Strategy and businesses
The retail business is an integral part of Sonova’s consumer focused strategy and vertically integrated business model. Operating through a range of well-established local brands, the business comprises a global retail platform of 3,500 stores in 18 countries, with over 6,000 employees. Retail complements the emphasis on innovation and quality of hearing experience in Sonova’s other businesses with a passionate dedication to service: providing world class audiological care and expertise in an accessible, welcoming environment.
Regaining the delight of hearing is a uniquely personal journey, different for every person. Our deep commitment to operational excellence represents a promise to find the best way to support each individual at every stage of that journey. Our training, solutions, systems, procedures – even the design of our stores – are all focused on the consumer’s practical and emotional needs.
After a period of rapid expansion and integration, the retail business is now firmly founded on three pillars: affordability, services, and expertise. Affordability means maximum access to hearing solutions for the maximum number of people: Sonova’s unmatched breadth of hearing solutions and knowledge gives us the unique ability to serve every hearing need. Services allow us to offer a seamless, supportive experience, from first contact to after-sales care, tailored to the consumer’s individual profile. Expertise ensures that the solutions and services we offer are relevant and appropriate – and that they sound good, look good, and are easy to use.
The global reach of the retail business and the vertical integration of our business model put Sonova in a uniquely advantageous position. Not only can we offer consumers in selected major markets the full spectrum of hearing solutions, efficiently and expertly, but we have the direct contact with consumer experience to help inform and direct each new innovation cycle. In every encounter, we are listening to our market and deepening our understanding.
Key areas of activity
The past year has seen significant progress in our retail business. After Sonova completed the acquisition of AudioNova in September 2016, we began the transition of all product lines in the combined retail group to Sonova technology; this process has now largely been completed.
At the same time, consumers are benefiting from the integration and connectivity of Sonova solutions, including cochlear implants as well as hearing aids. Collaboration between our retail businesses and Advanced Bionics makes it possible to identify potential adult candidates for a cochlear implant through in-store audiological screening, followed by reference to an audiological Excellence Center for further testing and, when appropriate, an implantation clinic. Given the growing need for cochlear implants or combined implant and hearing aid solutions among adults with severe to profound hearing loss, it is an important advantage for those providing front-line audiological care to be able to offer information, screening, and support to potential implant candidates.
The Excellence Centers in our retail business in Austria are one example of a concept that we are extending across our markets, beginning in Germany and the Netherlands: expertise clusters. These are state-of-the-art centers where consumers with highly specific or complex needs (or who seek the most innovative solutions) can encounter the full range of Sonova solutions – hearing aids, cochlear implants, wireless communication products – supported by the most advanced equipment, testing, and expertise. Our Schoonenberg network in the Netherlands operates nine of these centers – and in 2017, we acquired ISMA GmbH & Co. KG in Germany, which offers a premium hearing aid fitting process including auditory training to help activate the processing of hearing signals in the brain. Such training helps to secure the greatest benefit from hearing technology, because while the ears may sense sounds, it is the brain that actually hears them.
A similar expertise cluster strategy stands behind our decision to rationalize our operations in the US, creating full-service “hubs” in key markets, where consumers have access to the complete range of Sonova solutions (including such specialized areas as pediatric solutions and Roger wireless communications). These regional hubs will be surrounded by smaller “satellite” offices providing day-to-day services and referrals to the hubs. This concentration of more advanced services should allow us to maintain growth in our US business with fewer physical locations.
Close integration and operational excellence give us the freedom to pursue our growth strategy in selected markets, including new store openings and acquisitions, organic sales increases through increased footfall, closer relationships to medical clinics, partnerships with local communities of potential users, and fostering the careers of talented audiologists. In France, for example, where the number of stores increased by 15 over the last 12 months to reach more than 200 in total, we have developed ambitious growth plans, and we see further potential in Italy and Canada.
Over the past year, we have continued to implement the integration of previously acquired retail businesses to ensure uniform and efficient delivery of excellent consumer service. In each of our markets, we are integrating retail back office functions and harmonizing IT systems for all local brands. In Germany, for example, our local brand head offices will be combined in 2018/19 into one facility in Dortmund. Generally, we aim to reduce to one brand-name for each major market. We also consolidated the headquarters for our retail operations in Switzerland where we share key corporate functions with other businesses.
The journey to better hearing depends on making connections: between the hearing care professional and the consumer, between the technology and its user – and between people, in conversation and in shared enjoyment of life. Across its businesses, Sonova actively seeks the greatest possible connectivity, opening paths to ever better innovation, ease of use, and natural hearing experience. In the retail business, one focus of connectivity is the eSolutions platform: an integrated suite of internet-based tools that streamline and enrich every stage of the consumer experience, from initial awareness of hearing loss through assessment, counseling, trialing technology, to long-term living with a hearing solution.
As these tools are perfected, we put them to use in selected markets to gain consumer feedback and experience. In New Zealand, we began this journey with hearing-test kiosks in pharmacies; at Boots in the UK, our eScreener app has conducted more than 90,000 screenings, with a 97% positive ease-of-use rating. Our eAssessment app, which conducts a pre-visit questionnaire, has an 80% rate of conversion1.
In the coming year, this drive for connectivity will be accelerated through the technologies made possible by the SWORD 2.4GHz wireless chip, with its “Made For All” Bluetooth® communications protocol. From screening, through adaptation, adjustment, assistance, and aftercare, our aim is to give consumers all the control, connection, and support they expect from meeting their hearing care professional – but at the time and place of their choice.
- Source: Sonova user satisfaction surveys, 2015–2017