Spreading Good Cheer, and Yankee Candle Scents, with Robot Add-Ons

12/21/12Follow @gthuang

If you’re still looking for that perfect holiday gift, the folks at Georgetown, MA-based Robot Add-Ons have some ideas. One of them is a charming accessory that lets a Roomba vacuum cleaner spread Yankee Candle fragrance around your home.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s not a lit candle moving around on the back of an iRobot Roomba—though that would be festive (and fantastically stupid) in its own right. No, it’s a cartridge that goes into the back of the Roomba, next to the exhaust pipe, and releases an air-freshener scent—clean cotton, Macintosh apple, sun and sand—wherever the robot goes. The accessory has been selling in Bed Bath & Beyond stores since November.

As Robot Add-Ons co-founder Barry Stout tells me, the advantage is that instead of having a stationary air freshener that plugs into an outlet or burns in a candle, “now it’s all around your house.” Also, the fragrance release can be scheduled along with the vacuuming. Let it be known that it took three Massachusetts companies—Bedford-based iRobot, Deerfield-based Yankee Candle, and the North Shore’s Robot Add-Ons—to make this feat of engineering happen.

I’m being ironically harsh. Usually the simple business ideas are the best ones, right? And Robot Add-Ons has learned a lot in its short lifetime. The four-person company started in early 2009 and is led by two former iRobot engineers: Stout, a Roomba designer and programmer; and Jim Lynch, the inventor of the Looj gutter-cleaning bot. The company also sells other Roomba accessories, such as hypoallergenic filters and bumpers to protect delicate furnishings.

“Why bother reinventing a robot? Just add on to it,” says Stout.

The bootstrapped business has been ramping up slowly but surely. “We were barely squeaking by at the beginning, but then we doubled every year for revenue,” Stout says. “But costs always seem to go up. You’d think when you sell more, costs would go down.”

Robot Add-Ons now has two fulfillment centers and also has to spend money on things like air-shipping products to big retailers. The company currently has distribution in 14 countries. The addition of a big-box retailer like Bed Bath & Beyond should help its chances.

And, of course, the holidays are a big proving ground. “Business is extremely seasonal,” Stout says. “Roomba [sales are] really seasonal, it’s a very popular gift.”

All of this made me try to think of other ideas for Roomba add-ons. A laser for your cat to dance to? Been done already. Beer delivery around the house? Check. A webcam for telepresence? Yup, that too. But Stout mentions that Yankee Candle is trying to appeal to more male consumers, with things like a football scent (presumably for your man cave). So, should we look for a fart-spray Roomba accessory for frat parties in the new year?

Stout isn’t giving away his secrets just yet. “We have a ton of other ideas too, not related to robots,” he says.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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