Sonus Hearing Care Professionals

Q&A with Vera Gualtieri, Medical Business Operations Marketing Director of Sonus

Learn more about the Hearing Health Care business and Sonus' role from Vera Gualtieri, Medical Business Operations Marketing Director.

How was Sonus originally conceived and started?

The Sonus concept was originated by purchasing well established hearing care practices across the country forming a company that had over 120 locations. It was a first of its kind for company owned practices in hearing aid space. Sonus, formerly known as Fraserview Hearing and Speech Clinic Ltd/Hearing Health Care Capital was formed in 1992 in Canada. A few years later the headquarters moved to Portland, Oregon. In August of 1997 the name formally changed to Sonus USA, Inc.

In 2002 Sonus was acquired by the Amplifon Group, the global leader in hearing services, products, and research. Based in Italy, Amplifon operates throughout Europe, Northern Africa, Australia and the United States. With an international network of 3,000 locations and over 3,500 service centers, Amplifon has become the largest distributor of hearing aids in the world.

What was your original vision for Sonus? How has that changed over time?

Sonus Franchise originally set out to build a hearing health care franchise system based on the medical franchise model.  We set out to provide the tools that franchise owners need in order to help them run their practices more effectively, more efficiently, and more profitably.  As a result of this support, we intended to maximize the time that franchise owners would be able to devote to individual patients. We have dedicated ourselves to realizing this initial vision and remain dedicated to our original vision today.

What do you believe is the single most important factor when choosing a franchise?

The single most important factor when choosing a franchise is future earning potential.  Factors which affect a franchise's earning potential are financing resources, franchise fees, excellent profit margins, and effective marketing.

Why should someone choose Sonus over other similar franchises?

Sonus is the first audiology-based franchise in the industry and it is founded on three core tenets:

  1. Patient-Centered: We focus on each individual patient, individually satisfying their hearing needs.
  2. Evidence-Based: How we do our job is based on real-world, hearing health research.
  3. Outcomes-Oriented: We carefully monitor the effectiveness of each hearing solution in order to ensure high patient adoption rates.

The Sonus brand has earned us trust, reliability, and consistency with our patients and the hearing health care world. Sonus has an extremely high loyalty score at the same levels as brands like Apple and Harley Davidson. Instead of focusing solely on technology and promotions, Sonus bases our practice on the individual patient, to improve satisfaction and provide long-term professional care.

Sonus Franchise provides professional structure, support, and resources to reduce the risk that many fear when considering private practice. We provide the tools to manage and expand existing practices, as well as provide a proven and rapid method to transition an existing practice to a new owner.

What makes your industry attractive?

The market opportunity related to an aging population, which includes hearing health, is palpable. According to Franchise Help - Healthcare Franchises: "It is predicted that by the year 2030, more than 36 million Americans will be 65 or older - more than in any other period in history. These Americans will need access to unprecedented levels of healthcare."

80 million boomers represent 25% of the U.S. population and account for 75-80% of the U.S. wealth.  The leading edge of the boomer cohort is turning 69 in 2013.  69 years of age is the average age of a hearing care customer.  Consequently, our market is one that is burgeoning.  There is no doubt about this: the hearing health care industry market is growing at an unprecedented pace. Patients are seeking professional hearing help now more than ever. By the year 2050, the need for hearing solutions will have doubled.

What types of qualities do you look for in potential franchisees?

Franchise owners are sought who are interested in building a great business and growing both as a leader and as a manager. Each franchise owner should possess a strong work ethic, be adaptable, and be willing to follow direction from experts in the industry. We look for individuals with a positive attitude who have exceptional interpersonal skills which can be used to motivate others. 

What do your franchise fees and royalties cover?

All franchise owners receive assistance with site and store planning, advertising, computer software systems, and ongoing training. Before the franchise opens, Sonus provides assistance in evaluating potential sites for the franchise, provides a set of prototype plans and specifications for the exterior and interior design and layout of the Center, arranges for mandatory initial training, and provides opening assistance both before and during the initial opening of the first Center.  After the franchise opens, Sonus offers refresher courses related to Sonus Products, sales, and technical training, makes available appropriate staff to periodically assist you in areas of business management and operations, offers a variety of marketing services which the franchisee can purchase, and administers national advertising programs intended to maximize general image, recognition, and patronage of Sonus Products.  We also offer products on delivery, price and credit terms established by the Sonus Franchise Agreement.

How do territories work for your franchisees?

We provide each franchisee with an exclusive territory based on a defined geographic footprint. We analyze both industry and Census data while utilizing our advanced Geographic Information System (GIS) to help ensure that every single territory has adequate market potential. Each footprint is built taking into consideration various criteria including penetration of target population, competition, hospitals and physicians.

Our Geographic Information System allows a business to analyze relevant geographic data to make business decisions such as pinpointing competition in a specific area, evaluating territory penetration (customers/ population), and identifying and analyzing customer patterns.

Why has the Sonus model been successful?

