Private Label Hearing Aids
In my old stomping grounds of California’s Central Valley, vineyards owned by the Bronco Wine Company dot the landscape. The Bronco Wine Company owns the Charles Shaw label of wine which is sold exclusively through Trader Joes and affectionately known as “Two-Buck Chuck.” Although critics have called Charles Shaw wine “undrinkable,” and “sugar water,” Charles Shaw remains Trader Joes’ most popular wine brand and provides consumers with a product at a price which clearly drives demand.
Many national retailers engage in some form of private labeling of products. Private labeling is often beneficial to consumers because it allows retailers to offer lower cost products as compared to the more well-known national brands. But private labeling and self-branding by retailers doesn’t always work in the consumer’s favor, and it doesn’t always mean a lower retail price.
Consider a Tiffany diamond. The recognizable Tiffany name and signature blue box will command a higher retail price than an identically certified diamond. While a consumer may certainly feel different after purchasing a Tiffany diamond, through a jeweler’s microscope, no distinction can be made between a Tiffany diamond and an unbranded diamond. In our opinion, the same is true of private label hearing aid brands.
What are private label hearing aids?
Private label hearing aids are hearing aids which are sold exclusively through franchised retail offices or a nationally supported network of hearing aid offices. Unlike traditionally branded hearing aids which can be retailed by any independent hearing health care provider, private label hearing aids are sold and serviced by a select group of hearing health care providers- and no other providers have access to those products.
Most importantly, private label hearing aid brands are often owned and built by the same major hearing aid manufacturers you may already be familiar with, such as Starkey, ReSound, and Siemens. The private label versions of these hearing aids obviously have different product names and branding than their mainstream “unbranded” counterparts, but their physical appearance and features are identical.
The above are but a few of the most popular private label hearing aid brands on the market. There are a handful of others, and as competition in the hearing aid industry heats up, look for more private label brands to emerge, as selling private label hearing aids can be enticing for business owners.
Why would a hearing health care provider choose to sell private label hearing aids?
Here are a few of the most compelling reasons.
- Name brand recognition: Imagine you’re a hearing provider looking to establish a new hearing aid business. Choosing to align yourself with a nationally recognized private label brand may earn you instant name recognition in your community.
- Brand exclusivity: Private label hearing aid dealers do not have to compete against other dealers of the same private label within their territory. For example, if you choose to open a Miracle-Ear store, another dealer will not be able to open up shop within a reasonable distance and compete against you. You will become your community’s sole source for Miracle-Ear branded hearing aids.
- Price comparison protection: Unlike traditionally branded hearing aids which several providers in each community sell, private label hearing aids are uniquely named, ensuring customers cannot get apples to apples quotes from several hearing providers for the same hearing aid. This makes it easier for private label hearing aid dealers to confidently price their hearing aids, knowing that their prices cannot be easily shopped.
- Guaranteed recurring customer base: Not only can private label hearing aids only be sold by affiliated dealers of that brand, they can only be serviced by affiliated dealers as well. This means that a hearing provider can be guaranteed they will be their customers’ sole source of service for their hearing aids, increasing the odds of generating service-related revenue and future sales.
With an increasingly informed and cost-conscious customer base, and an increasing number of consumers viewing hearing aids as commodities, one can see why the above perks to selling private label hearing aids make good business sense.
Putting those points aside, there are a significant amount of hearing health care providers and consumers who feel that purchasing private label hearing aids is not in the consumer’s best interest.
The Case Against Private Label Hearing Aids
There are generally 4 reasons why some believe private label hearing aids may not be the best choice for consumers. Not all the below points apply to all private label hearing aid brands or dealers, but they certainly provide a good starting point for discussions that should be had if you are considering purchasing a private label hearing aid.
- “Locked” hearing aids: As mentioned above, private label hearing aids can only be serviced through a private label dealer. This can create problems if the dealer goes out of business, you relocate, or you simply wish to have your hearing aids serviced elsewhere. No other hearing provider in your community will be able to repair, service, or program your private label hearing aids. You are in essence, locked in with your hearing provider.
Read what one customer has to say about this:
- Lack of price transparency: Because customers are not able to make apple to apple price comparisons with private labeled products, it can be hard to know if a hearing provider is asking a fair price for their products. To a degree, competition and transparency in pricing results in consumers getting better products and services for less.
- Dated technology: Some private label brands do not have access to the latest technology on the market. The major manufacturers who build and supply hearing aids to private labeled brands will sometimes not release their newest technology to those brands until their traditional dealers have had exclusivity in the marketplace with it for a period of time.
- Limited products: By and large, private label dealers only offer one brand of hearing aids, and some are required to sell that one brand exclusively. Despite what some single-line hearing providers may feel, each hearing aid manufacturer has something unique to offer, and no single brand is the best at everything.
Now that I am moving to a new city, I will have to find a new dealer – closest one is over 60 miles away – and pay for any cleaning or other usual and customary services for the units. I now have “buyer’s remorse” and suggest anyone considering buying a [private label] aide ask about what happens to promises of continued support if you move to a new location and have to work with a different dealer. (source)
At ZipHearing, we’ve always believed, and continue to believe, that the most integral part of the hearing aid buying process is the patient’s relationship with the hearing health care provider. Hearing aids are not commodities, and price or brand shouldn’t be the sole factor in determining which hearing aid you purchase, and the hearing provider from whom you purchase it. However, we also believe that consumers deserve as much access to information as possible before committing to an investment as large as hearing aids.
If you have a trusting relationship with a hearing provider who deals in private label products, do not be dissuaded from purchasing hearing aids from them, so long as they can adequately answer to the above points. After interacting with hundreds of hearing providers and thousands of patients, I can say with absolute certainty that it is not the brand the provider sells that matters most- it’s the person behind the brand; your hearing provider.