Graham-Field marches forward

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

ATLANTA - It’s been more than five years since you could read a story about Graham-Field that did not include the words bankruptcy or comeback. But today, the company believes it’s found its footing, even as CEO Irwin Selinger awaits sentencing for a fraud and conspiracy conviction in federal court.

This month, G-F is set to begin shipping its Vista IC (industry compatible) manual wheelchair. It’s the most significant new product introduction in five to six years by G-F’s Everest & Jennings division and something of a resuscitation for a brand that all but expired during G-F’s bankruptcy.

The Vista IC is a next-generation version of the Vista II, which G-F rolled out last summer. The Vista II, a single-axle, gray powder-coated steel frame chair, didn’t move well in the industry, partly for compatibility reasons. The Vista IC’s front rigging is compatible with parts made by its rivals in the K0001/K0002 market.

“A dealer with a big inventory of Drive or Medline or Invacare or Sunrise/ Guardian - they’re pretty much standardized at an inch-and-a-half on the front rigging,” said Joe Ticer, director of mobility and rehab at G-F. “It’s really hard for a dealer to mix inventory.”

After the Vista IC, G-F plans to march up the manual wheelchair line, turning out K0003 thru K0006 chairs. G-F lost its high-end K0005 business when Invacare acquired the rights to market Kuschall brand products. This summer, E&J also intends to roll out a Metro Power II power wheelchair.

E&J will continue to build its chairs in Indonesia, where manufacturing operations moved 10 years ago, but the command center for mobility operations is relocating to a new facility in Denver.

G-F moved its Labac seating and positioning manufacturing from an inadequate facility to the new plant nearer the airport. All E&J parts will come out of Denver; custom products will be configured there; testing and engineering will run out of a lab in the same place.

“We have created a seating and mobility center for the company, which allows us to consolidate our knowledge and talent and reserves all in one building,” said Ticer. “It’s been something that [we] have put together in the last six months.”

Beyond mobility, G-F has moved its homecare bed manufacturing operation from China to Fond du Lac, Wisc. The company is importing motors from Germany and other parts from off-shore, but the welding, manufacturing and assembly are now done in the United States.

“We felt that if we could bring in the components, because we had the capacity, we could spread the overhead over both our long-term care business and our home care business and it’s working,” said Mike Norby, senior vice president of sales and marketing.

Although suppliers say they don’t hear much from G-F these days, the feedback the VGM Group is getting about G-F’s new distribution deal with Gulf South is pretty good (see HME News, Nov. 2003).

“Their relationship with Gulf South for standard E&J products is a real positive move,” said VGM President Ron Bendell. “Gulf So uth has a history of being able to deliver in a real timely fashion to the HME provider, and that can only benefit [G-F’s] efforts.”
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