ISSAQUAH, WA–While it may not bring joy to its competitors’ hearts, Costco reports that its hearing aid business is growing fast. Interviewed for an online article published in Bloomberg Business Week on July 11, Richard Chavez, a senior VP at Costco, said that over the past four years its hearing aid sales have grown by an average of 26% a year and he expects an additional 19% increase this year. Chavez told the reporter, Kyle Stock, “We’re now one of the largest—if not the largest—hearing aid distributors in the market, but I really don’t want anyone to know that.”
WHY SO MUCH GROWTH?
As has been widely reported—in several posts at HearingHealthMatters.org and in The New York Times, among other places—Costco charges its hearing aid customers half or less than half the average retail price nationwide. On its web site, Costco lists prices ranging from $500 for its least expensive in-the-ear (ITE) model to $1500 for its most expensive ITE, canal, and completely in-the-canal instruments. These are far below the $2000 to $3000 price that hearing aids typically cost today.
Costco doesn’t offer state-of-the-art devices, but they are made by respected manufacturers: Siemens, which makes the Kirkland private label for Costco; Rexton, a Siemens subsidiary; and GN ReSound.
And while audiologists and hearing instrument specialists often contend that Costco’s hearing aid clinics provide minimal professional service, the company counters that at least its dispensers don’t work on commission.
Buoyed by the success of its existing hearing aid outlets, Costco is quickly expanding the business. It now sells hearing aids in almost 500 of its 627 stores in the U.S. and seven other countries. That is four times as many outlets as it had a decade ago.
To staff its growing number of hearing centers, Costco is currently training 125 employees to become licensed dispensers. It also hires many audiologists.
Chavez said that another advantage Costco has over independent hearing care clinics is that it draws a lot of walk-in business without spending a penny on advertising. These are Costco members who suspect they have a hearing loss but aren’t ready to make an appointment with an audiologist. However, if while shopping for other items they notice the sound booth, they may decide on the spur of the moment to get a free hearing test.