A “Convergence of Goals” as Comfort Company Joins Permobil

Permobil’s recent acquisition of Comfort Company was a “convergence of goals,” said Tom Borcherding, president of Permobil Seating and Positioning.

In an interview with Mobility Management, Borcherding said talks between Permobil and Comfort Company started in mid-2017 — and synergy between the two companies became apparent right away.

“It was an almost immediate convergence of goals, that Comfort Company was looking for a partner to expand their footprint globally and have resources to invest in future product designs and innovation,” Borcherding explained.

Borcherding was president of ROHO when it was acquired by Permobil in 2015. He is now the president of Permobil Seating and Positioning business globally. Of the Comfort Company acquisition, he said, “We were looking for a partner that could supplement the Permobil portfolio of ROHO products and allow us to take a giant leap toward becoming the leading full-line supplier of seating and positioning solutions. The product portfolios of the two companies lined up extremely well.”

At the time of the acquisition — announced in October — Eric Murphy was president of Comfort Company, a manufacturer whose product lines included cushions and positioning components for wheelchair users with basic seating needs as well as end users with more complex requirements. Following the acquisition, Murphy became VP of Product Marketing and Product Management for Permobil Seating and Positioning.

“As [Comfort Company] developed our rehab line, that’s where our bread and butter was — covering that whole spectrum from general use through the most complex adjustable skin protection and positioning codes, lower-end skin protection, positioning, skin protection and positioning, all of those codes,” Murphy said. “We had products that were doing well throughout that whole spectrum.

“ROHO really dominated and was the market leader in the higher end, or the more high-risk patient population. For us, on Comfort Company’s side, it was just the perfect partnership. Our ultimate goal at Comfort Company was to become the worldwide leader in seating and positioning, and we knew at some point, for us to accomplish that, we were going to have to join forces with an organization like Permobil. From the very start, it was a perfect marriage.”

The Impact on Product Portfolios

“As we looked at the portfolio of Comfort Company, there was surprisingly little direct overlap of products and solutions,” Borcherding said.

As separate companies, ROHO and Comfort Company “did sort of play in different tiers of the marketplace and serve different client needs,” Borcherding said. “Now that we’re bringing both product lines into one portfolio, we’re able to address the needs of many more clients with an entire range of disabilities and needs. Going forward we now have better capabilities to even further enhance the quality of life for our customers, and support and work with the prevention of pressure injuries in conjunction with healthcare costs. That’s very important to our goal of becoming that full-range leader.”

Borcherding said there won’t be any changes to the current U.S. business model: “Comfort Company products will continue to be fully available in the portfolio that customers are used to. They’re going to be buying them through the exact same manner that they have been, through the Comfort Company customer care organization. Exact same statement for ROHO products — the full product range will continue to be available in the exact same manner that it has been prior to this acquisition.

“Our go-forward strategy is to supplement the product portfolios that Permobil Seating and Positioning has overall. Our strategy is much more focused on adding solutions and not at all focused on subtracting solutions.”

Expansion & Evolution

In the new year, Permobil will be making a sales team change that Borcherding described as an expansion.

“In the U.S. specifically, the previous sales team of Comfort Company will become a new Seating and Positioning sales force within Permobil,” he explained. “That becomes effective Jan. 1, and the new sales organization will represent the combined portfolio of ROHO and Comfort Company seating and positioning products in the U.S. This will be a complementary sales team to the traditional Permobil Mobility sales force responsible for power and manual wheelchairs, so those two sales organizations will in effect be sister sales organizations in the U.S., one focused on mobility solutions, one focused on seating and positioning solutions.”

Comfort Company products will also become more readily available outside the United States.

“Comfort Company has had very little active export business, and the ROHO range of products for export has been a very successful business for us,” Borcherding noted. “Being able to add Comfort Company products to our portfolio for international markets is just going to make the products available to solve many more seating needs around the world, which is a goal of ours.”

Permobil is also looking to streamline operations internally, so more ROHO- and Comfort Company-branded products are available to ship with Permobil and TiLite wheelchair orders.

“More ROHO and Comfort Company products will be available to order with Permobil and TiLite chairs,” Borcherding said. “That is in effect today for many ROHO products, including the AGILITY back line, and Comfort Company products will be added to that mix of products available to order with the chair. That is a priority action, scheduled for start up in the early part of 2018.”

For more on the convergence of Permobil and Comfort Company, look for the January issue of Mobility Management magazine.

About the Author

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

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