Can audiologists learn from Trader Joe’s?
As I stood in a long line of shoppers, 60 deep in the garage, waiting anxiously to be one of the 10-people-at-a-time inside our local Trader Joes (TJs) to pick up groceries for the weekend, something came to me. I waited 40 min in a line with many others, all standing a minimum 6 feet apart (practicing good social distancing) in a parking garage with possible poor circulation, for TJs. Granted, the staff were excellent, talking with us, playing upbeat music for us and shouting out trivia questions, of which I correctly answered that the senior-only shopping hour was from 8-9am, embarrassingly showing my age, however, winning me a bag of TJs branded peanut butter cups #NoRegrets. I knew that I could have just run to Ralphs, our local Kroger’s store, where there are no lines, and could have been home by the time I even set foot inside this TJs.
Why did I wait that long for...groceries? Did I really need the anxiety of the fight to get a parking space? Did I really care to wrestle through those narrow aisles to grab the items I need…IF they were still available? And they don’t have the brands I know, or the variety of products that I grew up accustomed to. What the heck?!
The reason is simple…TJs is awesome.
1. Less variety = greater sales. They reduce the variety, only offering a small variety, thus reducing our choice. A study showed more people purchased a product when they were offered 3 options versus 9 options. So, only 2 options of sliced cheddar cheese, not 14.
2. Lower prices wins the day. Due to the reduction of variety, they often sell more of one product, thus creating a bulk-buy type of situation from their distributors and manufacturers. Negotiations for pricing becomes easier when you can sell more of a product, thus getting a better deal on said product.
3. Private labeling. Trader Joes is not a manufacturer, but, their private labeled products are created by large companies and either rebranded or slightly modified to create a Trader Joes ‘product’. I do love Trader Giottos...molto bello!!
4. Customer service and our shopping experience is key. Their hyper-focus on a great shopping experience and customer service has created a fandom no grocery store has ever seen or has been able to duplicate. Many have tried to replicate TJs success and process, and have failed.
5. No gimmicks. TJs does not advertise (except for the Fearless Flyer), they don’t have a strong social media presence, no sales, and no rewards programs.
6. Duplicatability. Yeah, I might have made that word up. I can go to any TJs in Los Angeles and expect the exact same store and products.
What the heck does this have to do with private practice audiology?! Surprisingly, a lot. Let’s go step by step, correlating the above 5 items I listed that makes TJs great, and use it for our practices to make them great as well.
1. Less variety = greater sales. When discussing hearing aids as a treatment, many providers tend to offer everything including the kitchen sink. This tactic tends to either confuse the patient or distort their idea of what could be their best treatment option. I recommend in your history taking to define their core areas that need improving, and then focusing on 2-3 options when making recommendations. Example, company executive in meetings, restaurants, noisy rooms and phone calls. Offer the premium and advanced options only. This also holds true for which companies you use...
2. Lower prices wins the day. Let’s not confuse lower prices as lower prices to the patient. Your cost of goods is critical in paying your bills as well as profitability. Buying strategically from 1-2 manufacturers versus routinely from all 5 (or more depending on your definition of a hearing aid manufacturer) can help in negotiating better pricing. The reality of our situation is that hearing aids are ONLY as good as the provider and most of the hearing aids out there can perform at similar levels. Take 5 great providers, using 5 different manufacturers, and I guarantee you’ll see equal levels of patient satisfaction. However, know that I am NOT condoning buying huge quantities to sit on your shelves, if anything, I’d recommend against pitting your decision making on what’s on the shelf.
3. Private labeling. Although this works for TJs, the only way I’d recommend private labeling is if the circuitry is on an open platform which any provider with that manufacturer's software can program. Anyone selling locked devices should be considered unethical, and soon license boards will join that idea, and will be looking at this as a consumer protection issue.
4. Customer service and the shopping experience is key. It goes without saying that a happy patient will tell their friends and family. A disgruntled patient will tell the world. From the moment your patient arrives, to the moment they leave, they should have a great experience. They may not remember my name, or the model of their hearing aids, but, they’ll remember how they felt in your clinic and that should be key!
5. No gimmicks. Quit the sales tactics, the fake BOGO offers, the fake 50% off deals, the free turkeys for a hearing test…you come off as a salesperson who is not focused on the patient but are focused on the sale. Patients see it, feel it and they distrust you.
6. Duplicatability. If you have multiple providers, become more homogenous. Learn what works from each other and create processes that are identical so when one provider is out, your patient doesn’t get a whole different experience with another provider.
I know I can probably find a frozen pack of gnocchi elsewhere, or the ‘Everything But the Bagel’ spice, but, I actually love the lack of choices – makes my decision making ability much easier. I love when Barbara asks me about my dog (she helped me right after we adopted with appropriate snacks). I love the expectation of what I’m getting myself into! Our patients want these things as well. So, when you’re offering up a solution to your patients, be more like Trader Joes.
-Amit Gosalia, AuD