OHS America has secured its presence in the hearing arena by creating marketing techniques to help dispensers expand their client bases.

Jackson Doug Jackson, OHS vice president

Since opening its doors 5 years ago, OHS (Open House Specialists) America, Beaufort, SC, has built an enviable reputation and client base with its successful hearing aid dispenser open house marketing program. With a consultant force of 12, OHS is able to serve hundreds of clients all over the United States. The OHS program was developed through practical experience by OHS Vice President Doug Jackson during his 25-year career as a hearing aid dispenser. Hearing Products Report (HPR) recently spoke with Jackson about the origins of the company and how it helps dispensers generate big upswings in sales in a short period of time.

HPR: Why did you start OHS America?
Doug Jackson:
I had my own practice for years, and saw a great need in the marketplace for [a way] to get new patients to come in the door. And through the years, I developed a technique to do that. And of every convention we went to, it was the same cry, [dispensers] couldn’t get enough patients and new customers to come in to expand their practice and do well. So we just created a marketing plan where we do the research for the potential client, tell [them] what [they] can expect, and we go in and offer sales assistance as well as marketing to help [the client] expand their customer base.

HPR: Do you have a customer profile?
We’ve found that, as time goes on and more and more people hear about us, we have more and more audiologists contact us, whereas in the past it was the dispensers. But our customer base is from every end of the spectrum as far as the industry goes. We’ve even been invited to go to Australia and Canada, but we don’t want to venture worldwide at this point.

HPR: What should a dispenser expect to happen when they become a client?
Initially, a client will contact us either through a referral from a manufacturer or through an ad that we place in one of the [trade] publications, looking to increase their business, and then we do market research for them; if the numbers work, we’ll go in to help them expand their practice. Most dealers are very capable and knowledgeable about product, and they’re up on the new innovations and how to program the instruments. But very few of them have the expertise on how to market themselves to the public. So that’s where we come in.

HPR: How do you use manufacturers as referral sources?
A lot of times a manufacturer will call us about a dealer who is struggling a little bit, and they’ll ask us to review the situation to give them a little boost, so to speak.

HPR: Why aren’t the manufacturers doing this? Why are they going to you?
We offer hands-on assistance. Manufacturers have very good marketing pieces, but a lot of times if they mail several hundred pieces, business will trickle in. Usually, the manufacturers don’t have the manpower to accommodate all of their dealers on a one-on-one basis, it’s just not cost-effective for them. If we go in, we don’t have any particular product we’re not capable of selling. We sell all the manufacturers—many of them don’t know we sell them. When we go into a practice, and the dispenser has a preference for ABC hearing aid or whatever, our salespeople are well versed on all the products, so it doesn’t make a difference to us. If a manufacturer comes in, they’ll want to sell that product specifically. So we’re more flexible as to where the dispenser can go and where their margins are best.

HPR: Broadly speaking, what problems does your open house program solve for a dispenser?
Usually, the dispenser has done a pretty good job of letting the community know that they have a practice. That’s not the problem. They’ve tried telemarketing, they’ve tried direct mail pieces, they’ve even tried newspaper advertising, but all with limited results. It’s just a matter of looking at the individual practice, its demographics, and maybe doing a combination of all the above. But with our technique and the promotional material we supply, most dealers will do 6 months’ worth of business in 1 week.

HPR: Is the program tailored to the specific practice? Will you problem solving the same for a dispenser in Biloxi, Miss, as you would for a dispenser in New York City?
The marketing could be different. The people in New York City, they’re sort of jaded, they’ve seen everything, while in a rural community a lot of times it’s easier project to tackle. But you have to take a hard look at the [whole] picture and see what would be most effective. You have to see what the dealer has done in the past, where his competitors are, how many he has, the demographics, his facility—if it’s conducive to doing an open house, because an open house can generate hundreds of units in a very short time, and he has to be prepared for that.

HPR: How does OHS America’s program stand out from other hearing marketing plans?
I think because we introduce the patient on a need basis, instead of a trial basis, our retention rate for sales is second to none. For most hearing aid dispensers, if they do an open house, the problem is that they’ll sell [a hearing aid] on the basis of trying it for 30 days. We don’t do that. So our retention rate is very high. A lot of our marketing will attract first-time users instead of previous users, so it’s a way to expand their customer base continually without having to sell their present customer base over and over. I think the biggest reason for our success is the retention rate. That’s our claim to fame.

HPR: How important is your service to your clients?
We find more and more that dealers and audiologists are using us as their sole means of marketing, because it’s a kind of a no-brainer. We come in every 4 months and do a workshop for them, and that’s all they have to worry about. It carries them through the year. Many dealers will place a lot of advertising throughout the year, and when you add it all up, it’s more profitable to do it quarterly than consistently on an everyday basis, because when you do it on an everyday basis, it’s no news for someone. We turn it into a big event. People don’t sit around all day long thinking about purchasing a hearing aid, and if they see it in the newspaper all the time, you’d think that would be the proper way to do things like everything else we buy. But hearing aids are a unique product; they’re not sold like every other product. And that’s how most advertising agencies and people who try to do [their marketing] themselves they fashion their efforts after things we’ve been conditioned to see every day—but it doesn’t work in our industry or not very effectively.

N. L. Shepherd is a contributing writer for Hearing Products Report.