By Stefani Kim
It was a simple decision but it changed the entire course of her career.
As a graduate student on-track to becoming a speech pathologist, Nola Aronson, MA, took an audiology class to enhance her understanding of the students she was working with, not knowing how the trajectory of her coursework would soon veer in a different direction.
“I was a special education teacher, and in 1978 I decided I wanted to get my master’s degree, so I went to Cal State Long Beach. I was becoming a speech pathologist because the kids I was working with had speech and language problems so I thought ‘Oh, that would be good’ but, while I was there, I took a pediatric audiology class and I said, ‘Oh, this is what I want to do,’” says Aronson.
This year, Aronson’s Santa Clarita, Calif-based practice, Nola Aronson’s Advanced Audiology celebrates 30 years in business. Aronson also has a part-time office in Mission Hills, Calif, and recently purchased Audiology Services of Newhall, also in Santa Clarita.
Though Aronson’s long tenure in the city is a testament to her abilities as an audiologist as much as it is to her skills as a businesswoman, she credits her support of local organizations as a crucial element of her success within her “small community.”
“I donate 10% of my hearing aid proceeds to a different nonprofit every single month,” says Aronson. “Some of my nonprofits are the Circle of Hope, Michael Hoefflin Foundation, the senior center. I work in what resembles a ‘small community,’ even though it has 220,000 people in it; it’s a small community because everybody who’s anybody knows each other. It’s very community-oriented, so I try to tell people ‘When you buy a hearing aid from me you’re also giving back to your community and helping your community out.’”
And people in the community have taken notice. Aronson has been recognized—both as a business owner and an individual—with various awards including a 2017 American Hearing Aid Associates (AHAA) Organizational Development Award, 2015-16 Best Small Business of the Year Award from the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Valley Industrial Association’s 2016 Rising Star Award, a 2016 Ultimate Female Small Business Executive Award from Elite Magazine, as well as being named as a Santa Clarita Valley Community Champion.
It is that symbiotic, community-based outlook that anchors Aronson firmly in her city but also informs her best business practices. She stresses the importance of her staff members on her bottom line and believes that it is through their collaborative efforts that her business is stronger.
“You must reward them [staff] for what they do, show your appreciation, and make each person feel like they own the business,” she says.
Aronson believes strongly in “promoting from within.” With a sense of pride, she describes training a woman who previously worked in a billing capacity within her practice, to become a top-notch hearing aid specialist. The woman shadowed Aronson, becoming her “mini-me” so that she could learn, top to bottom, how a hearing care practice ran. She performed duties like cleaning hearing aids and counseling patients, and was able to pass the qualifying test to become a hearing aid specialist on the first try. “She [now] dispenses 65 hearing aids per month,” says Aronson.
Staff members are incentivized to grow the business with “bonus programs” that include commission opportunities for wellness referrals and reactivations of existing patients who purchase hearing aids.
In the same way that she tries to make the success of her business a collaborative effort between herself and her staff members, Aronson strives to strike a balance between a patient’s hearing care needs and the financial obstacles that may stand their way.
“I talk a lot to the patient before I even do a hearing test,” says Aronson. ”I find out what the patient’s needs are. A lot of times I’ll know what the patient wants at the very beginning.
“Our main focus is to help people lead better social lives by being able to communicate better because of their hearing—that’s our motto. Who would I be if I didn’t provide a budget for every single type of person? It’s not always the most expensive, but it’s the best.”
And, like many hearing care professionals facing an existential crisis in the wake of competition from “Big Box” stores and other over-the-counter retailers, Aronson is pragmatic both about her value as a highly-skilled practitioner and the ways in which she can retain and attract new patients.
“The reason I use CareCredit is that we have to charge more money—being a private practice— but we also give full quality service. We give batteries for the life of the hearing aid, we give free quarterly cleanings and adjustments, we have walk-in hours twice a day…We’re always there and we’re not nickel and diming people,” says Aronson.
Furthermore, she believes that offering a financing option like CareCredit levels the playing field for patients, allowing an egalitarian standard of care.
“Not everybody can afford a top-of-the-line hearing aid but, through using CareCredit, it makes it easier for them because once you say ‘You can have 12 months at no interest’ then they start thinking about ‘Well, I do could that.’ That way I can give everybody better hearing and not just a few people. I think that people [visiting Big Box retailers] don’t realize that. People think that because they’re paying less money, they’re getting the same thing. That’s the myth we have to get across to everybody because number one, the technology coming out of giant retailers is two years behind, they think it’s the same exact thing. And also, in terms of our staff training, the staff in my private practice is committed to the patient at every step of the way.”
But the choice to use financing is not necessarily due to a lack of available funds to pay for treatment, as Aronson points out. Some people just prefer to spread their payments over time, and appreciate the option to do so.
“Allowing people to finance has definitely increased my sales,” says Aronson. “Because people will walk out the door if you require all the money upfront. That’s another thing that we do that is different. Most of the time we will give free ‘test drive’ periods where they put down a credit card hold, but they don’t pay us anything until we know that they know that the hearing aids work for them. So that also helps people with their financing—we know people are skeptical and are asking ‘What if this doesn’t work for me?’ We go over [the returns] law very carefully with each person (45 days in California) letting them know that they do not have to keep the hearing aid if it doesn’t work for them.”
But, in a highly competitive hearing aid market, sometimes it pays to have your customer’s best interests at heart, says Aronson, summing up her approach to patient care.
”We want them to know we’re not trying to sell them a hearing aid, we’re trying to help them hear better. And we’re giving them a solution to their problems—that’s our motto there too. We’re solutions-oriented, not sales-oriented but if you’re having financial problems, we have a solution for you.”
Nola Aronson, MA, CCC-A
Nola Aronson’s Advanced Audiology
23822 Valencia Blvd.
Valencia, CA 91355
Stefani Kim is an associate editor at MEDQOR.