iRobot's conference call this morning was very, very boring, almost tedious, and I blame the analysts. All they seemed to care about were vague questions about "color" for next year's numbers. Nobody had a truly insightful question, including the obvious ones:
1) How concerned are you about the threats from Neato Robotics, Mint Cleaner, Samsung, and are you worried that they are taking share in stores where they compete head to head (Bed, Bath and Beyond, Hammacher, Amazon)? (There was a question about losing share in the U.S. because of a lack of product supply while they await production from a new contract manufacturer, and Angle said he didn't think they were losing share. But share of what? Share of the robot vacuum market? They most certainly are because their share had been 100% and now it is something less than that. Angle also seemed to put in a possible dig to Neato's apparent early reliability issues by saying how big a challenge it is to build a robot that "stays sold" instead of being returned. But it's sheer negligence not to ask about Neato!)
2) How concerned are you that Roomba and Scooba have gone several years now without a major upgrade, and don't have smart navigation technology along the lines of Evolution or Neato Robotics?
3) The big new Navy contract for next-generation EOD robots is out of sync with iRobot's products, because it calls for a 700 pound class robot and you only have a 300 pound class robot (Warrior). Do you need to rethink your products or can you compete with the products you have?
4) You just announced a new partnership with Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. You already have a partnership with Boeing. Is there a point at which iRobot could be up for sale, or when you would consider selling off the G&I business, for example?
The only good question I heard was whether they had secured nickel for 2011 and hedged it. iRobot's CFO said that they had already secured a contract for nickel for 2011, which is good news (and something I asked several weeks ago. If they had secured a long-term contract in 2008, when I first started banging the drum on this, they still probably would have saved millions. Alas!)