Pride ramps up lift biz

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

EXETER, Pa. -- Pride Mobility Products is planning its first acquisition since the company added scooters to its product portfolio in 1989.
The power mobility manufacturer recently signed a letter of intent to buy Silver Star Mobility, a Medford, Ore.-based manufacturer of vehicle lifts that's generating several million dollars in sales annually. The deal is expected to close early this month.
Pride CEO Scott Meuser said slower growth in the company's core power wheelchair business has stimulated interest in companies that make products in adjacent categories.
"When the core markets are growing very rapidly, it doesn't make sense to move away from that because there is an opportunity cost to doing anything additional," said Meuser. "We still believe the market is in a long term strong growth trend, but during this period when growth is lower, it's easier to make changes and focus on improvements."
Mortimore, an aerospace engineer who brought his design skills to the HME industry 15 years ago, moved Silver Star from Phoneix to a 27,000-square-foot facility in Oregon five and-a-half yearss ago. Since 1992, Mortimore has been designing products with Pride in mind.
"I knew they had it," said Mortimore "They had a product that was going to make it. So whenever I wanted to design something, I went to Pride first."
The combination of a mobility manufacturer and a lift manufacturer intuitively makes sense. It made sense a decade ago as well, but to date no major mobility manufacturer has made a significant investment in the market. Pride currently sells a lift that can handle the needs of about 20% of the market.
"Until now, we've been like a lift dabbler," said Meuser. "The market doesn't want to do business with dabblers but with companies that have a long term commitment to innovation and to helping grow the segment."
With the addition of Silver Star, Meuser believes Pride will be able to handle the needs of about 90% of the market.
Dennis Mortimore will continue to lead the 'Silver Star by Pride' division from Medford. But the days of shipping everything from Medford are over. Pride will warehouse Silver Star inventory and ship from each of its five distribution facilities.
The question remains: Why haven't rehab manufacturers strayed into the lift business before? Meuser said Pride stayed away from deviation from its core business to devote as much time as possible to growth in its core categories. But neither Sunrise Medical or Invacare acquired lift companies, despite the cultivation of much broader portfolios.
Mortimore said the lift business simply wasn't blipping o the radar screens of the bigger manufacturers.
"They didn't realize the volume we were doing," said Mortimore. "Once they realized we weren't going away and that we would grow substantially, it's really started taking off. It's only come into its own in the last 15 months."
Silver Star's imminent status as a division of Pride bodes well for growth. Mortimore couldn't afford the necessary investments to grow as a rival to Harmar and Bruno. Pride gives Silver Star that.
"With [Pride's] marketing and sales, we'll be unmatchable," he said.