Rolling Along


In the process of producing home care equipment such as beds, scooters, lifts and wheelchairs, Invacare is continuously promoting recovery, mobility and active living. As a result, Invacare has come to be the world’s leading manufacturer and distributor for mobility equipment and home healthcare.

Invacare dates back to 1885, and in 1979 became Invacare Corporation, with a focus on wheelchairs. The company and has since expanded in several other areas over the last thirty years or so to become much more, as Managing Director Geoff Purtill explains. “We are quite fortunate to be able to operate across a number of different categories within the industry so we can offer a broad range and be much more customer focussed,” he says. The company maintains an inventory across 16 core categories, supplied to different countries and to meet specific regulations and requirements.

The company’s brand promise is ‘making life’s experiences possible’. In 2010, the current Chief Executive Officer, Gerald Blouch, embarked on a mission to make Invacare go global. Geoff says that the company was, “able to utilise a lot of entities who were building products in those needed locations and create centres of excellence.” Over the last three years, the business has been on that journey to becoming a globally recognised company – and has succeeded, with significant growth and business in over eighty countries.

Prior to Geoff joining the company, he worked for Johnson & Johnson in a number of roles in consumer and medical devices across Australia and Asia. Immediately prior to joining Invacare Geoff was the Customer Development Director for Asia, for the Vision Care business. “What really piqued my interest going toward Invacare was when I was at Johnson & Johnson,” he explains. “Having parents of a fragile age, I found it was a difficult area to manage as far as how they were to navigate and have access to equipment, etc. I have been involved with the use of medical devices in the past and I thought that it was a good alignment of my personal values with Invacare’s corporate values.”

Geoff’s position has been a good transition for him as he is bringing an extensive array of experience to the table. “Invacare is quite an exciting company to be a part of,” he shares. He feels that much of this is due to its entrepreneurial approach and the autonomy and responsibility within the work environment. “The challenges that appeared with Invacare were familiar to me so I was lucky to be able to know how to deal with that.”

Invacare’s core brand is ‘making life’s experiences possible’, and every aspect of what it does is structured around that philosophy, from its internal branding to how customers experience its products. “What we do is solve a problem that people have. By providing a product that helps people get on with their lives, we are helping people gain comfort with their mobility and helping them to be able to contribute and participate in their community on whatever level they want to. It’s an amazing feeling, seeing the smile on a young child’s face when they are in their new chair for the first time and how they are now able to move along quickly keeping up with other children. It makes you feel very proud and these little accomplishments are monumental for them and it’s all very rewarding.”

Geoff explains the company’s five key values: “The first of those is integrity; we achieve the right results in the right way. Excellence; we are passionate about what we do. Innovation; we create leading edge products that allow people to live the best life possible. Leadership; we embrace teamwork, trust and respect. Accountability; we are each responsible for our commitments, quality and results. We drive these values to the best of our abilities.”

In New Zealand, Invacare’s number one product is its power wheelchairs whereas in Australia it is beds and therapeutic mattresses through the long term care channels. Overall, the power wheelchair is the company’s most popular and successful product range, “as it is the product that most enables someone to do something and feel better about themselves and their mobility.”

The company funds wheelchair sports, and supports the broader community in a number of ways such as through worldwide donations of items such as wheelchairs, mattresses and other equipment. Invacare sponsors Paralympians, Kurt Fearnley and Rheed McCracken, power chair football teams, wheelchair basketball in New Zealand and Australia, and handcycling in NSW. “We sponsor athletes and sport to demonstrate to the wider disabled community that irrespective of your disability, you can achieve great things in life,” says Geoff.

A number of trade shows are held in the industry every year, and Australia hosts the ATSA (Assistive Technology Suppliers Australasia) trade show each May; New Zealand has the Enable ‘Show Your Ability’ and the AccessAble ‘Know Your Products’ events. A massive trade show, the annual Home Care and Rehabilitation Exhibition in Tokyo brings roughly 130,000 visitors. Invacare has a presence at these, and more. “As a global company, we exhibit and sponsor with each of those shows. We exhibit at Medtrade in the US, Rehacare in Europe and work with facility groups and disability support centres where customers come and test products before they buy.”

Being both manufacturer and distributer, the processes of daily operations are a never ending buzz of activity in all locations. In Sydney and Auckland, the sales and marketing team works with customers to generate demand, orders are taken by the customer service team who then process those orders. The warehouse team selects the correct item, packs it and ships it. Meanwhile, the background work is done by the finance team. The supply chain team makes sure that the right stock is in the right location, manages inventory and performs inspections.

In New Zealand, the company has a concentrated marketplace in which it supplies product to two government funded programs provided by AccessAble and Enable. Geoff explains that these are just a couple of the teams and processes in the Australia and New Zealand facilities. “Sometimes a funded program refurbishes product or we may refurbish items on clients’ behalf. The normal process is that people will trial the product first, then pick and choose afterwards. We are a direct market in New Zealand and supported by dealers, whereas in Australia, we use a dealer network almost entirely.”

Innovation in the industry comes about quickly and changes in technology can be very exciting. Geoff explains that, “One of our sister companies has developed software that enables people to operate their wheelchairs through their iPhone or smartphone.” When asked about the potential future of the industry, he shares that, “I think the National Disability Insurance Scheme is going to change the market in Australia dramatically over time and I think that, as the supplier and manufacturer, our consumers will want access to all the information we have on our products. The future will involve communication directly with end users, and advances in neuroscience may change the way that people use a wheelchair in the future.”

Indeed, Invacare has made a number of changes in its Australian division. At the tail end of last year, the company was supplying dealers from distribution centres in Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney but, according to Geoff, this created some confusion among the company’s customers. A strategic decision was made to consolidate the Australian business into one location in Sydney. As a result of the economy, the last nine months have also seen a greater investment in technology, and Geoff is adamant that the company has not left the market. “We are strong and we are not going anywhere. We are here to provide services and products that do help make people’s life’s experiences possible and that is something we are very proud of. Our focus is to make things simple, when there are tough choices to make.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 19, 2018, 9:24 AM AEDT