Many patients often do not know where to turn for help with their hearing loss or communication concerns. In most cases they turn to their family physicians or primary care providers. Physicians then refer their patients to audiology practices and hearing health care professionals they know and trust. As a respected member of the medical community, Sonus is uniquely positioned to work closely with physicians to ensure that patients with hearing loss receive the best possible hearing health care. Our patient-centered, evidence-based and outcome-oriented approach is the foundation of the Sonus medical model.

Sonus also captures its market share by conducting national marketing campaigns.  Our state-of-the-art National Call Center answers all calls generated by the national marketing campaigns.  The Call Center is able to book appointments directly into your location through our front-office system, Sonus Private Cloud.  Staffed with professionally trained representatives who are educated about hearing loss, hearing aids, and the psychology of the hearing impaired in order to effectively manage the communication with your potential patients, each member of the Call Center staff is trained to represent you and function as an extension of your office.

Where do you see Sonus in 5 years and 10 years?

In five years, Sonus would like to have 500 locations throughout targeted geographic areas of the United States.

What is your favorite advice for new franchisees to help them succeed?

We tell each new franchisee that if they follow our advice, their success will follow much easier and more quickly.

What would you tell potential franchisees that may be nervous about the financial burdens of starting a franchise?

The total estimated investment necessary to begin operation of a new Sonus location ranges from $55,000 to $307,000. This includes $760 to $5,000 that must be paid to the franchisor or its affiliate(s) for initial inventory (including a $15 franchise fee per unit), as well as the cost of property improvements and equipment.

The amount of investment is dependent upon whether you are converting an existing hearing aid business to a Sonus Franchise or if you are opening a new business. Sonus will assist you in determining an estimate for your initial capital investment.

Areas that will be examined include;

  1. Insurance
  2. Lease and property fees
  3. Build out fees
  4. Furniture, fixtures, and equipment
  5. Signage
  6. Inventory
  7. Working capital

Can you explain your financial assistance?

There are financial assistance options available for those who qualify. Each candidate is evaluated based on their particular situation.

On average, how long does it take to start a new Sonus from the franchisees point of view?

There are a number of steps that must be completed when a candidate decides to move forward. When the initial purchase offer is reviewed and agreed upon, the following process will begin

Candidate completes a Business Plan (template is provided to you).

Discovery Day is scheduled at Sonus Business Service and Support Center in Plymouth, Minnesota. At Discovery Day,  a candidate will have an opportunity to present his/her business plan for his/her Sonus Franchise to Sonus senior management.

The Franchise Committee (FC) will meet to review all candidates.

Though all transactions are unique, once approval is received from the FC, you can anticipate 4 - 6 weeks for the process of:

  • a. Creating franchise documents
  • b. Candidate review of franchise documents
  • c. Sonus confirmation of all information and documentation is received, accurate and complete from the candidate
  • d. Sonus and candidate execute franchise documents

This process may take up to 90 days.

What was your background and experience before founding Sonus?

Sonus was founded in 1992 on the principle of high patient focus and loyalty. In 2002 Sonus was acquired by Amplifon USA Inc., the global leader in hearing services, and research.

Based in Italy, the parent company Amplifon S.p.A. operates in 19 countries and has paved the way for markets in Australia, New Zealand and India. With an international network of 3,500 locations and over 3,500 service centers, Amplifon has become the largest distributor of hearing aids in the world.  Amplifon is actively involved in audiological research and sponsors a number of projects through the CRS Amplifon (Amplifon Centre for Research and Study).

Sonus is a leading provider of hearing aid solutions, offering a wide variety of brands, styles, and prices that combine the right amount of features and value for each patient.

Do you have any franchisee testimonials or success stories that you would like to share?

Never having owned a small business before, I approached the purchase of my SONUS franchise offices with both excitement and some nervousness.  I was excited at the opportunity to take control over all aspects of my practice, but also felt somewhat nervous about managing those facets of the business I had not dealt with previously.  Marketing, facility development and staff professional development were all critical to building our franchises, and the support of the staff at the Business Service and Support Center (BSSC) at SONUS has proved to be a crucial element in our success.  The marketing department has provided guidance on the best marketing tools to use for our market and accurate and easy measurement of how effective those tools prove to be.  BSSC staff also helped us to identify the need for a new location for our Red Wing office, assisted us in finding a new site, and designed the build-out for the new space.  

Since the move our Red Wing franchise, we have seen notable growth in sales and profitability.  The BSSC also facilitates the training of our Patient Care Coordinators through easily accessible on-line courses, which allows our small staff to stay up-to-date in a most efficient way.  Bi-annual FOCUS events and conference calls with other owners allow us to bounce ideas off of other franchisees and hear what is and is not working for them.  In short, the purchase of the SONUS franchises has proven to be an excellent opportunity to balance my goals as a small business owner with my desire to remain a patient-centered provider of audiological services.  That balance is in no small part due to the support of the staff at SONUS.

Ryan Hummel, M.A., FAAA, Operator/Owner, Sonus SF000301/2 since May 2010

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