Oiling the Wheels of Acquisition

Permobil's streak of acquisitions has the company on a roll

The search terms “Permobil” and “acquisition” are enough to send any browser into overload at the moment. Permobil, a Sweden-based maker of customized power and manual wheelchairs along with wheelchair cushions, back support, and skin products, has been in acquisition overdrive in the past five years, including four regional acquisitions in 2018 alone.

Former associate general counsel Ashley Nelson had a hand in each of these additions to the company, navigating the international complexities of unifying a global company and keeping Permobil on the same page. The lawyer says being flexible and sensitive to cultural differences and working to listen for the real question that’s being asked in conversations helps Permobil continue focusing on its own expansion. By helping build trust, Nelson has helped unite an increasingly complex organization focused on serving customers with a wide range of disabilities.

According to a 2018 market study, the global wheelchair market is expected to meet or exceed $6.1 billion by 2022. The driver of expanding numbers includes a growing elderly population, a rising number of spinal-cord injuries, and a myriad of mobility needs for those with physical disabilities. While manual wheelchairs remain the largest segment of the market, power wheelchair growth is expected to be significant, especially in markets with increasing obesity and more disposable income like in the United States.

Permobil has sought to capitalize on these projects by acquiring a variety of companies with the aim of delivering a fuller array of offerings and capabilities to its consumers.

Since Permobil’s 2014 acquisition of TiLite, for example, Permobil has been able to bolster its manual wheelchair portfolio with TiLite’s TiFit system, which produces customized and ergonomically fit chairs with safety and comfort in mind. Permobil’s next few acquisitions made clear that Permobil also has more than the overall chair experience in mind.

With the 2015 addition of the ROHO Group to Permobil, the company has been able to more closely focus on skin protection and positioning solutions for wheelchair users. “ROHO brings industry-leading technology, medical expertise, and top-quality products to Permobil, which will further strengthen our ability to meet the needs of the people we serve,” said CEO Jon Sintorn in a press release announcing the acquisition.

Two years later, Permobil completed the acquisition of Comfort Company, another manufacturer and distributor of seating and positioning products. Earlier in the year, it also acquired Prairie Seating, which specializes in custom-molded seating.

Permobil’s continuing focus on seating was further enhanced by its acquisition of Ottobock’s OBSS and NUTEC in 2018. Ottobock’s prosthetics, orthotics, and human mobility portfolio serves to enhance Permobil’s scope and capabilities and was complemented by Permobil establishing a dedicated and clinically focused commercial team in the US.

The United States isn’t the only market where Permobil is continuing its expansion, however. The company acquired Durable Medical Equipment (DME), Ltd. in 2017 with the aim of driver-improved user access in New Zealand. DME is largest complex rehab equipment supply company in New Zealand.

On a global level, Permobil has increased its efforts to bridge the gap between manual and power wheelchairs. With the acquisition of Max Mobility in 2017, Permobil enhanced its power-assist capabilities and bolstered its aim to reduce repetitive strain injuries for users. “Almost three out of four manual wheelchair users have shoulder pain already,” said Mark Richter, founder and CEO of Max Mobility. “By becoming part of Permobil and adding power assist to the portfolio we can expand our reach and reduce shoulder pain for users globally.”

As Permobil continues its global expansion into new and more nuanced product markets, it’s clear that by either acquisition or sheer innovation, the company has set its sights on market leader status. Permobil is ready for anything but spinning its wheels.