The World's Largest Resource for the Cart, Kiosk, and Temporary Retail Industry
by Robert Buderi

Who couldn’t use a robot or two to help with household chores? To make finding that robo-helper easier (and to boost holiday sales) Bedford, MA-based iRobot (NASDAQ: IRBT) announced last week it was opening a kiosk in the Burlington Mall that will show off its Roomba robot vacuum cleaners and other bots for gutter cleaning, floor washing. The kiosk opened on Saturday and will close in mid-January.

A kiosk opening isn’t something we normally cover in Xconomy. But especially since the head of iRobot’s home robots division left last May-in what seemed to signal a shake up in the company’s consumer business-I wanted to know more about what the mall outpost portends for the future of home robots, both at iRobot and more broadly. To that end, I spoke with iRobot CEO Colin Angle, who sketched a vision of robots transforming household drudgery in much the same way (although he didn’t draw the exact parallel) that electric appliances revolutionized things like dishwashing and laundry a few generations ago.

“As we roll the clock forward you’re going to see more and more home robots‚Ķand the concept of a robot store is going to be something that every mall is going to want to have,” Angle says. IRobot’s kiosk, he says, is “one of the first practical robot stores ever to be in existence that wasn’t focused on meeting the needs of the hobbyist. I think it is an important milestone in our industry.”

In Angle’s world, there are two types of people: “those who own Roombas and believe, and those who don’t own Roombas.” On the home side of the business (the company also has a big military division), iRobot’s challenge has always been reaching that second group, and convincing people that “practical robots are here, and they can be saving you time and giving you more control over your home.”

Enter the kiosk. As Angle puts it, “nothing can convert a skeptic into a believer like a live demonstration.” The company has been thinking about a retail presence for quite a while, he says, “and felt like we now have a broad enough array of products that we could at least justify a kiosk.” Staffers will experiment with direct sales of a few items, but will mainly demonstrate products and help customers order online as the company tests its messaging, training, and so forth. And while the kiosk will shut down in mid-January, says Angle, “Certainly if it goes well then you have not seen the last of kiosks for iRobot.”

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