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Olive Branch couple turns an ear toward hearing aid venture

After Joe Pickler was downsized from his job as a software salesman, he wasn’t ready to head into retirement. Instead, he and his wife, Gayle, a medical space planner, decided to start their own business.

“No one wanted to hire a 64-year-old salesman,” Pickler said. “We are knowledgeable and talented. So we decided we would just open our own business. We wanted to do something in a career that helps others. My dad had bought some hearing aids in October, and had nothing but trouble with them. We had heard about Zounds Hearing, and talked to several franchisees. We were really impressed with what we learned about the company.”

Zounds Hearing was founded by engineer Sam Thomasson, who developed what the company calls “the world’s most technologically advanced hearing aid” after seeing the frustration his hearing-impaired daughter, Kate, was having with traditional hearing aids. Thomasson said although they paid as much as $7,000 for hearing aids, his daughter struggled to understand speech and hear in noisy environments like a restaurant or car.

Thomasson said the noise reduction technology used by the hearing aids just reduced the overall volume. To solve the problem, he said he developed a technology that can tell the difference between human sounds and other sounds like wind, road and air conditioning noise.

“The first technology solved about half of the problem,” said Thomasson, who has 57 patents on his work. “The second technology that I developed creates a cone of listening in front of the hearing aid wearer in noisy conditions. The combination of these two technologies gets rid of up to 90 percent of unwanted noise, while enhancing voice.”

Pickler said another innovative thing about Zounds Hearing is that there are fewer middlemen in the process, which allows the hearing aids to be sold at less cost than most other hearing aids. The hearings aids start at about $1,000 per pair.

“A typical hearing aid by the time it gets to the end user has been marked up four times,” said Pickler, who traveled to Phoenix, Ariz., to meet with the CEO and other executives with Zounds Hearing before the couple decided to invest in the franchise. “We don’t have that. We manufacture our own hearing aids. They are much less expensive than anything around. They are more affordable, and yet they are better technology. People say they can hear better than they have in 20 years. Sometimes people cry because they are so excited to hear again.”

The hearing aids are rechargeable, which many users find convenient and affordable.

Courtesy photo Joe and Gayle Pickler of Olive Branch opened Zounds Hearing after deciding they wanted a new career where they could help others.

Joe and Gayle Pickler of Olive Branch opened Zounds Hearing after deciding they wanted a new career where they could help others.

The Picklers opened Zounds Hearing of North Mississippi at 6915 Crumpler Avenue across from the Olive Branch Kroger June 10, and plan to open a branch on Wolf River Boulevard in Germantown, Tenn., by the end of July. But they aren’t just sitting at the office waiting for people to find the business. Pickler, a self-described extrovert, has been going across North Mississippi and into South Tennessee giving talks about hearing loss and offering free hearing tests.

Pickler said the John Hopkins Institute has done research showing that loss of hearing can lead to dementia and social withdrawal.

“Imagine standing in a crowd of four or five friends and getting tired of saying, “Huh? I can’t understand that,’” he said. “You won’t be participating in the conversation. What we do is correct that so people can hear well enough to join back in social interactions. After an extended period of time, if you aren’t hearing well, your brain starts translating language into gibberish. It has a negative impact on the brain having hearing loss for a long period of time. People often don’t realize how much it will improve their lifestyle by being able to hear better.”

Pickler said the John Hopkins study also shows that a senior’s loss of hearing can lead to a 60 percent greater chance of accidents such as falls in the home and in public—another good reason for hearing correction.

The business is targeting products to people who are over 50 — not just those over 65. Pickler believes many of the younger people could benefit from hearing aids. Pickler would like people to know that while Medicare and Medicaid don’t cover hearing aids, the Mississippi Department of Vocational Rehabilitation can provide assistance purchasing hearing aids for people who need hearing aids to continue working.

A licensed hearing instrument specialist does the testing and fitting for the Picker’s Zounds Hearing outlets. Testing is always free. For more information, and to listen to a hearing demonstration, see the website www.hearmasters.comzounds.

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