Autmow Robotics, based in Columbus, Ohio, is a network of robotic lawn and turf-care specialists. Founder and CEO Jeff Lattimer, a systems engineer by training, began researching autonomous lawn mowing solutions for his own use.
“Some of the best things in life are accidents. As a proud dad, amateur triathlete and tech enthusiast: I wanted more free time outside of the daily 9-5. In 2012, I found an autonomous lawn mower that would help,” he says. Just a few years later, he had established Autmow Robotics, “a business built to fill the gaps between manufacturer and consumer in the U.S.”
Today, Autmow operates in 35 locations around the country, including Boston, New York, Memphis and others. In September of this year, Autmow Robotics announced that it had added the Gardena robotic mower series to its lineup of mowers, which also includes Ambrogio, Echo, Honda, Husqvarna, Robomow, TinyMobileRobots and Worx.
We caught up with Lattimer to get a better picture of his company, his take on the current state of autonomous mowing and what the future of robotic mowers might look like.
OPEB: First off, can you describe Autmow’s business model for our readers? Is it a dealership? Is it a franchise model? Or is it something else altogether?
Autmow operates on a licensing model, which allows more freedom and lower cost compared to a franchise. Also, this makes it easier to add this to your existing business. We started with the goal of filling the gaps between manufacturers and dealers. By taking this approach, we’re able to support new and existing businesses as they adapt to a new market. We offer access to the most heavily tested and vetted products, ongoing support beyond what the manufacturers can provide, proprietary software to support the business model, and deeper discounts on products and supplies.
OPEB: The Autmow website indicates the company has installed more than 800 robotic mowers, and that it has trained more than 30 installers nationwide, and 20 locations, is that correct?
Correct! Our installations range from one robot installed for a homeowner, to 200+ robots installed for commercial applications. We’re always eager to expand our coverage and grow the Autmow team. We sell most product directly to customers, but we also support installations sold by partners. The volume this brings help to get our licensees established and comfortable with the product much more quickly than if one were to start on their own.
OPEB: How long has Autmow been in business? And how did you personally get involved on the robotic side of things?
The planning for Autmow started in 2014. We opened our doors in early 2016 and began training new partners in 2017. I have a background in engineering and operations. I began researching the product and the European market and found that there was a major opportunity because manufacturers were struggling to connect with consumers in the U.S.
OPEB: You sell to both consumers and contractors/lawn care professionals, correct? What percentage of each, would you estimate?
About 80 percent of our business is residential, however our commercial business has seen the most rapid growth in the past two years. Lawn care professionals are beginning to see the payoff in adding robotics to dangerous and complex areas, as well as the bump in both revenue and salary when they can move manpower from mowing to trimming and other support.
OPEB: How does your service work? Do you do initial onsite surveys of the property?
We offer a free demonstration and lawn consultation to all customers. The consultation includes a basic overview of the robot’s functions and a walkthrough of the lawn. During the walkthrough, we point out different obstacles throughout the lawn and suggest robot-friendly alternatives. This helps to set the expectations before we begin. We also use proprietary software to ease the process for larger customers. From there, we make sure to perfect the installation. This minimizes the support needed once the robot is installed. From there, we offer typical service and repair you would expect from a dealer.
OPEB: How important is the install for a robotic mower?
The installation is extremely important. If installed incorrectly, the customer is much more likely to return the robot and become skeptical of robotic mowing in general. We put a lot of effort into training and supporting our certified Installers to make sure they succeed with the product and keep their return rate well under 2 percent.
OPEB: Do you work with traditional OPE dealers to do/sell robotic mower installs?
Yes. we often will perform the installation if another dealer is unable or doesn’t have an installer in the area. In return, we’ll send customers in need of service on gas-powered equipment to surrounding dealers. We encourage dealers in new areas not covered by Autmow to sign up with us if they have an interest in robotics but are hesitant to start.
OPEB: It appears that Autmow also provides quite a bit of content on its website addressing basic (and not-so-basic) robotic mower questions, for lawn care pros as well as homeowners. How has this helped your sales and marketing efforts?
Our primary goal is to help educate. This helps tremendously because most customers research the robots before committing to the purchase. When they search the web for answers, Autmow’s website is one of the first resources they find. Ultimately, we want customers to make the right decision so they’re happy with their product. Sometimes this takes a bit of level-setting and can be considered more as consulting than as sales.
OPEB: What’s the future of robotic mowers – will they continue to increase their market share?
We more than double in size every year. We expect robotics to eventually match the European market. The growth is exponential – the U.S. is currently at single-digit adoption, but several countries in Europe have already seen 20-30 percent of all sales transfer to robotics.
Looking at the U.S. market as a whole, only about 1 percent of consumers buy robotics when buying mowers, but this is changing rapidly. According to a study by The Freedonia Group, an estimated 30,000 units were sold in the U.S. in 2018, and that number is projected to be 68,000 units in 2022. Robotic mowers are by far the highest growth segment in the U.S. because we are finally beginning to adopt the technology 25 years after it began in Europe. Autmow is a good example of this growth: We are about 250-percent larger than we were this time last year, and this is the fifth year we’ve kept the trend of more than doubling each year.
OPEB: What is Autmow’s future, what’s next for your company?
We are built to grow. We want to cover the entire U.S. and continue to bring new technologies to lawn care professionals as they adapt to the new environment. Our robotic sports field painters are new this year but extremely successful. We continue to look at what’s next and see how we can help our partners grow with us.
This article first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2021 issue of OPE Business.