Northern Ireland firm lands huge contract to provide US army veterans with 'Cadillac of armchairs'
A Co Londonderry company that makes specialist seats dubbed the 'Cadillac of chairs' has said a deal to supply them to US veterans is likely to lead to a "massive increase" in sales.
Limavady firm Seating Matters will supply the specialist chairs to the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) - the world's biggest healthcare organisation.
The chairs are designed for people who need to spend long periods of time seated, and they were developed as part of a two-year clinical trial with Ulster University.
Jonathan Tierney, whose parents Martina and James founded the company, said it did not yet know how many chairs it would be making, but that the VHA, which cares for those who served in the US forces, would be its biggest customer over the next few years.
"The VHA has the biggest number of hospitals in the world, with over 1,200 in all 50 US states," Mr Tierney added. "We really haven't worked with anything on that scale before, and this will be a massive increase in production for us."
He said the firm, which employs around 30 people in Limavady and relies on 13 suppliers in the area, had prepared for the deal by increasing the size of its storage and assembly factory in Canada. Its manufacturing takes place in Limavady.
Mr Tierney's mother Martina started the business after finding it difficult in her job as an occupational therapist to find suitable seats for patients at risk of pressure ulcers. "My father was an engineer, so they put their heads together and started making custom seating from the year 2000 onwards," Jonathan said.
The couple then established the business as a full-time concern and began supplying customers in the UK and Europe, including in Denmark, France, Holland and Belgium. Later it branched out into Canada, America and Australia.
Jonathan's mother wished to establish evidence for the clinical value of the chairs. That led the business to set up a two-year clinical trial with Ulster University in which the chairs were found to reduce incidence of pressure ulcers by 88%.
Jonathan said: "That research really helped us in our exports and helped us get the contract."
And he said the company expected to secure further US deals: "We see this as having a knock-on effect because the VHA leads the way with procedures and practices, and it's something that could be replicated.
"Next year is going to be a lot of hard work to establish ourselves properly in the VHA, but we know the steps we have to go through and after that we can see sales massively increasing."
He said his late father had been responsible for setting the deal in motion before his death two years ago: "It's something he had started so we are determined to help it progress."
The chairs are also custom-made to order for individuals. Canadian customer Brent McFarlane, a former track and field Olympic coach who suffers from Parkinson's Disease, features on the company's website.
His wife Vicki said his care had been much helped by the chair: "When I saw the chair being rolled off the van I broke down in tears. Without Brent even sitting in it, I just knew this was the one."