Hearing Aid Industry at a Crossroads
With thirty plus years in the retail end of hearing aid dispensing, you might think that is a really dumb question.
You’re in the hearing aid business.
But, are we really?
Or, is thinking we are in the hearing aid business really the problem?
Traditional dispensing practices have been coming under increasing pressure from every conceivable angle and with so much at stake, the cover story of this month’s issue of “Hearing Review” and most of the issue dealt with differentiating our practices from the big box wholesale warehouses, and Internet operations.
With so much change in the consumer and hearing aid marketplace, could it be our very own viewpoints that are restricting our ability to effectively deal with the changes in our market?
One of the best examples of a nineteenth century industry that thought they were in one business, when they were really in another is classically taught as that of the railroads in this country. They were the veritable kings of industry at the end of the nineteenth century. Yet they were and have been totally displaced in their dominance.
The railroad Barons made the mistake of believing they were in the railroad business. They were actually in the transportation business. Because of the limited way in which they saw their businesses, they missed major opportunities for tying all our cities together in different ways and have been relegated to moving freight for vast majority of their revenue ever since.
Another example of an industry giant whose leadership misunderstood business they were really in was Kodak. Fat off a century’s worth of profits, their board believed they were in the photographic film business. When in fact, they were in the imaging business.
Not understanding the difference caused them to miss not only the entire digital revolution, but the value of the extensive patents that they held on digital imaging.
That once great company is now, but a shell of it’s former self, all for misunderstanding what business they were really in.
We need look no further than our own neighborhoods for examples of other such misunderstandings. Blockbuster, the giant video rental mammoth of the eighties and nineties believed they were in the video rental business, when they were really in the home entertainment business. Where they once dominated, even owning the famed Orange Bowl at one time, they’re now bankrupt. Gone.
Another example, even less savory is the case of Enron. Who believing that they were not only the smartest guys in the room, but best connected. They went from being an energy supply company, to believing that they were the company controlling the supply of energy. We know how that hubris turned out.
Is the hearing aid industry making the same mistake as the railroad barons?
Are we limiting ourselves, and those we could reach by believing we are in the hearing aid business, when actually we are in the personal communications business?
Are we limiting those we reach, by only looking at the gear we have available, as a single use medical devices?
Are we so trying to control a market that we will end up with a fate similar to Enron’s?
Or, are we dooming ourselves to only hauling freight, while Smith’s invisible hand provides a solution from the outside in the form of a player who sees the potential for what we have to offer, as reaching far beyond our ability to see it ourselves?