By David H. Kirkwood
BOSTON—This weekend may be the last chance American Academy of Audiology (AAA) members ever get to visit Starkey Hearing Technology’s extravagant exhibits at AudiologyNOW! That’s because Starkey, America’s largest manufacturer of hearing aids and related products, has notified AAA that it will quit exhibiting at its annual convention after this year’s meeting in Boston.
In an interview on March 29, David Fabry, PhD, Starkey’s managing director for the U.S., told Hearing News Watch that the company’s decision was based entirely on business considerations. Fabry, a former AAA president, said that as the industry has changed, manufacturers have developed new ways to interact with existing and potential customers. It is no longer clear, he said, that the benefit to the company of exhibiting at AAA is worth the high cost. Starkey has long constructed some of the largest and most elaborate exhibits at Audiology Solutions, as the academy calls its exposition.
The decision means that Starkey will give up the opportunity to showcase its offerings at what is by far the largest gathering in the world of hearing care providers. This year’s meeting in Boston is expected to draw close to 8000 attendees in all, the most ever.
However, Fabry noted, Starkey’s Hearing Innovations Expo, which debuted this January in Las Vegas, drew a large turnout of hearing professionals. The company reported that about 3000 Starkey customers from 27 countries attended the event, which also had featured speakers including former President Bill Clinton and Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Industries. Starkey plans to hold another Hearing Innovations Expo in January 2014.
Fabry also pointed out that Starkey, like most of the other major hearing aid companies, already has a large number of affiliated practices. The increasing involvement of manufacturers in the retailing of hearing aids means that fewer of the dispensing professionals who attend AAA and other meetings are not already committed to a particular manufacturer.
Fabry said that Starkey has made no decision to stop exhibiting at the smaller conventions, such as those of the International Hearing Society and the Academy of Doctors of Audiology. He also emphasized that the company would continue to be supportive of AAA and would participate in its annual convention, but not as an exhibitor.
WILL OTHERS FOLLOW?
It’s too soon to know if any other major companies will follow Starkey’s lead. However, it’s an open secret that there’s been growing disenchantment within the hearing industry over the terms and conditions of exhibiting at AAA.
On the one hand, AudiologyNOW! delivers far more people to their booths than does any other meeting. That’s why the big manufacturers compete so hard to build the most lavish and enticing displays. On the other hand, companies complain that AAA charges exhibitors too much, especially since so many of those who pack the exhibit hall are students who may be years away from becoming customers.
There has also been grumbling by some companies over the ban on handouts at booths. What the academy sees as a matter of professional ethics is viewed by some companies as an unnecessary limitation on what they can do to draw people into their exhibits to learn about their latest technology.