Friday, May 31, 2002

ELYRIA, Ohio - Invacare's decision to quit selling lift chairs, a product described by some as a core DME item, has raised eyebrows from coast to coast but hasn't really turned many heads.

Many vendors complain that the margins simply don't warrant investment in the product line. In the last several years, companies like Leisure-Lift and Ortho-Kinetics have quit the lift chair market. Sunrise Medical does not sell lift chairs.

Invacare's cessation of its $10 million chair business, and its agreement to help transition existing business to Golden Technologies, leaves the market in the hands of three principal players: Golden, Pride Mobility Products and Med-Lift.

Pride launched its business as a lift chair vendor in 1986 and didn't start selling scooters until 1989. Some rivals worry the boost to Golden's business will position the company for the kind of growth in size and stature realized by Pride. Others simply say you can't make money in lift chairs and that the demise of the lift chair as a value proposition for vendors is similar to the value proposition of the oxygen concentrator and Puritan Bennett's decision to quit that market two years ago.

"We were selling a chair for $280," said DuWayne Kramer, Leisure-Lift's president. "But then, after you've paid for the frame, actuator, controller, upholstering and freight, you have to ask yourself how long do you want to break even."

Golden says the market can be profitable when you both make and distribute your own chairs, as it does. In terms of focus, Golden says the company still sees itself as a lift chair vendor first, and mobility vendor second, if a close second.

And if you can't make money at lift chairs, as some complain and the Invacare move would suggest, that's news to Ron Harville. "We've been growing 8% to 10% every years since 1990," said Med-Lift's director of sales and marketing. HME