Triple Play: Permobil Acquires ROHO

Permobil has acquired ROHO Inc., the power wheelchair manufacturer announced in a news release today.

The purchase adds ROHO’s air-cell cushions, with their skin protection and positioning technology, to a complex rehab stable that already includes Group 3 and Group 4 power chairs, complex powered seating, and custom-built ultralightweight manual chairs, thanks to last May’s acquisition of TiLite.

Founded in 1973 by electrical engineer Robert H. Graebe, ROHO manufactures products that are currently sold in 65 countries around the world, according to the news release.

With this latest addition, Permobil North America President Larry Jackson pointed out that the company can now fully compete “against all the other manufacturers in the space.”

Independent Operations

In an interview with Mobility Management, Jackson, said ROHO management, including ROHO President and industry veteran Tom Borcherding, would remain in place.

“As far as the sales team, we plan to sell through our sales organization,” Jackson said. “There will be a change from [ROHO’s] independent reps to our sales organization, much like TiLite.”

Permobil has purchased the medical division of ROHO, which ROHO VP of marketing Susan Lynch defined as wheelchair seat cushions and backrests, support surfaces, and other air-cell accessories.

Jackson said the Permobil/TiLite sales force will sell ROHO cushions and backs, while support surfaces sales will be handled by a different sales force going forward.

ROHO’s other specialty seating lines, such as seating used in the motorcycle industry, were not part of the Permobil acquisition.

End users of ROHO products are unlikely to notice any changes, Jackson added.

“I don’t see any changes from a consumer standpoint; I don’t see changes in the product offering that we have. What I see is the ability for us to invest more in ROHO and bring more innovation to the market. So the user should see, hopefully, some newer products down the road that we can bring to the market. The clinicians should see that the same rep who sold Permobil can now sell ROHO. Maybe it’ll simplify that process.”

ROHO’s headquarters will remain in Belleville, Ill., much as TiLite has continued to work from its corporate offices in Washington.

“With TiLite, we’re trying to guide them and invest in the company even more,” Jackson said. “We’ve put a lot of investment in the company which you haven’t necessarily seen yet. As far as the company itself, TiLite has run basically independently. They’re out there in Pasco, Wash., and ROHO’s will be a very similar approach as well, outside of St. Louis.”

A Logical Choice

Buying ROHO made sense, Jackson explained, particularly after Permobil acquired TiLite.

“When we purchased TiLite, what was evident is that we needed a cushion company as well. People in manual chairs use a lot more cushions and backrests than people in [Permobil] chairs. The hope and the idea is that we can bring some innovation to ROHO through these two product lines, through TiLite and Permobil, and have their products fit our products even better, whether it be through sizing or new, innovative features. We feel there are synergies there, for sure.”

ROHO has also collaborated with other wheelchair manufacturers, including Sunrise Medical and Ottobock, both of whom incorporate ROHO air cells in some of their cushions. Jackson said he hasn’t yet had formal discussions on that topic, but believes ROHO will continue those partnerships.

ROHO’s Strong Reputation

ROHO’s Susan Lynch said numerous other companies have sought to purchase the company in the past, but that Permobil was the best fit.

“The reason why the Graebe family entertained the opportunity with Permobil was really because of close alignment of culture and level of quality,” she said.

“Permobil is certainly a recognized leader in power wheelchairs and everything that they do, and much like TiLite, in their acquisition last year, they’re really perceived as a leader in that area of seating & mobility. So because Permobil is a leader and recognized ROHO as a leading brand in wheelchair cushions and support surfaces overall, the Graebes knew that putting ROHO in Permobil’s hands is really putting the brand in very capable and caring hands.”

In the news announcement, Tom Borcherding referred to Permobil as “a world-class company” and added that the power chair manufacturer “has successfully driven innovation in the market for advanced rehabilitation technology. We look forward to continue developing our products and technology as part of the Permobil team.”

“As far as what we call healthcare transformation, ROHO is out in front of that,” Jackson said. “They’re really doing outcomes-based research. I think there are some opportunities for us as a sales organization to get out there and prove these outcomes that they’re starting to get.

“The other thing that excites us about ROHO is they have a truly global reach. They sell in Russia, they sell in Chile, they sell in China. Anywhere you go in the complex rehab market, you see ROHO. So that gives us an opportunity, a foothold.”

An example, Jackson noted: “We’re going to build an office in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and ROHO has been selling cushions there for 10 years.”

Culturally, Jackson added, ROHO and Permobil share the same vision.

“These were the three companies that formed Users First,” he pointed out, referring also to TiLite. “And there was a reason for that: We had the same philosophy and the same culture already. That’s a good thing. It makes a much easier transition for us because we all believe in the same thing: taking care of the users. That’s what our mission is, to take care of the users.

“I think the most important thing to me is we’re going to try to increase the spending in R&D and bring some more innovation. ROHO has a lot of really good innovation that just needs to be brought out, and I think with the sales force that we have, we can fulfill those needs.”

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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