Shares of Roomba maker iRobot Corporation (NASDAQ:IRBT) were down 14.5% as of 3:15 EDT Wednesday, as a short-seller renewed his attack on the company following the entrance of a new competitor.
More specifically, last week privately held SharkNinja marked its official entrance into the robotic vacuum market with its new Shark Ion Robot 750, which arrives at a suggested retail price of $349.99. By comparison, iRobot's various robotic-vacuum models have prices ranging from $299.99 (for its entry-level Roomba 614), to $899.99 (for its high-end Roomba 890).
As a result, today Spruce Point Capital warned that SharkNinja "is a credible threat to iRobot" given its knack for marketing, as well as engineering high-quality products at value price points -- two strengths that helped it successfully take market share from Dyson in recent years in the upright-vacuum market.
On the surface, these are fair concerns. Though Spruce Point previously lauded Dyson's 360 Eye as a significant threat to iRobot (among many other criticisms for the company), it admitted that Dyson's $1,000-plus price point "was simply too high, and it did not deliver meaningful performance advantage to the customer."
In comparison tests last year, iRobot's high-end Roomba crushed Dyson's 360 Eye in terms of performance, battery life, obstacle navigation, and all-around cleaning effectiveness. While it remains to be seen how well the new Shark robotic vacuum will fare against iRobot's more comparable low-end to middle-of-the-line offerings, investors are understandably spooked by the threat of Shark's well-known upright brand.
But similar to Dyson's entry into the market, industry watchers have known for months that Shark would probably launch its own competitive robot. And perhaps counterintuitively -- keeping in mind that iRobot holds a roughly 88% share of the robotic-vacuum market worldwide -- iRobot management does not view competition as detrimental to its domination of the market.
"One of the biggest continuing challenges for growth is getting those traditional upright vacuum cleaner skeptics to want to move into robotic vacuum cleaning," stated iRobot CFO Alison Dean ahead of Dyson's launch. "And when a leading upright vacuum cleaner developer is moving toward our space, it's a positive indicator for the space."
What's more, iRobot has continued to thrive despite already massive competition from the likes of Bissell, Hoover, Black & Decker, and a number of Chinese competitors entering the market in recent years. In the end, while Shark is certainly a big name, I think there's plenty of room for multiple market leaders in the burgeoning space, and I think iRobot will continue to perform well.