iRobot Takes a Dip

A week after re-enlisting in the Navy, iRobot (Nasdaq: IRBT  ) wants to put the pool boy out of business. Tough break, kid.

But don't blame iRobot. By introducing the Verro pool cleaner, the automaton ace is getting back to its roots. The bottom-feeding Verro, which comes in two models, cleans pools much like the Roomba vacuums carpets and the Scooba scrubs floors. From the press release:

"Simply drop the robot in the pool, and it begins to clean.... The robots feature a powerful vacuum and filtration system that picks up and traps dirt, dust, algae, bacteria and particles as small as two microns -- a fraction of the diameter of a human hair, which averages 70 microns."

Nice. Let's hope it works as advertised. And not just because buyers should expect results from the pricey Verro, which is expected to retail for between $799 and $1,199. More important for our Motley Fool Rule Breakers subscribers is that the Verro is iRobot's first foray into a long-promised third category of products: outdoor maintenance.

So far, with the stock down more than 1% as I write, investors appear unimpressed. I think they're missing the big picture.

Pool maintenance, after all, is a pretty big business. Pool Corp. (Nasdaq: POOL  ) , for example, produces roughly $2 billion in revenue annually by selling supplies, chemicals, filters, and the like. iRobot booked less than 10% of that over the trailing 12 months. Modest enthusiasm for the Verro could therefore have a noticeable impact on revenue.

And cleaning a pool takes hours, even if you do the job automatically. I remember doing the job by hand. We were vacuuming and skimming almost as much as we were swimming. That's why I've little doubt there's a market for the Verro.

Nevertheless, there is one problem: Pool bots aren't new. Zodiac has a whole line of them. And the contract designer of the Verro, Aqua Products, has one called the Aquabot that also claims to clean a pool in about an hour. If the Verro ultimately offers little new -- the two products sure look similar -- expect this dive into pool products to be a belly-flop.

Then again, if today's reaction is true to form, investors aren't expecting much. Perhaps that's as it should be. The pool boy has his place in popular lore, after all. Replacing him with Rosie the Robot's bottom-feeding cousin shouldn't be simple.

Mr. Roboto has invited you over for related Foolishness:

How great is growth? Four of the dozens of stocks in the market-beating Motley Fool Rule Breakers portfolio, which includes iRobot, have more than doubled in two years. Care to find out who they are? Click here to get 30 days of free access to the service.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers, who is a regular contributor to the Rule Breakers team, didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy prefers droids over robots. That's how it is when you're celebrating the 30th anniversary of Star Wars.


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