Before Bob Keefer opened Now Hear This, a retail space that sells and adjusts hearing aids, he knew he had a marketing conundrum.
Since opening in February 2012, determining where to spend his marketing money has been Keefer’s biggest challenge and second-highest expense beyond compensation for three full-time and two part-time employees.
Initially, Keefer successfully sought out coverage in local and industry publications. He then hoped his patients would spread the word about his company’s unique hearing loss calibration system and the improvement to their lives.
Keefer, however, learned it wouldn’t be that easy – customers don’t generally like to share that they wear a hearing aid.
That meant Keefer needed to continue with marketing that educated people on his company’s services to get them in the door, and ultimately pay thousands of dollars on devices and services that, for the most part, aren’t covered by insurance.
With all the different advertising channels, Keefer started to feel like he was throwing money down a hole, he said.
“That’s what it felt like because you don’t get an immediate return on investment,” he said.
Keefer starting looking for other ways to reach his clients, and he set out to educate physicians and directors of assisted living communities about his product, and the impacts of hearing loss on the elderly.
Before opening Now Hear This, Keefer was a partner at TCG Medtech, a Durham-based consulting company that sought to shepherd into the U.S. market medical devices invented by European companies.
One of those companies included a small, privately held German firm that invented the ACAM 5, an innovative $25,000 system that calibrates hearing aids specifically for users and their unique ear canals.
“It is essentially an integrated system that has all of the tools that an audiologist needs to fine-tune hearing aids,” Keefer said.
Keefer is the majority owner of Now Hear This, and ACAM’s German inventor is a minority partner.
Keefer invested in print and radio advertising, and he submitted articles to magazines. The first year he had acquired about 300 clients, but customer traffic was still spotty, he said.
“Some months were great, and our phones were ringing off the hook,” he said. “Others were just mortifying because the phones weren’t ringing at all.”
Now Hear This started hosting “lunch and learn” sessions for physicians, which included presentations on hearing loss’s connection with dementia, Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
Most recently, Keefer started focusing on marketing to adult care facilities in the Triangle, but he was struggling to get meetings with wellness directors.
An owner of one of the facilities recommended that Keefer turn his presentation into a continuing education class in which wellness directors and other staffers would get required credits.
Keefer wrote the curriculum, submitted it to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and earned two hours of credit earlier this month.
In 2014, Keefer plans to open two more clinics in the Triangle and continue to prove a model that he hopes to be repeated by investors in other metropolitan areas.
Then, Keefer said, he can worry less about marketing and more about fly fishing.
Bridges: 919-829-8917; Twitter: @virginiabridges