Business Connection

Affordable Hearing Store comes through pandemic better than ever


ROCHESTER — Normally when businesses open, they don’t expect to have to deal with world stopping pandemics. That was before 2020 happened. Most businesses suffered the effects of that year and Affordable Hearing Store was no exception.

“I opened in October of 2019 and then the year we don’t speak of happened. Everything was going great. January, February, and March, everything looked like it was going to be great year. And then April hit and the brakes went,” said Chuck Smith, owner of Affordable Hearing Store in Rochester.

When that happened, Smith thought to himself “Oh my Lord, what did I do?”

With not even a full year of being open, Smith stated that the store was down 30 percent in sales from the previous year. Keep in mind the previous year was only three months.

“Everything I had was sank into this,” Smith said. “It was scary.”

Citing slim operating costs and the trust from his clients, Smith and his store made it through the pandemic.

“Things ended up working out, we made it through, and this year has been phenomenal. People are vaccinated, people feel more comfortabl­e, they’re wanting to get out of the house and we’ve been fairly steady, fairly busy,” he said.

Stressing the importance of hearing aids, Smith stated that hearing loss effects more than you might think.

“It causes people, people with untreated hearing loss, it causes them to withdraw from social environmen­ts. Even just going out to a restaurant because of all the noise and you can’t hear. That’s a real reason why older folks go to restaurant­s earlier than other folks because a lot of the time they can’t hear…It’s because it’s quiet then. It’s slow. There’s not a lot of background noise, they can understand the waitress better.”

Smith has been in the hearing aid business for 20 years and he continues to enjoy helping customers hear again. “I love helping people. I know it sounds so cliche but, in all honesty, just seeing how you can have a positive impact on people’s lives is pretty amazing. You don’t even realize how much it effects people negatively when they’re not hearing.”

Smith wasn’t always in this line of business. He and his wife, Janine, owned and operated a pizza restaurant in Kewanna.

“The restaurant business is hard,” he said. He and his wife ended up selling Smitty’s Red Barn Pizza after a little more than a year. After the sale they both started looking for another job.

“I saw an ad for Beltone in the paper and told my wife I thought it’d be a good job for her and that she should go check it out,” he said.

The interview went well with the company wanting to hire her, but she had a different candidate in mind.

“When she was leaving the interview, she said ‘you know I can’t help but think that my husband would be great for this job. He’d be perfect. He’d be better than I would. Would you mind talking to him?’,” Smith said.

She went to her vehicle and retrieved her husband’s resume and that’s how Smith got his start in the hearing aid business.

“I increased their sales by over a $100,000 the first year. Another $100,000 the year after that. And to say that they were happy is an understate­ment,” he said.

When talking with Chuck, you quickly find out that his passion doesn’t involve dollar signs. “The most important thing though, honestly, is the feeling of being able to have an impact on someone’s life. I loved it.”

Smith admitted that hearing aids, historical­ly, have been “ridiculous­ly priced.” When he started, he wondered about how a retired person could afford a pair of hearing aids that cost somewhere between $7,000 and $8,000.

“Not much has changed. Some of my competitor­s sell the same exact, identical things I sell for $8,000 to $10,000 for a pair of hearing aids,” he said.

After spending some time in the industry, Smith discovered what the costs for hearing aids actually were compared to what companies charged for them. “It blew my mind.”

When he found out, he had asked his boss at the time why they don’t charge less and undercut everyone else, thereby gaining more clients. His boss didn’t see things in the same light however.

“Industry wide, everybody sells hearing aids for those prices,” he said.

Three years ago, Chuck was working for a company in Kokomo when he was told that the branch was closing and he no longer had a job.

Prior to that, friend and former co-worker David Keenan opened Affordable Hearing Store in Mishawaka and approached Chuck about opening his own store. At the time, he was comfortabl­e at his current job, but once he was let go Chuck contacted Keenan about that opportunit­y.

“I own this location,” Smith said. There are ten Affordable Hearing Stores in Indiana and Michigan. “Each office is independen­tly owned. We’re not a franchise, it’s more like a co-op where we group our buying power, basically, to be able to get better pricing on hearing aids and pass them along to our patients,” he said.

According to Smith, the stores have saved their patients, combined, $3 million in savings. They have accomplish­ed this by creating a business plan to maximize savings for their clients.

Another service that Smith offers to the community is home service. “I offer mobile service. So if someone can’t get out of the house I’ll go to them and do in home testing.”

He did say that it is best to do testing at

his store, located at 418 E. 9th Street, due to the fact that he can control the environmen­t. “Sometimes when you go into someone else’s house there’s a lot of unknowns.

“A lot of other companies will say that they offer an in home trial. And what that is, is they’re saying that when you buy the hearing aids, you have 30-day money back guarantee so you get to try them at home. To me that’s not a trial, that’s a 30-day money back guarantee. That’s different,” he said.

Smith goes on to say that he offers a 30-day money back guarantee as well, but when someone comes into the office they’re given a complete audiologic­al evaluation and a case history.

“If you have a loss that I can help, then we put you in a pair of hearing aids and send you home for a week or two at no cost or obligation,” he said.

Another way that customers can save money with Affordable Hearing Store is through their referral plan. During the delivery of the product or at the two week follow-up, you’re given some business cards with your name on them.

“If you’re happy with the products and services we offer, you give that business card to a family member, a friend, a neighbor, etc… If they call up and schedule an appointmen­t and purchase hearing aids because you referred them, I’ll give them money off the price of the hearing aid. I’ll give them a discount on the hearing aids. I’ll give you six months of additional service at no cost. And I get a new patient. So it’s a win-win-win,” Smith explains.

They also offer testing, otoscopy, cleaning and adjusting of most makes and models of hearing aids, hearing protection, and work with most insurances and third party providers.

Affordable Hearing Store is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. They also offer night, weekend service by appointmen­t only.

For more informatio­n, you can call them at 574-223-3277 or visiting http:// affordable­hearingsto­

Chuck Smith ??

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