High profile

Invacare Corp. CEO A. Malachi Mixon is anything but comfortable with his company’s position as the world’s leading manufacturer and supplier of wheelchairs and other home medical equipment.

It’s not a surprising attitude from a man whose upstart wheelchair company in 1979 overtook the complacent industry leader at the time.

But today, since he has distanced Invacare from its competitors, one of Mixon’s latest initiatives is a multi-million dollar branding campaign designed to raise Invacare’s profile with the average consumer. As Mixon puts it, he wants to see the Invacare brand name “up there with Coca-Cola and Nike.”

“We’re the largest manufacturer and distributor of home medical products, but consumers really don’t know our brand,” says Mixon, who revealed his plans recently at a Leadership Breakfast meeting sponsored by the Cleveland Engineering Society. “With our place in the industry, we have a chance to really make ourselves known. I don’t think any of our competitors are in a place where they can launch this type of program.”

Invacare is on pace to record $1 billion in sales this year, a first for the Elyria-based company and a $122 million increase over 1999 revenue. Throughout its growth, Invacare has invested its resources into product development, distribution and building its manufacturing facilities worldwide.

While those efforts have helped it earn a solid reputation among business peers, Wall Street analysts and health care professionals, the general public is still relatively unaware of the company. But Mixon believes an aggressive marketing and advertising campaign will help it reach its sales goal of $2 billion by 2005 while making Invacare a household name.

Earlier this year, Invacare, which stands for “Innovation in healthcare,” launched a four-pronged strategy aimed at gaining worldwide consumer recognition.

Bring it under one roof

Invacare launched 30 products in 1999 and bought access to more through acquisitions of Suburban Ostomy and Scandinavian Mobility International. In previous years, Invacare usually placed the product name above the company’s name on boxes and other packaging to give it more recognition and keep its face in the background.

No longer, says Mixon.

“We want those millions of boxes we send out to consumers’ homes to have our name on the top,” he says.

Invacare’s medallion logo will also be prominently displayed on all its products by the end of the year to give it greater exposure.

Get media savvy

Invacare has always advertised. This year, however, it formed its Marketing Advantage Partnership, or MAP program. Under the MAP program, Invacare will provide home medical equipment providers with high-quality television spots on power wheelchairs, scooters and lift chairs to help generate leads and customer traffic for providers.

Both the television and print advertisements contain Invacare’s new tag line, “Yes, you can,” which was unveiled earlier this year. It reinforces the company’s mission to help those with disabilities lead active lives.

Design a Web of influence

Invacare added a search engine to its Web site to help customers find any of the company’s 25,000 home medical equipment provider’s locations. It is also engaged in a more targeted effort to let consumers know they can buy products directly from Invacare’s Web site or the sites of medical equipment providers.

Whether this initiative is working is hard to gauge due to the complications of claims processing through Medicare, Medicaid and other third party reimbursement. But Mixon is confident it will work.

“We will have the No. 1 e-commerce site in our industry, and it will generate more business for Invacare and our provider partners,” he says confidently.

Put a face with the name

For future advertisements and marketing materials, Invacare is looking for a well-known spokesperson whose name and reputation capture the company’s image and reputation for trust and quality.

“We can’t afford to sign up Tiger Woods for $100 million,” Mixon admits. “So we’re going to have to keep looking.” How to reach: Invacare Corp., (440) 329-6000

Morgan Lewis ([email protected]) is a reporter at SBN.