Wednesday, March 31, 2004

ELYRIA, Ohio – Invacare, perhaps the most ubiquitous brand in mobility equipment, is continuing a strategy of keeping its well-established nameplate off newly acquired product lines.

As it did with Toronto-based Motion Concepts and Dynamic Controls in New Zealand, Invacare is giving its latest acquisition, Simi Valley, Calif.-based Freedom Designs operational autonomy. The same goes for Allschwil, Switzerland-based Kuschall, which is re-entering the North American market after several years away.

In each instance, the companies will retain their own identities and operate as independent organizations, maintaining separate headquarters, sales forces and customer service staffs.

Allowing the companies to function as stand-alone entities reinforces the brand value each has built up with its respective clientele and will augment – not compete with – Invacare’s lines, said Lou Slangen, senior vice president of sales and marketing.

“Outside America, Kuschall is viewed as the brand – it is the BMW of custom manual chairs,” he said. “Freedom Designs has the ability to serve multiple bases within their system. They address a segment of the market Invacare would be hard pressed to serve.”

Kuschall, owned by Invacare since 1995, has gained a reputation for making state-of-the art lightweight and ultra lightweight wheelchairs. It once served the American marketplace but in recent years has only been available in Europe. Company officials decided to re-introduce the Kuschall brand to the U.S. and Canada after being inundated with requests from consumers here, Slangen said.

“There is underlying demand – they want access to this product,” he said.

Kuschall North America will be based in Longmont, Colo., led by industry veteran Terry Mulkey, formerly of Sunrise Medical and most recently a partner in the manufacturer’s rep firm Med Runners. The ultra light chairs, which employ a composite of titanium, aluminum and carbon materials, will initially be imported from Switzerland.

“Over time we will take steps to assemble and manufacture here,” Mulkey said. “Right now we are bringing in the European chair, which is a generation or two ahead of what is currently available. We believe we can make delivery to U.S. dealers in a reasonable amount of time.”

Freedom Designs will be an independent subsidiary, retaining its own design, engineering and sales staffs and will continue to make seating and mobility products for the pediatric market.

“Freedom gives Invacare the ability to cover the entire spectrum of seating,” Slangen said. “They’ve done a phenomenal job in growing the company in the California and Texas markets. Now we want to expand sales and distribution across the country.”