Shifting gears

Sunday, March 31, 2002

OLD FORGE, Pa. - Lured by brighter prospects in the rehabilitation and respiratory products markets, Invacare has decided to quit selling lift chairs and is helping to transition about $10 million in annual business to Golden Technologies.

An agreement between the two companies, announced April 15, puts Golden in charge of servicing Invacare's chairs still under warranty. Invacare will hold on to its current inventory of lift chairs through June and will supply parts through the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Golden is laying the groundwork to convert the most significant expansion opportunity in its manufacturing history. Since the agreement between the rival vendors became apparent late last year, the 17-year-old manufacturer has increased its manufacturing space from 100,000 square feet to 125,000 square feet.

Additionally, Golden has invested in new bench machinery and equipment to ensure faster delivery as the anticipated business ramps up. The company has also hired a slew of new employees.

"We're already a major player in the lift chair market," said Golden CEO Rich Golden. "And this should send a strong message to the industry about where we are as a company and where we are with quality and service and what we put into our product line."

Golden's contact with Invacare's current line of chairs in the field is likely to be minimal. Faulty motors, bent frames and other issues covered by warranty effect only about 2% of all chairs sold, according to one estimate.

"Our plan is to make sure all those customers are taken care of," said Bob Smith, Golden's national sales manager.

Golden is the only major vendor of lift chairs to build its own chairs from start to finish. The efficiencies gained through manufacturing and distributing, said Rich Golden, are critical. "That's what we focus on," he said.

That may also be why Invacare decided to walk away from lift chairs. In a prepared statement, the company said the business accounted for less than one percent of its annual revenues.

Golden Technologies is also a vendor of scooters and power wheelchairs. Although its mobility business is growing, the company is still more widely known as a lift chair manufacturer. Golden makes a good, better and best series of chairs, encompassing more than a dozen different models. The Elite Comforter is its flagship chair.

Although the Invacare boost would be its most significant expansion opportunity ever, it would not double the company's existing lift chair business, according to Rich Golden. Moreover, the company is not taking the conversion for granted.

"My goal is to get all the business," said Bob Smith, Golden's national sales manager, "but I don't want to be so presumptuous to say we are entitled to it. We have to earn it, and to do that we have to make sure we do the right things from a customer service standpoint and quality of product." HME