I may be no genius, but at times I’m close…..
Einstein and Dr. Staab, Antalya, Turkey.
The other day, while digging through some of my files, I came across a presentation on my predictions for the hearing aid industry 10 years from the year 2005. This was related to an invited presentation I was asked to give to the American Hearing Aid Associates (AHAA) annual convention in 2005. In seeing the title, I wondered how far removed I was from actuality, even though we had not yet reached the 10-year date. I understand that 2011 is 4 years short of the 10-year expectations, but the prediction was for what I thought we might see by the time we got to the year 2015.
As I started to read my presentation notes, I wondered if today I might be seen as a sage, a dreamer, or just someone who had no idea what he was talking about? I would guess that at the time I believed I was a sage, but I am certain that many audience members considered me to be in left field, and others thought that I had no concept of reality or the real world and wondered why I was even asked to present. With these options in mind, I thought I would let you, the reader, decide.
In 2005 I offered the following 15 predictions:
I am not certain any of us know where the industry will be in 10 years – either at the manufacturing or dispenser level. Successful companies generally have 5-year long-range plans, but revise them every year because they know that change, especially that which is unforeseen, is inevitable. One thing for certain is that much will change – some positively, and some negatively. Regardless, it will impact all involved in the hearing aid delivery system.
1) Hearing aid manufacturers will start to own many of their own retail offices in an attempt to increase their overall profits and also to better manage their sales projections, inventory and work in process.
2) There will be essentially massive movement away from custom earpieces for fitting hearing aids. In fact, we will realize that the custom hearing aid earpiece has been the Albatross around the necks of those involved in hearing aid fittings as well as for patients.
3) Some of the current big 6 hearing aid manufacturers may no longer be around, or dominate in the industry. Even large companies will be purchased or sold. These decisions could easily be made by individuals with no direct ties to the hearing aid industry, even if within the same company. Expect consolidation of hearing aid companies into mega-companies that will expand their interests by purchasing related products/companies. Expansion by sales of additional products will play an important role for company growth. Hearing aid sales alone will most likely not be sufficient.
4) Hearing aids will become multi-function devices having applications beyond primarily amplification – and driven by the mobile telephone, which will become the nerve center for most communication. In fact, the telephone may morph into the hearing aid as well. This will present challenges to dispensing models.
5) We will see much new technology for hearing aids designed by companies unrelated to the hearing aid industry.
6) There will be new players from outside the traditional hearing aid industry. Boardrooms and investors will start making decisions that affect the industry. Managers of hearing aid companies will increasingly come from outside the industry – individuals from the business world. As a result, many of the personal relationships developed over the years between the manufacturer and retailer will be lost.
7) There will be consumer movement toward younger-aged individuals, but industry sales will continue to be dominated by the elderly – and especially, the older elderly.
8) Hearing aids will be developed that are designed for the elderly, something that has been needed, and ignored for many years.
9) As the population over 80 years of age increases, new approaches to human engineering have to be made to accommodate their needs. Expect more “remote control” type devices, including voice activation or wireless telephone control.
10) Expect hearing aid development to start to be more specifically directed toward inner hair cell loss (IHC), and not just outer hair cell loss (OHC), especially as the population advances in age.
11) Expect the distribution system to change when/if hearing aids become more common. When products move from an unwanted status to a more commonly accepted product, the distribution system and profit margins change. This will result in lower profit margins for hearing aid dispensers. Expect Internet sales that bypass the traditional distribution systems. Premium-priced amplification will continue in the marketplace, but that market will be reduced in sales volume. Currently, dispensers may be experiencing the greatest profit margins in the history of the industry.
12) Expect consumers to adjust/program their personal hearing aids via the Internet.
13) Manufacturers will move toward 6 sigma manufacturing because of the way hearing aids will be designed and manufactured (6 sigma means 1 defect per million units built), especially for non-custom-molded devices.
14) There will be more implantable hearing aids available in a variety of configurations and anatomical ear placement.
15) Hearing aids will become smaller, but still removable, and allow for parts replacement by the consumer.
How far off was I? I will let you decide. But, keep in mind that I still have 4 years remaining on my predictions. And, keep in mind that I was not endorsing necessarily any of these projections. They were merely observations based on my years of experience in the hearing aid industry and were projected on what I heard, saw, and read in 2005.