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Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning last.
Just kicking down the cobblestones.
Looking for fun and feelin' groovy.
I dedicate the above excerpt from Simon & Garfunkel's "59th Street Bridge Song" to Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation iRobot (Nasdaq: IRBT ) -- because if anybody needs a strong dose of circa-1966 mellow, it's iRobot.
Seriously, guys. Every time I've tried to set fingers to keyboard recently and jot a few words about this Boeing (NYSE: BA ) and SAIC (NYSE: SAI ) partner's doings, out comes a new press release deserving attention of its own. Take last week, for example.
New York flashback
iRobot presented at the Kaufman Brothers Investor Conference in New York on Wednesday. There wasn't a lot of detail. No major revelations. Basically, CEO Colin Angle reassured us of what we've already heard: Despite a rough economy, iRobot's home-robots division is still racking up sales through its usual retail outlets, places like Sears Holdings' (Nasdaq: SHLD ) Sears stores, Target (NYSE: TGT ) , and Best Buy (NYSE: BBY ) . International sales are booming, up five times from last year. And the company's more convinced than ever that it can improve margins by selling Roombas directly to consumers over the Internet.
Like I said -- we've heard that before. But the conference was noteworthy for a few statements that appeared toward the end, courtesy of new CFO John Leahy.
Back in February, you may recall, in iRobot's year-end 2007 conference call, management highlighted a few problems that needed fixing, but soft-peddled them. Soaring inventories were both "anticipated" and "required" to support the growth of the business. However, Leahy mentioned something about improving the supply chain to improve inventory management. And while profits weren't up to snuff, management promised to reduce operating costs and improve product quality to reduce the cost of returns.
Etc. won't cut it
No more. New numbers-boss Leahy seemed almost chagrined at the state of his financial statements. In particular, the reductions in cost and the quality improvements that were promised more than six months ago have yet to appear. Also, Leahy acknowledged a real need to "improve working capital management." Far from "required," management now views iRobot's inventory as a liability that needs to be worked down to get cash flowing through the business. (More on why in a moment.)
We also walk dogs
Which brings us to the two announcements released on the same day as the conference. Garnering the most headlines were iRobot's new Roomba Pet Series Robots, aimed at sucking up even more hair and dander. More than just a product extension and an "upsell" opportunity to current Roomba owners, these introductions (it seems to me) give iRobot an entree into pet retailers. While management said nothing specific, I expect to see Petco and PetSmart (Nasdaq: PETM ) hawking Roombas in the very near future.
And as a matter of fact, we do do Buicks
The other product release could be even more significant. Last year, I had the pleasure of interviewing iRobot CEO Angle (read an excerpt here). Among the several subjects we covered was one sore point: A quote, attributed to Angle in a 2006 column in Forbes, according to which Angle quipped: "We don't do Buicks" -- shorthand for industrial robots, as opposed to the "sexier" fields of military robots and, um, vacuum cleaners.
Angle disclaimed the quip: "Now this one confuses me, as I don't remember saying it. While iRobot does not focus on manufacturing robots, such as robots that build cars, we are absolutely interested in industrial applications of our technology."
True to Angle's words (if not to those put into his mouth), iRobot announced last week the "iRobot Roomba 610 Professional Series Vacuum Cleaning Robot ... perfect for maintaining office spaces or large high traffic areas." So you can add a new customer category to iRobot's list: offices and storefronts. We'll definitely want to keep an eye on how well this one sells.
A few thoughts on "reach" and "grasp"
And now let's wrap up (Quick! Before iRobot puts out another press release), with Monday's news that iRobot is buying little-known Nekton Research for $10 million, and potentially $15 million. Investors seemed to like the news, bidding iRobot up on Monday. Me, I'm not so sure.
I certainly see why iRobot wants Nekton. It complements iRobot's key position in developing Seaglider Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) for the Navy. Nekton works on a "kamikaze" AUV for underwater mine detonation -- a logical fit with iRobot's landlubbing explosive ordnance disposal robot. That said, I fear iRobot's reach may exceed its grasp here.
Remember iRobot's troubles with cash flow, highlighted by the CFO? Well, unless iRobot gets these fixed right quick, the Nekton purchase could eat up a great deal of cash and equivalents that iRobot has on its balance sheet, raising the specter of a dilutive share issuance, or a need to go into debt to fund the Nekton purchase.
Slow down, iRobot, you move too fast,
You gotta make sure your cash will last ...
Read more about iRobot's military ventures in: