufacturing hearing aid shells, and include small repair units to UV cure ovens.
HPR: Is the companys manufacturing facility on-site?
Perkins: Most of our manufacturing is done in-house, as well as assembly work.
HPR: Does Lightning Enterprises maintain a research and development team? If so, how is the production of new and improved inventory determined?
Perkins: A good portion of our R&D is done in-house; however, we do rely on some outside support if needed. When it comes to a new product, we spend a good amount of time researching parts and procedures that already exist in other industries. If we can employ a preexisting part in our design, we can keep our costs down and pass that savings on to our customers.
HPR: Lightning Enterprises will, no doubt, continue the innovation process. How does the process work? Is there a philosophy behind the innovation and production process?
Perkins: First, we keep our ears tuned to our customers and distributing network. Many of our product ideas have come from folks who wished they had it. And, obviously, if we hear the same request a number of times, we look into filling the need. We also develop custom products for customers who have a specific need, and chances are if they need it, someone else needs it too.
HPR: Lightning Enterprises has a very extensive product Web site (www.lightningenterprises.com). How much of the companys business is conducted online?
Perkins: We rely more and more on our online presence to promote our company and deliver our products. We have had a Web site since July 2000, and it has been exciting watching it grow and become more popular.
HPR: What is the companys marketing strategy for appealing to hearing aid dispensers and others who sell its products? Does the company offer referral incentives for professional and consumer customers and clients?
Perkins: Aside from traditional advertising, part of our marketing plan includes an online referral/affiliate program that pays a commission for referrals who purchase product from us. We take the order, ship the product, and send a commission check to the referrer. And where there is no charge for joining our program, its a win-win proposition for anybody who owns a Web site, or has an e-mail address in the hearing aid industry.
HPR: Who are the companys primary domestic clients? International?
Perkins: Our equipment is used by in-office hearing health professionals, repair labs, manufacturers, and consumers, both domestically and internationally.
HPR: Lightning Enterprises has an international business presence. What are the challenges of succeeding in promoting the companys products abroad? Also, what are the differences and similarities in the hearing health care marketplace abroad and domestically?
Perkins: The Internet has been a great promotional tool for gaining international business. I dont think anybody would argue that point. If you own a Web site, you are a potential international supplier.
The biggest challenge we face on an international level is price point. After shipping charges and duties, the customer is faced with the elevated cost of buying product. The solution is to offer quality products they need at a price that is competitive in their market, even with the added costs.
Also, where many of our larger hearing aid manufacturers have production plants internationally, much of the equipment needed here is used abroad.
HPR: What does Lightning Enterprises offer that is unique to the hearing health care arena?
Perkins: Lightning Enterprises has a distinct position in the hearing aid industry. Our main objective is to introduce innovative and affordable solutions specifically designed for hearing aid repair and maintenance. That is a narrowly defined mission, and one that is not shared by many other companies. And though we are a fairly small company, we have many resources available to help us meet our customers requests quickly.
HPR: What are your companys primary challenges in the current marketplace?
Perkins: We have seen a tremendous evolving of hearing aids in the last several years. We need to stay abreast of new technologies, and evolve with these technologies to ensure we offer products that complement new methods and techniques for hearing aid repair and maintenance. We are fortunate to have key relationships within our industry who believe in what we do, and keep us informed of changes and trends.
HPR: Has the recent tragedy in the Gulf states impacted your business? How so?
Perkins: At the time of this discussion, it has been 10 days since hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf coast, and I want to encourage everyone to be as generous as possible to the folks in that region. We have all been affected physiologically, and we have definitely been affected business-wise, short term. It reminds me of the first few weeks after 9/11 as inquiries and sales were down. I think it will take some time to process the tragedy of what has happened and be ready to move on with business as usual. Long-term effects remain a guess, but I think the American people and economy are strong and will recover.
HPR: Is Lightning Enterprises involved in the current movement to help build hearing health care awareness in the private (as well as professional) sector? If so, what role does the company play? If not, do you think the company will become involved in the movement?
Perkins: At this point, we are not involved, since we are more of a support products company. Although we manufacture a vacuum pump used by consumers, our role is very indirect. We do, however, plan a separate Web site where consumers can get more information on hearing aid maintenance, as well as hearing-related issues.
HPR: Does the company have any new products to unveil as the year comes to a close? How about new products in the near future?
Perkins: We will be releasing Spotty, a new UV LED spot cure system this fall, which will be very unique. It will have interchangeable cure heads to cure at different wavelengths, and will be completely portable with a carrying case. It will, also, be very inexpensive compared to other spot cure products.
HPR: How do you see Lightning Enterprises presence in the hearing health care arena over the next decade?
Perkins: If the last 10 years are any indication, I am confident there will be many changes in our industry over the next 10 years. However, I dont see our focus changing at all. We will continue to develop products and equipment designed for effective hearing aid repair and maintenance.
R. Schuyler Silverman