Private equity fuels VMI

Friday, March 28, 2014

PHOENIX – Private equity firm Evergreen Pacific Partners has planted its flag in the wheelchair accessible vehicle market, purchasing a majority stake in Vantage Mobility International (VMI).

As part of the deal, announced in February, VMI CEO Doug Eaton and CFO Tim Barone will stay on to manage the company. 

“(Evergreen) believes in our customer, that we’re doing this for societal purposes, not just for making ROI,” Eaton said.  

Founded in 1987, VMI converts minivans into wheelchair accessible vehicles.

With Evergreen Pacific Partners’ backing, VMI plans to focus on market expansion.

“Today, of all the homes in the U.S. that have someone permanently using a wheelchair, less than 5% own a wheelchair-accessible van,” said T.J. McGill, co-founder and managing partner of Evergreen Pacific Partners. “It is such a liberating and freeing product for the customer, we would like to see that number increase.”

VMI is now looking at different ways to connect with potential customers and at geographic expansion into new markets, Eaton said. 

Baby boomers and those with age-related disabilities are the natural drivers behind the market’s growth, said Eaton. Also on the company’s radar: military veterans with disabilities, although they could be a hard sell, because of a stigma against minivans. 

“We are marketing to younger vets, but they aren’t going to be early adopters for the minivans,” he said. “We’ll probably have to follow them through their disability and meet them in their 40s and 50s.”

VMI will continue to invest in research and development and manufacturing, McGill said, and nurture its dealer network.

“We thought the company was a product leader in the category and had the potential to grow market share over time—precisely because of how good the product has become versus much of the competition,” he said.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.