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Unitron Hear Life - November 2023

Interview with Paul Thompson Chief Operating Officer, Unitron Hearing

Paul Thompson

May 24, 2000
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Beck: Paul, please tell us a little about yourself before we get into corporate issues.

Thompson: I have been working with Unitron for the past four years, primarily involved in strategic planning and execution and growth of the business through investment, sales growth, new product development as well as mergers/acquisitions. I was recently promoted to the position of Chief Operating Officer of Unitron. Prior to joining Unitron, I worked with Ernst & Young (a professional services firm) for 10 years; primarily as a management consultant for entrepreneurial growth companies. Unitron was one of my clients while at Ernst & Young. I have a Chartered Accountant and Certified Management Consultant designation.

Beck: Now that Lori and Unitron and Argosy have essentially 'merged' , can you discuss the rationale and the benefits behind this move?

Thompson: Unitron has been well known as an International company with excellent BTE products, but we had two areas of weakness: we lacked ITE expertise and we lacked USA market share. The motivation for the mergers with Lori and Argosy was to address our weaknesses. We have quadrupled our USA market share and added an excellent line of ITE products and expertise to our combined organizations. In addition, the Unitron BTE products are a perfect fit for Lori and Argosy who focused on ITE products. The other motivating factor in the Lori merger was the Micro Factory approach to sales, manufacturing and customer service. This model has proven to be unparalleled in providing our customers with the level of service they need. Finally, the shareholders of Lori and Argosy recognized the importance of belonging to a larger, International business.

Beck: What about the physical space requirements for the Lori-Unitron facility? Where is the factory located?

Thompson: Lori Unitron is located in a new facility in Golden Valley, just outside Minneapolis. Unitron had a facility in Port Huron, Michigan which was closed several months after the merger with Lori. The merger provided the opportunity to be more cost efficient by combining two businesses into one location. When the Unitron production was transferred from Michigan to Minnesota, Lori Unitron (the name of the combined business) moved into a new facility twice the size of the previous Lori facility.

Beck: So how did Argosy enter the picture?

Thompson: Shortly after the merger with Lori, we met with the shareholders of Argosy Electronics to discuss their business, their goals and their future. We all realized the industry is consolidating and that there were advantages in combining our businesses together. On March 7
2000, we officially merged with Argosy; however, both Lori Unitron and Argosy are run independently.

Beck: Tell me about the sales force. Traditionally I thought Lori and Argosy did not have outside reps, wheras Unitron does have outside reps.

Thompson: In the past, Lori provided customer support through its Micro Factory approach while Argosy provided customer support through a customer service department. Unitron, on the other hand, used outside sales reps supported by an inside customer service department. At Lori Unitron, we have teamed up the Micro Factory Manager and the outside sales rep, for a particular territory, to provide unequaled customer service. Argosy will also be expanding its customer service and outside rep personnel.

Beck: What can you tell me a little about your upcoming digital products.

Thompson: Unitron/Lori Unitron launched its first digital product, called Digital Sound F/X, a few months ago. It's available in all shell styles, BTE through CIC. Unitron has also been developing a premium digital product line for a few years now, and we're ready to release it in the next few months. The Lori Unitron product will be called NEXUS. As a late comer to the digital market, we needed to develop a product with extreme flexibility, competitive pricing and new features which are more highly evolved - all with a simple programming package. In addition, Argosy has been developing a digital product using similar hardware and technology to the Lori Unitron product. This product is also scheduled for release in a few months.

Beck: Simple is good. I think many of us in hearing health care would like to see less manufacturer-specific protocols. That is, more general, standardized, fitting protocols would be a great relief. Another concern is the 'sticker shock' many patients get when they price digital hearing aids. What do you think the future holds for the pricing of digitals?

Thompson: As digital products grow in popularity, as manufacturers increase the breadth of digital product offerings and as changes occur in the development and distribution, we believe the price of digital hearing aids will spread - lower cost alternatives will be available in addition to higher priced, premium products.

Beck: One thing which has been frustrating for many audiologists is that it seems like the marketplace is pulling technology forward, rather than patient-based research outcomes. We all know digital is a higher technology, but there is little evidence of the 'digital advantage'. Will the Nexus product line address this issue?

Thompson: Yes, we believe that NEXUS will meet the needs of both our customers and our customers' patient. That is, superior features with simple programming/fitting interface and proven benefits to the end user will result in higher patient satisfaction. Unitron has done a good job in approaching the development of NEXUS - effectively combining the marketing and development groups - resulting in a market and customer-driven product.

Beck: Paul, how can the audiologists find out more about the products, the corporation and the two divisions?

Thompson: They can e-mail me directly at pthompso@unitron.com and I'll get back to them ASAP.

Beck: Thanks for your time, good luck with the new organization and the Nexus line of instruments.

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Paul Thompson

Chief Operating Officer, Unitron Hearing



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