01 We launched Leightons Hearing Care in February 2006, following 12 months of detailed research and business planning.
We established this arm of the business firstly because existing patients had started to ask us if we offered a hearing service, and secondly we could see that some of the larger national chains were moving forward with their expansion into audiology.
We also felt that we could provide our patients with a highly caring service that reflected our For Life brand proposition.
There is clearly an overlap in the patient demographic for these two services, with our optical patient base being weighted towards those age 50-plus. Many of our patients are seeking a comprehensive eye care service and have been loyal to us for years. So, when we introduced a hearing service that was all about professional care, the trust was already there and patients responded well.
02 We introduced audiology services in 16 practices in 2006 and within 12 months had expanded it to all 34 practices.
Recruiting the right audiologists to help deliver a clinical and highly caring service was and is key to our early and ongoing success.
Audiology is now central to our purpose as a business, we exist to help people to see and to hear, and to live life to the full. There’s no doubt that it’s a convenient option to get your eyes and ears treated in one place.
"The Hearing Care Partnership gives independents access to a proven hearing business model, built for independent opticians-only"
03 When we first introduced audiology, I think there was a large degree of skepticism amongst staff; it was something new and therefore required a change.
Change, as we all know, is never received with open arms. But we are a people business and, as with any new service or product, it will only be a success if everyone is on board.
Therefore, over the last 12 years we have spent a great deal of time training our staff to better understand hearing loss and the latest developments in hearing technology. We have also created internal incentives in order to keep staff motivated to talk about hearing and be proactive.
We make sure that every member of staff has their hearing tested as this helps provide them with a base level of understanding. We also provide regular information updates on our intranet, videos to help change a battery, and many more training updates.
We have a structured training programme within our Learning Academy, which includes two one-day courses. The first is an Introduction to Hearing Care, which provides a good foundation, in addition to the practical skills of being able to complete a basic hearing screening. The second is an Advanced Hearing Care module that builds a more holistic approach so that people are more confident when talking to patients about the challenges they might be facing. It also includes a basic understanding of tinnitus, ear wax removal and hearing protection, as well as information on the latest hearing aid technology and how to assemble hearing aids.
04 Our hearing business now represents over 20% of our total turnover and continues to grow.
It is core to who we are and why we exist, and we believe it makes us different. By providing an audiology service, our patients are not tempted to visit competitors who offer a competitive service. Plus, over time, is has helped attract new patients.
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To put this into perspective, in 2017, over 52% of new patients to our hearing service were not existing optical patients. On average, this represented over 12 patients per month, per practice, which is a great source of new people into practices. We know that 25% of these patients also become optical customers.
05 We will now continue to innovate at Leightons to enhance the service that we are providing and bring more benefits to our patients.
Building on our experience and strength in the area of specialist optical and audiology, and following requests, we established The Hearing Care Partnership which aims to connect best-in-market audiology with independent optometry.
We wanted to create a quantum leap in value for independent opticians by introducing a new hearing service that is dedicated to serving them. We begun in July last year in Tompkins Knight & Son in Northampton and have carefully expanded the service to 12 different independent businesses.
The Hearing Care Partnership gives independents access to a proven hearing business model, built for independent opticians only. It's a complete turn-key solution, which includes all training and marketing, plus a revenue share.
Audiology is core to our growth strategy and over the next 12 months we will continue to expand both at Leightons and via The Hearing Care Partnership.