Permobil sheds mom-and-pop status

Saturday, December 31, 2005

LEBANON, Tenn. - With new owners and increased financial resources, high-end wheelchair manufacturer Permobil now intends to speed up product development and increase its presence in the mid-level market.
"We want to take care of more consumers, and not just in this high-end market," said President Larry Jackson. "We never want to lose that, but we think there is a whole other group of people down there looking for what we call the 'Permobil experience': Not only making a good product but being able to back it up with a quality dealership organization."
Nordic Capital, a Norwegian private investment firm, acquired Permobil in late November from the Swedish Foundation for Technical Aid for Disabled Persons and Handinter Gamma, owned by the sons of Permobil's founder Per Udden and members of the corporate management. The company's management will remain the same.
Permobil generates about $110 million in sales annually and employs about 500 people. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The deal makes sense for both sides, say industry watchers. It allows the foundation to take some money off the table and invest in other ventures. It allows Nordic Capital, which called Permobil's prospects "great," an opportunity to take the company to the next level.
"This is a stepping stone for us," Jackson said. "(We) go from a little bit of a mom-and-pop company to a little more of a professional organization."
Permobil currently makes 14 different wheelchair models, most of them high-end power products for people with involved disabilities. The company now wants to "move down but not all the way down" and build more wheelchairs for people who require fewer power options, Jackson said.
Thus far, the company has not received the "critical acclaim that we want" for its mid-level products, said Jackson, but he expects that to change.
"We've seen with our growth that if we get to show the product and we have the right pricing, we compete well with our competition," he said.