Tuesday, July 11, 2006

If you show me your Roomba, I'll show you mine.

I've been watching the steady migration of frisbybots (patent pending, patent pending, patent pending) trying to take over one country, then the next. First Canada. Then Australia, and now New Zealand (Courtesy of freitasm.)

Never in the history of the world have people been so excited to share pictures of their vacuum cleaners. Just ask flickr.

Once upon a time, if a significant other even dreamed about giving a vacuum cleaner as a gift, they would be exiled forever in the surviving partner's mind. "Yeah, I loved that person, but I had to kill them, I'm not your cleaning whore".

All of a sudden people are excited to purchase an item that previously was so completely mundane. Only clean freaks or people with OCD would brag about doing such a chore. Creative videos are popping up everywhere. This guy straps a camcorder on for a Roombas eye view. Youtube has a series of videos here. A pretty good animation assembly for a Roomba on Google video here. Roomba Wars via prasad here.

iRobot seems to be poised to be part of one of the largest industry expansions since the 80's. Not all that surprising since vacuum cleaner sales had enjoyed year over year record setting unit sales.

According to Appliance Design, "Breaking records is becoming the norm for the vacuum cleaner segment of the industry. If projections and estimates hold up, the segment in four out of five recent years will have achieved new highs in unit count. Record years and their numbers":

  • 1996-16.1 million
  • 1998-16.3 million
  • 1999-17.6 million
  • 2000-18.5 million
  • 1997 scored 15,692,000 units, only 2.5 percent off the 1996 mark of 16.1 million.

Somewhere between the year 2000 and now, things seems to have taken a dramatic turn down. Here, here and here.

iRobot has seen enormous growth even without its military segment, and is nipping at the heels of more established companies like Dyson. Despite reporting record results at years end. A large segment of its business last year came from Tokyo, but only sold about 200,000 units. Link here.

Dirt Devil was once owned by Royal Appliance Mfg Co., and acquired by Techtronic Industries in 2003, and is certainly not boasting about their vacuum cleaner sales. PDF 2005 Annual Report. Good luck.

The Kirby Company is also a pain in the ass to get current financials for. Hoovers here says 253.5mil, but who knows what year that is for. They also do not seem to be bragging about sales growth. So I guess the last major player is Electrolux, whose sales are pretty stagnant, and the German economy certainly isn't helping them.

With all this bad news, iRobot is clearly breathing fresh air into an industry covered in dust bunnies.

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