Robin Carson

An audiologist working for years, Robin Carson decided to launch her own shop five years ago after a corporation bought her employer. The result: 26 percent sales growth last year.

Count Robin Carson in the ranks of accidental entrepreneurs. An audiologist for years, she’d always worked for someone else. And then one day, a large corporation bought her employer. “I didn’t want to go big,” she says. “I wanted to keep it personal, and I knew I would be lost in the shuffle in a big organization.” She decided to go out on her own, finding a location along Camp Bowie Boulevard on Fort Worth’s West Side, and signed a five-year lease before she wrote a business plan and “even knew how in the world I was going to pay for it.” That was five years ago in June. She’s added 800 square feet to her 1,200-square-foot office and added a second audiologist. Now with a team of four and 26 percent sales growth last year, Carson, who has an undergraduate degree in marketing and a doctorate in audiology, is looking for new ways to grow her Carson Hearing Care business. Next up: going mobile and visiting patients in their homes. “By the grace of God, it’s been a blessing and a whole lot to learn,” says Carson, a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization in Fort Worth. “Because I often joke that I’m a technician who had an entrepreneurial seizure.”

Getting started: “I had to come up with $125,000, was able to borrow money from my family, and paid back the loan within two and a half, three years. Really paid back the loan very quickly. My family has been a huge support. Nobody told me when I said I was going off on my own [and] that I was going to have the flexibility and autonomy and time with my kids, that was all BS.”

Growing: “We’re now at year 5 trying to figure out what do we do to reinvent ourselves. And so we’re adding different facets to our business, and one of them is going to be mobile hearing to get to our patients who can’t come to us. The new leg of our business is called Carson Hearing Care at Home. And it will be everything we can do here; we can bring to your mother or your grandparents.”

Differentiation: “We do not charge for initial consultation. We do a full routine diagnostic hearing evaluation, and then we decide, is this someone who needs to go to an ear, nose and throat physician for help, or is this somebody I can help hear better through technology and amplification or hearing aids? When the approach is amplification and that’s what we recommend, we then fit the devices and work lifetime care and maintenance. We see people at least a minimum of every six months for as long as both may live. You’re not going to get that care at a big franchise who’s really just running things as a retail business and not a relational one. I think patients would say it’s a lot of fun to come here; we do weird things you wouldn’t expect, like foster dogs. I also have the flexibility to choose any manufacturer. I’m not in bed with any one manufacturer.”

Changing customer: “We focus on the adult population, which would be 55 and older, I would say. In the 20 years I’ve been doing it, the market’s shifted from being, say, 75 and older, to now more of the baby boomer population that’s grown up with more noise exposure and more issues with their ears.”

Changing technology: “Hearing aid technology is crazy. It’s constantly changing, improving. Higher quality, better directional microphone and better Bluetooth capability. Better connectivity to the world around you, whether that’s connecting to your television, streaming music through your hearing aid, or answering your phone call. I should say, I wear hearing aids myself, so I have this first-hand passionate, driven curiosity about trying different technologies. And never putting technology on a person that I’ve never worn myself.”

Barrier – No Insurance: “Maybe 15-20 percent of people have coverage. Eighty percent of people are completely on their own. Hearing aids can cost $2,000, to $6,600.”

Working with doctors: “One thing doctors do is overlook our ears. They’ll say get your eyes checked, get your skin checked, get your colonoscopy, get your mammogram, but no one says you should get a baseline audiogram. Our push in the community is to educate the doctors [that] this should be something they say routinely. We’ll support that effort by doing the audiogram and sending you the results. It is kind of a misunderstood and overlooked part of our anatomy.”