September 1, 2012
EarQ Group President Ed Keller stands at the back of the hearing-aid provider’s new building on Erie Boulevard West and points to a hockey net, basketball hoop, and mock football field.
“We’ve got this extra space here, and we’re turning it into a positive extension of what we’re doing,” he says. “We’re having meetings now where we’re shooting hockey pucks just to break down some barriers. We’re afraid of barriers. We’re afraid of complacency.”
The growing EarQ wasn’t complacent with its old headquarters facilities, which consisted of about 4,000 square feet of space leased in buildings Keller owns at 1900 and 1903 W. Genesee St. So the firm purchased a 13,000-square-foot building at 701 Erie Blvd. W. in Syracuse and moved its 35 employees there on Aug. 10.
EarQ closed on the building, which had been owned by MAC Source Communications, Inc., in June. It acquired the facility using its own cash in a deal brokered by Syracuse-based JF Real Estate for $625,000 after MAC Source moved up the street to 509 Erie Blvd. W., Keller says.
EarQ spent about $150,000 of its own cash renovating its new Erie Boulevard headquarters after it purchased the building, according to Keller. It did not make any changes to the building’s floor plan or hire a general contractor, instead using smaller contractors for new paint, new carpets, and electrical work.
Employee reaction to the new building has been positive, says Andrew Hebert, EarQ’s managing director.
“Everybody’s excited to be under one roof,” he says. “They’re ecstatic about being in this work environment.”
EarQ added five employees last year, according to Hebert. He and Keller expect the company to continue to grow by five to seven employees annually.
EarQ set aside about 4,000 square feet in the back of its new building for what Keller calls “creative space.” The company has the option of turning the space into offices if it needs to do so in the future, but for the time being it will remain as an area for company employees to get their creative blood pumping.
“Because there are so many people with untreated hearing loss, we have to constantly challenge ourselves on how we communicate,” says Keller, who is also EarQ’s majority shareholder. “We use a variety of different environments to help us develop new ideas.”
Keller has plans to grow EarQ’s revenue from $20 million in 2011 to about $30 million this year to $50 million in 2013. He anticipates generating $80 million to $100 million in revenue in three to five years.
Totaling about $50 million in annual revenue will allow EarQ to operate efficiently on a national scale, Keller says. The company, which distributes its products through about 1,400 privately owned providers in all 50 states, will have relatively high administrative and marketing costs until it increases its revenue, he adds. EarQ does not manufacture hearing aids, but it contracts with other firms for production.
Sales growth for EarQ will come as members of the baby-boom generation age and search for hearing-loss solutions, according to Keller. And it will come as EarQ reaches out to members of other demographics who have traditionally been less willing to wear a hearing aid or haven’t even considered treating hearing loss, he adds.
To that end, EarQ has reached an endorsement deal with former NFL quarterback Steve Grogan, who played for the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX. Reaching out to Grogan, who is in his late 50s and has hearing loss, is an example of using creative thinking to market beyond the limits of stereotypes that often cast hearing-aid users as older, he says.
“I wouldn’t stereotype a Super Bowl quarterback as having a hearing difficulty,” Keller says. “They’re too strong. They’re too powerful. So you make connections, and what you’re going to see from us this fall is a couple hundred of our providers nationwide are going to be running an advertising campaign with Steve Grogan as our national spokesperson.”
EarQ also works with companies and other groups to offer employees benefits such as equipment discounts and extended warranties. It has relationships with groups including the National Football League Players Association, National Basketball Retired Players Association, NASA, and GE, according to Keller.