Suppliers are essential to almost every business. Without manufacturers to provide the products we dispense, we would have a difficult time helping patients to hear better. Suppliers often turn into partners by helping cut costs, performing research to improve outcomes and even funding new marketing efforts. Our manufacturing partners also serve as important resources for training and information.
Those of us that have been in this business for any length of time have witnessed a significant reduction in the number of hearing aid manufacturers. While they all have subsidiaries and retail networks, there are basically only five large manufacturers controlling the market today. Each of the Big Five invests a tremendous amount of money in research and development and they all have a wide range of products.
So how do we decide which one or ones to work with?
Price certainly is important when choosing suppliers, but there’s more to the relationship than an invoice and more to the cost of doing business than the amount on the statement at the end of the month. It’s important to evaluate what is included in the price, i.e. the cost of additional parts, shipping, repairs and the type and length of the warranty. It has been my experience that the price and what is included in the price is determined by the ability to negotiate, but certainly the relationship of price and quantity is always at the heart any negotiation. Typically, the more you buy, the less the price. However, beware of asking for too much during the negotiation. You can’t expect a manufacturer to give you a low price and money for marketing, equipment, and other assorted perks. I have always taken the approach that I can save for my own retirement and pay for my own equipment and budget for my own marketing. I just want the lowest price possible with no frills attached.
Another consideration when choosing suppliers is to evaluate what types of products your competition is offering.
While price is not always the final determiner to patients, you don’t want your competition selling exactly what you do for a lot less. For instance, I went to CostCo a few years ago and discovered that they were offering the same manufacturer that I was using and charging less than I was paying for the same aids! It didn’t make sense to continue to recommend that brand when patients could make a direct price comparison in a competition that I knew I would lose.
Service after the sale is also extremely important.
Patients depend on their hearing aids to maintain a good quality of life so we need to have the parts to fix them in our offices or loaners available so patients are able to hear when aids are being repaired and we need quick turnaround when the aids have to be sent in for repair.
Technology today is sophisticated and it takes continual training to stay current with the complex software.
I contend that working with fewer manufacturers is usually better than working with many. Reducing the number you work with will save time and money not to mention that it will be easier to know every detail of the software.
I want to clarify that while I consider manufacturers to be vital and valuable partners in hearing healthcare, we can never expect nor allow them get too involved in our businesses. However, when structured properly, a relationship with a supplier can be a valuable asset to a business.
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