Two years of making waves with Specsavers Audiology: an interview with Darrel Magna  

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Last week, Specsavers Audiology celebrated its second anniversary following the opening of its first stores in Runaway Bay & Tweed City on the Gold Coast in August 2017. Executive Director and General Manager for Specsavers’ Audiology business, Darrel Magna, who has been there since the beginning, discusses why he first wanted to take on the role of launching Specsavers Audiology into the Australian market, how the perception of the business has changed and what’s next.

1. After two years, how has the perception to Specsavers Audiology changed?

I think initially the industry and profession were concerned that we were going to run audiology in the “wrong” way. However, anyone who’s taken the time to have a good look at what we are doing has reacted very positively and has noticed how seriously we are taking the professional and clinical side of things in addition to the Specsavers’ value proposition. Audiology professionals are seeing the importance we are placing on compliance with the Hearing Services Program and the continual delivery of high quality consultations in a professional, well-designed room.

2. How are you finding the customer response now?

Initially, in our early stores, customers seemed a little confused that we were doing something over and above glasses. But now that customers realise that we’re taking audiology as seriously as we do optometry, we’ve had little to no negativity and in fact, it’s been quite the opposite – with our optical customers reacting very positively to Specsavers providing an additional health service.

For audiology customers, not only has there been great feedback from clinicians about service, but for those who have an awareness of price, the feedback is beyond positive.

The price component has been more well-received than we could have ever imagined. We’ve heard such feedback as:

“I just wanted to provide feedback on how excited I was to know that I could get a hearing aid at a location close to home at an affordable price and have this service available for any future needs.

“There is a big hole in the market for affordable hearing aids. I would also like to commend [the audiologist] in her professionalism and caring nature.

“Please continue to rollout this service so that people can receive a quality product for an affordable price. Well done Specsavers!”

“I had no idea that Specsavers had an audiology division, but I have to say I’m very happy I found out. Apart from the excellent service, the costs savings were enormous compared to the products offered by your competitor in my local shopping centre.”

“I was so impressed with the explanation of my particular needs and the availability of different types of aids that I walked out of the appointment totally convinced this could be a complete change in my current frustrating hearing world.

“This has been a life changing experience for me and the day I walked out with my tiny unit has changed my life at work, socially, and in many other life situations as I was often needing to lip read. “

3. What have been some of the biggest highlights?

There have been so many. Opening our first stores and then our 100th store. Signing up what is now more than 80 audiologists as business partners who share the passion that we have for providing great value. The introduction of HICAPS for the benefit of customers rather than our benefit. Screening the hearing of over 400,000 Australians, uncovering that over 120,000 have a hearing loss that likely needs resolution, subject to further interaction with our Audiology Partners.

A continued highlight is the validation that our pricing is making a huge difference in people’s lives, enabling them to use the thousands of dollars saved at Specsavers on other things.

4. What, if any, have been some key challenges you’ve faced?

Finding the right people who have the balance between clinical expertise and commercial capability. We have brought on board fantastic partners who meet both requirements but in the market we have noticed that there can be a sway too much one way or the other.

Another challenge is the optical retail space – it can be challenging to try and fit audiology into all our stores but it’s something we are working hard to address.

Finally – the sheer amount of activity for a small team who have been tasked with delivering a revolution. There are some additional services or products that we would have liked to provide already but we are lacking in resource.

I have to say though, what we have achieved thus far is quite remarkable and anything that we haven’t been able to accomplish yet will come in time – and will be an additional benefit for our customers and partners above what we are already providing.

5. Why did you initially want to head up Specsavers Audiology? Have your feelings changed?

There are two main reasons I wanted to lead Specsavers Audiology:

  1. The chance to head up a business that was going to challenge the status quo in a comfortable market was too great an opportunity to miss; and
  2. The opportunity to take my years of experience in establishing optical businesses for Specsavers around the world and turning that into similar thinking for audiology – while also raising the bar at the same time.

My feelings have changed in a way. Both of those reasons are still true, but I didn’t realise at the outset how much of difference we could make to people’s lives. That means I am more engaged than ever to make sure everything we do is even more beneficial for the customer.

Our hearing screening process identifies hearing issues in people who might never have known they had a hearing challenge. It has unlocked a whole group of people who may not have had a hearing loss resolution for a decade or more.

6. What’s next / what are your focuses for the year ahead?

For the next 12 months, our focus will be to continue to increase the number of Specsavers optometry stores providing audiology services.

We have plans between now and the end of 2021 to have at least 200 stores providing audiology services. We are also aiming to continue to tell our customers about the great value that we provide and introduce further products and services for our customers that will benefit them both clinically and financially.

7. What would you say to audiology professionals who have heard of us but haven’t yet joined us joint venture partnership with Specsavers Audiology?

I would tell them two things:

  1. Up until now, it’s been very easy to say, “I’ll wait to see if Specsavers will be successful; if they are true to their word.” The reality is we’re two years in, we aren’t going anywhere, we’re successful with more than 120 stores providing great value to customers. The longer you leave it there’s less chance you’ll get the store that you want to run a business in, in fact, chances are you might not have an opportunity to join us at all. If you genuinely ever felt you had a desire to run your own business, get out of the employment rat race, where KPIs and sales targets are the norm, this is almost the last opportunity you’ll have.
  2. Even if you didn’t necessarily think that running your own business was something you wanted to do, 15 minutes of your time for a phone conversation with one of our team or one of our partners about the experience at Specsavers Audiology will help educate you on what your future could look like.

To join Specsavers Audiology, or to have a private and confidential conversation about the business, contact us today on anz.audiologyrecruitment@specsavers.com or 0409 015 519.