Granted, it wasn't supposed to be a monster quarter. iRobot's breakthrough Scooba robotic mopping robot didn't really hit the retail market until after the quarter ended. After moving 1.5 million Roomba vacuum cleaners, despite penetrating just 1% of North American households and perpetually rolling out updated versions, it wasn't likely to repeat as the runaway holiday hit of the 2005 season.
It was still a solid year all around. The company wound up earning $0.11 a share in 2005; revenues soared by 49% to hit $142 million. On the military robotics front, the number of PackBot robots in the battlefield tripled in 2005. There are now 300 PackBots aiding the military in Iraq and Afghanistan on desert recon and roadside bomb disposal missions.
iRobot's poorly received fourth-quarter results sent the stock down as much as 18% this morning in early trading. That seems a bit nearsighted. Even though the company has historically derived 75% of its revenues over the latter half of the year, the defection ignores the nascent potential of the real driver in iRobot's growth potential -- the Scooba.
Haven't seen a Scooba yet? You will. By next month, the company expects the revolutionary flat-floor cleaner to be available at several retail establishments. Likely suspects such as Sharper Image
The military robotics niche is another area worth watching. It grew faster than the company's home robotics stronghold this past quarter, and the company continues to work with the U.S. armed forces to develop next-generation tactical mobile robots.
There's noteworthy potential in all of the company's lines, but it won't trickle all the way down to the bottom line in the near term. iRobot sees pre-tax operating profits hitting the high teens in five years -- but not now. Pre-tax operating margins clocked in at just 0.4% in 2004 and 2% last year. That figure won't change much in 2006, landing between 1% and 3% before accounting for stock-based compensation. The company expects higher marketing expenses to offset higher gross margins as it works to promote its Scooba floor-washing system.
Shares of iRobot were singled out two months ago to Rule Breakers newsletter subscribers on the basis of its long-term potential. That's why this slight quarterly hiccup isn't worrisome. If anything, it may offer investors an attractive entry point into a company that expects to grow its top line by 25% to 35% this year.
You probably don't have to rush to buy at the moment. Unless the Scooba is a smash hit out of the gate, iRobot likely won't post its next set of substantive results until the third quarter. Rule Breakers often take time to pay off. Today is the third Wednesday of the month, which means that the March issue of Motley Fool Rule Breakers will go out tonight to subscribers. That even gives you time to go for a free 30-day trial subscription.
Just don't let iRobot sweep you into a buying frenzy until you've brushed up on the company with your own due diligence. Your portfolio may thank you. So may your dirty living-room floor.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a fan of iRobot, but he does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.