PanaVise taps smartphone market with car holder |

PanaVise taps smartphone market with car holder

Rob Sabo
Photo by Rob Sabo

Reno’s PanaVise, a maker of hobbyist and electronics vises and a wide range of suction cups devices used by companies such as GoPro and Sirius Satellite Radio, is hoping to tap into the growing hands-free cell phone movement with an automotive cellphone holder.

Instead of making phone-specific mounts and trying to keep up with a constantly changing market, PanaVise developed the PortaGrip suction cup mounted smartphone holder to securely hold a 4-inch iPhone or a much larger Samsung Galaxy Note, the largest smart phone on the market.

“It is fully adjustable for all different phone types,” says Tom Simpkins, PanaVise’s director of sales and marketing. “And we designed it only for smart phones.”

PanaVise released a similar product in 2009, but since then it’s re-engineered the PortaGrip to work with today’s phones, which come in a wide array of shapes and sizes. The standard model, which attaches to a non-porous surface such as a windshield, retails for $30.

PanaVise currently sells the product only on Amazon and through its Web site, but it’s seeking additional distribution channels through retailers such as Radio Shack and Auto Zone.

“It’s a matter of getting the product in front of those guys,” Simpkins says.

Getting the product placed in those outlets poses additional manufacturing challenges for PanaVise, though — it would have to significantly beef up its workforce of assemblers to meet demand.

PanaVise, founded in 1956 by Otto Colbert — the street in Reno where PanaVise is headquartered is named after him — still draws the lion’s share of its revenue from its primary product, specialty vises for the electronics industry. About 25 percent of the company’s revenue is generated from its vise line, another 25 percent from specialty products such as the PortaGrip, and the remaining 50 percent comes from manufacturing items for other companies, such as the suction cups GoPro uses to attach cameras to helmets.

Simpkins says a increased interest in robotics and 3-D printing has led to a jump in sales of its specialty vices, which are popular because they allow workers to tilt work 180 degrees, and turn and rotate it 360 degrees using a patented split-ball design that Colbert developed in 1956. The product is used in more than 25 countries throughout the world, primarily by electronics engineers and repair workers.

PanaVise relocated to Sparks from Long Beach, Calif. in 1991, and in 1996 company president and owner Gary Richter, who purchased the company in 1978, moved PanaVise to its current 58,000-square-foot location on Colbert Drive. PanaVise employs about 40 in Reno and another 40 at a plastics injection molding facility in Changzhou, China, that operates as PanaVise Tool. The company makes more than 800 products, but everything is assembled at the Colbert Drive location.