ROHO, Belleville wheelchair cushion maker, sold to Swedish company

Belleville’s ROHO Group, a company that makes devices to prevent bed sores and wheelchair accessories, has been purchased by Swedish company Permobil.

The acquisition marks the next step in Permobil’s strategy to become a leading healthcare company, providing innovative advanced rehabilitation solutions for people with disabilities, according to a news release from the two companies.

Financial terms of the purchase were not disclosed. Permobil is expected to continue to operate the Belleville plant, and none of the company’s 240 employees in Belleville are expected to be laid off.

The purchase includes ROHO’s roughly 125,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, a former Kmart on the west side of town, said ROHO President Tom Borcherding, who will keep his title as part of the purchase.

There is room at the site to expand the facility, he said.

“Obviously there is financial motive in any sale,” Borcherding said. “I think the leading objective was to leave the ROHO employees and brand in strong hands.”

Permobil and ROHO have combined sales of more than $294 million, according to the news release. The transaction is subject to approval from competition authorities in the USA and in Europe.

ROHO was founded by electrical engineer and inventor Robert H. Graebe in 1973. It has grown to become a leader in customized seating and support surface solutions for medical applications, helping people in more than 65 countries. The acquisition creates new opportunities to develop and grow ROHO’s current business on a global scale and to expand ROHO’s market position.

ROHO CEO Robert W. Graebe Jr., who is set to retire at the end of the month, was the only family member still active in the day-to-day management of the company.

“ROHO has been offered an exceptional opportunity to pursue its full potential on a global scale from our facilities in Belleville,” Graebe said. “Permobil shares our history of being a family company, with a culture of excellence and a clear vision to help people in need, with innovative technology. This is a perfect fit for ROHO.”

Graebe’s retirement was announced about two months ago, Borcherding said.

“I’m absolutely certain the ownership of ROHO being the Graebe family would not have sold this business to someone who was not going to look out for the best interest in the brand and our employees,” Borcherding said.

Permobil has about 1,000 employees worldwide, including the Belleville workers.

“I’m optimistic about what this means for our employes and the ROHO brand,” Borcherding said. “The expectation is they are investing in our people and facility.”

Borcherding said he could not comment on the exact amount of the investment planned.

“Permobil is a world-class company and has successfully driven innovation in the market for advanced rehabilitation technology,” Borcherding said. “We look forward to continue developing our products and technology as part of the Permobil team.”

In the news release, Permobil CEO Jon Sintorn said the company is dedicated to building a leading healthcare company providing advanced rehabilitation technology.

“I am happy to announce this next step,” Sintorn said. “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.”

Larry Jackson, president of Permobil North America, said last year, Permobil purchased TiLite, a manual wheelchair company in Pasco, Washington, and has hired 45 additional people.

“The strategy with ROHO is we want to grow the company,” Jackson said. “We want to build the company.”

Jackson said Permobil, a power wheelchair company, acquiring ROHO, the wheelchair cushion company, is a natural fit.

“ROHO is a gem in our industry, dedicated to scientific and user centric solutions, just like Permobil,” Jackson said. “I am proud to continue our journey with ROHO’s outstanding people, technology and brand onboard, as well as its world-class facility in Belleville.”