Duracell’s founder, P. R. Mallory, guided the company’s path to enduring success with his basic business tenets, “invest in research” and “the customer is king.”

Headquartered in Bethel, Conn, Duracell has been a worldwide manufacturer of batteries for almost 50 years. Recently, the staff of Hearing Products Report (HPR) had the opportunity to speak with Kevin Janco, business director, Specialty Products, Duracell Global Business Management Group.

HPR:When and where, and by whom, was Duracell founded?

Janco: Duracell entered the battery business in 1944 in Tarrytown, NY, when Samuel Ruben, an independent inventor, joined forces with Philips Rogers Mallory, the founder of P. R. Mallory & Company Inc (Duracell’s predecessor company). They introduced the world’s first mercury battery, the forerunner of today’s alkaline battery. Ruben’s mercury battery was first sold to the US military to replace the poorly performing zinc carbon batteries that were previously used in World War II military equipment. Following the war, Ruben’s mercury battery technology was used to produce the first hearing aid button cell.

In 1960, the company introduced AA size alkaline batteries and, 2 years later, the AAA size. In 1964, the Duracell® brand name was adopted, which, according to independent research, is one of the most esteemed brands worldwide. Seven years later, the copper and black CopperTop® graphic was introduced. In 1980, the company changed its name from P. R. Mallory & Company Inc to Duracell International Inc.

In December 1996, more than 50 years after it was founded, Duracell merged with The Gillette Company, and remains a leading manufacturer and marketer of high-performance alkaline batteries. Duracell also markets primary lithium and zinc air batteries as well as rechargeable nickel-metal hydride batteries.

HPR:The alkaline battery was developed by Duracell. How did that open the way for further developments?

Janco: During the early 1940s, Duracell (then known as P. R. Mallory Company) first developed the alkaline electrolyte battery. This battery became very important during World War II because of the need for longer life and ability to withstand harsh climates.

With its high performance capabilities, the alkaline battery has triggered the development of many new and exciting portable devices. Through the Duracell Technology Center, comprising scientists and engineers from around the globe, the company continues to invest in ways to enhance the performance of its alkaline and specialty batteries.

HPR:When did Duracell introduce its first hearing aid battery?

Janco: Duracell developed its first hearing aid battery in 1947, progressing from mercury chemistries to today’s zinc air designs.

HPR:What is the company’s primary hearing aid battery line? When was it developed?

Janco: Activair® is Duracell’s dedicated line of hearing aid batteries for hearing health care professionals. The EasyTab™ feature was developed in September 2001, and offers hearing aid consumers a convenient, easy to remove, and easy to hold insert battery.

Activair’s EasyTab features a long, custom-shaped, durable tab that adheres to the battery. This tab is easily grasped between the consumer’s thumb and forefinger, and used as a “tool” to remove the battery from the packaging and insert it into even the smallest hearing aid cavity. The long colored tab is clearly visible, even to people with limited vision, especially when the battery is dropped. This design simplifies the frustrating task of battery replacement.

To make the consumer experience even easier, Duracell Activair batteries are housed in a rectangular-shaped “pill” box that is hinged for easy opening and closing. Inside, the batteries are secured in one vertical row with their elongated tabs facing outward, making it easy for consumers to grasp the battery and remove it from the case.

HPR:How do these batteries benefit both hearing aid consumers and dispensers?

Janco: Activair offers both hearing aid consumers and dispensers the reliability and confidence of a brand they trust, Duracell. The value-added benefits such as the longer tabs and convenient packaging make the process of changing hearing instrument batteries much easier for the consumer. Consumers are satisfied with the performance and convenience of Duracell hearing aid batteries as shown statistically through consumer preference research and multiple design awards.

The Activair brand delivers the same confidence and trust expected from Duracell and is dedicated to the hearing health care arena. For dispensers, Activair offers an additional revenue stream with high profit margins to complement hearing aid device sales.

HPR:What is EasyTab’s marketing strategy for appealing to hearing aid dispensers and others who sell the product?

Janco: Duracell currently has several strategic marketing programs designed to reach hearing aid dispensers and other key distributors of related products. In early 2002, Duracell formed a strategic distribution partnership with Phonak Hearing Systems, which has an established distribution network within the hearing health care industry. This agreement has broadened the distribution and reach of Duracell Activair batteries to hearing health care professionals and consumers. In addition, the two companies have established the Hearing Health Referral Line at (800) 714-5441, to help consumers get connected with local hearing professionals to have their hearing tested. This program targets individuals who need, but currently do not use, hearing aids. Duracell supports this program through print advertisements, point of sale displays, specially created literature, and FSI advertisements.

For dispensers, Activair offers an additional revenue stream with high profit margins to complement hearing aid device sales.

HPR:In what ways are you building awareness of hearing

health care among the medical and hearing

professional community?

Janco: Duracell recently launched a pharmacist education campaign designed to educate this audience on hearing health care. Along with advertisements and a specially created resource Web site, Duracell will sponsor continuing education classes on hearing health care.

In addition to these programs, Duracell continues to implement a marketing communications program, which includes advertising, special packaging and displays, as well as promotions, to build awareness within the hearing health care market.

HPR:How do you expect Duracell to continue its long history

of innovation?

Janco: Duracell offers a complete range of hearing aid batteries with added consumer benefits. As with the other product lines, we will continue to evaluate hearing aid device trends and technology needs as part of the company’s ongoing research and development.

HPR:Please list the company’s primary battery products and their uses.

Janco: Duracell markets and manufactures a full line of portable power sources for a broad range of consumer, medical, and industrial uses, including alkaline, lithium, zinc air, and rechargeable batteries. The company’s key products include: Duracell CopperTop alkaline batteries; Duracell Ultra photo lithium batteries; Duracell Ultra CR-V3 photo lithium batteries for digital cameras; Duracell and Activair EasyTab hearing aid batteries; and Duracell Prismatics, a new line of primary prismatic batteries designed specifically for digital cameras and portable audio devices.

HPR:What is in the future for Duracell batteries?

Janco: In the immediate future, Duracell plans to continue to drive trials of Activair, and enhance product awareness among both the consumer and hearing health care audiences.

HPR:What is the Duracell guarantee? How does that work?

Janco: Duracell guarantees complete customer satisfaction with the Activair product. If a consumer experiences a problem with a battery or a device is damaged by the battery, consumers can call (800) 551-2355, and Duracell will replace the battery and/or the device.

HPR:Is there a philosophy behind Duracell’s endurance in the marketplace?

Janco: Duracell’s success is rooted in the beliefs of company founder P. R. Mallory, whose basic business tenets, “invest in research” and “the customer is king,” positioned the company in its early days for a continuing pattern of success.

Bonnie Baxter Stephens is a contributing writer to Hearing Products Report.