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Hearing centre boss listens to business advice

The UK is the worse nation for looking after their hearing – 47% have never had a hearing test while the global average is 31%. A fact entrepreneur and audiologist Samantha Bennett is acutely aware of having helped the hard of hearing for nearly 30 years. Her businesses include Hear4u hearing centres, HealthScreen an occupational health service and online shop, Hearing Aid Accessories. Though initially sceptical of external help, support from the Business Gateway Growth Hub and East Midlands Chamber has assisted growth and the creation of a unique shopping app, HAA for the hard of hearing.

Samantha started Hear4u with one hearing centre in Hinckley in 2009. Today there are four centres in the Midlands and a head office employing 41 people. Her belief in diversification to build strength led to the creation of HealthScreen. This is a UK-wide mobile service which carries out health checks for businesses where workers may be exposed to chemicals or conditions that could cause harm.

Samantha explained: “Before joining East Midlands Chamber my mindset was very much “I don’t need any help, I’m not investing my money in that!” But I’ve got to be honest and say it’s become indispensable. The HR, legal help, networking and courses, everything!”

“We decided to try for funding to create the first app in the industry for the hard of hearing. I got in touch with the Chamber, and they put me in touch with Business Gateway Adviser, Aruna Bhagwan.

Her online shop, Hearing Aid Accessories has really taken off which is where the idea of an app came. Samantha continues, “When you think one in seven people in the world are deaf, and yet there are so many fashion apps, or apps for coffee and everything else, no one has created an app for the hard of hearing. To me, it seemed the intelligent thing to do.”

She was right. Within a few years, the app has achieved £1.5 million in turnover and is growing hugely in America.

Support from the Business Gateway is fully funded. Samantha continued: “Aruna has helped with lots of things. She pointed me to different people and organisations that could help with funding for the app. We’ve had some long conversations about the business, our challenges and where we want to go. We’ve also talked about getting the business valued as we’re semi-retired. It’s been immense, I’ve not been given advice like that before.”

Samantha is also on the Business Gateway’s Ambition to Grow programme which provides peer2peer support for business leaders. “I’ve gained a lot of management information from the sessions so far. It’s made me go back and look at key values and lots of other things we hadn’t been doing to make our current employees feel more wanted. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d get anything from it, but it’s made me realise how much I’ve actually lost, forgotten or dismissed. “

Samantha has also been speaking to Business Gateway consultant, Stuart Ross to get advice on valuing the business for investment. Samantha’s daughter, Tyler is already running Hear4u a lot of the time and will take over officially as managing director in June.

The business continues to innovate and is currently looking at over-the-counter hearing aids, particularly for the US market.

Samantha added: “You need people you can trust to talk to because if you are selling your business or looking for investment someone’s going to make (money) out of it. So, you want to be so careful what you take on board.

“Whereas with Aruna, the Chamber and people they signposted it’s been quite honest and humble advice. You haven’t felt that someone is gaining out of what you are doing. They just wanted to help you.”

Business Gateway Adviser Aruna Bhagwan added: “This is an established, successful business which has grown over the years. Despite her wide business experience Samantha has been open to new possibilities, trusted the process and utilised the different services on offer. We’ve worked through how to approach some of the challenges they’ve faced and built up a trusted, business relationship. It’s wonderful to hear she’s been so happy with the support given.”