Invacare power play nets a seating gem

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

ELYRIA, Ohio - Invacare rattled the seating-and-positioning market recently when it bought Motion Concepts, the popular power system manufacturer that services the chairs of many of Invacare’s rivals.

And that’s the way Invacare hopes it will stay. The company pledges to keep a wall between its operations and those of the Toronto-based tilt-and-recline manufacturer.

“They (Motion Concepts) have their own product development, their own manufacturing, and their own sales force and marketing,” said Lou Slangen, Invacare’s senior vice president of sales and marketing. “As a matter of fact, they will be competing with Invacare, to try to get their product on Invacare chairs. “

Invacare currently manufactures power positioning products for its power bases under the Tarsys brand name. Motion Concepts makes more specialized systems for a wider variety of chairs.

In fact, Motion’s systems have been designed with so many different power bases in mind that rehab technology suppliers will frequently install the positioning system to the chair themselves. Otherwise, power-base manufacturers will ship their chairs to Motion for the installation.

Under Invacare ownership, rehab suppliers fear that non-Invacare power bases that now go to Motion for positioning systems may be back-burnered in favor of Invacare chairs.

When Invacare acquired Tarsys, some providers believe that Invacare intended to keep that company separate.

“When Invacare first bought Tarsys, they said categorically that they will have that product available for (other power bases),” said Simon Margolis, vice president for clinical and professional development at National Seating & Mobility. “Then of course, if you were putting it on a Sunrise chair, it began to take a little longer, and longer, and after a while it became a defacto situation where you could really only get Tarsus on Invacare.”

In its Aug. 18 2003, Invacare stated that Motion Concepts “will be operated as an independently run unit of Invacare.” In its Nov. 8, 1994 acquisition of Genus Medical, which included Tarsys, Invacare acknowledged that the Tarsys system was a favorite among health care professionals, but made no claims there about an independent operating unit.

Slangen said the more apt comparison of the company’s intentions with Motion Concepts is Dynamic Controls, a maker of electronic controls for power wheelchairs. In a June 28, 1993 press release, Invacare said the Christchurch, New Zealand company would “operate as an independent business.”

That, said Slangen, has happened.

“If Dynamic Controls had become an Invacare self-serving program, we would have destroyed that company. We haven’t,” he said. “I would say that (business with competitors) is the larger part of our (Dynamic Controls) business.”

The distinction is an important one for Invacare. As the company seeks to reach the $2 billion in sales mark by 2006, about half of those sales are expected to come through acquisitions and the development of independently operated subsidiaries, like Dynamic Controls, Motion Concepts, The Aftermarket Group and Kuschall.

(Invacare recently pulled Kuschall North America out of Graham-Field’s bankruptcy. The fledgling manual wheelchair company will be run independently and managed by Terry Mulkey, who left Sunrise Medical as senior vice president of sales in 2001.)

In the meantime, industry observers say the Motion Concepts acquisition will stimulate new efforts in power-positioning research and development.

“You’ll see other companies spin up,” said Ed Curley, vice president of Hudson Home Health Care. “It’s going to help the individuals who need these systems.”

Quantum Rehab, whose chairs are frequently outfitted with Motion Concepts systems, has recently rolled out its TRU Balance super low power tilt positioning system. Pride is expected to roll out a tilt-and-recline competitor to Motion’s system with in the next several months.

“We are making sure our systems can interface with all chairs,” said Scott Higley, Quantum’s vice president of sales. “As a member of the rehab community, it would be a disservice to providers to not allow them to interface a seating system if they think it’s better for their chairs.”