Eric Berg says that after using a robotic mower for his own yard, he quickly decided to invest in the technology.
“I have three little kids at home. And there was never a good time to cut my lawn…so, my lawn never looked good,” says the owner of EMBerg Ventures in Milwaukee, Wis. “It saves me time, it saves me money, it’s environmentally-friendly and cost effective. It really checks all the boxes from a consumer standpoint, which led me to the technology as a consumer and as an entrepreneur as well.”
Berg signed with Robin Autopilot in December 2018 and launched in the spring of 2019. Prior to investing in robotic mowers, Berg had no experience in the green industry.
“The majority of my clients pay us a weekly fee, and we install and maintain a robotic mower,” Berg says. “We will also sell them outright and install them, but the real niche is using it as a service – using the technology to maintain the lawn without someone on a gas-powered mower showing up every seven to 10 days.”
Nathan Laughlin, owner of Robo Lawn Salon in Edmond, Okla., has offered robotic mowing since 2018.
When we brought the robotic mower over, their eyes kind of lit up with excitement for everything it could do.” Emma Trizzino, general manager, Greenspace Associates
“I was looking for something where the business model would be residual,” he says. “With the way I do the lawn mowers, people essentially lease them from me, so it’s very residual.”
Laughlin says offering robotic mowing services is very adaptable.
“My model is whatever makes the customer happy,” he says. “If they want to buy it outright, I’ll sell it outright; if they want to buy it over the course of time, I’ll finance it to them; if they want to lease it, I’ll lease it to them. People appreciate that I’m really flexible in that aspect.”
Laughlin and Berg say that their clients appreciate the hands-off and worry-free approach of robotic mowing.
“You can be 100 miles away and it is still doing its job,” Berg says.
While the robots are mowing the customers’ yards daily at times, Laughlin says he offers other services to his customers to take care of the finishing touches.
“It’s really however the customer wants to do it,” he says. “Most of my customers do their own, but I offer edging and trimming. I do it all myself.”
Laughlin says the price of his service is comparable to other landscaping or even the cost of a ride-on mower in the long-run.
“I usually charge a one-time install fee and install it and then they’re typically paying March through October on the robot if they’re leasing it,” he says. “The monthly fee depends on the size of the yard, the kind of robot and the services they want. I start out at about $79 or $89 a month. And that’s just for the robot…it also includes the monitoring and maintenance of it.”
Berg says that by owning the mowers and leasing them out, he’s able to repurpose them if need be.
“If that client stops service or moves, I will recover the mower and re-deploy it at another client’s property,” he says.
For Greenspace Associates in Bettendorf, Iowa, crews use robotic mowers in a commercial setting rather than residential, says Emma Trizzino, general manager.
The company first used them three years ago, and Trizzino says the limited maintenance and prep work for the mowers has been nice.
“You just come in and plug the remote in overnight, so it’s ready the next day,” she says. “Other than that, you’re good to go.”
Trizzino says that the crews can safely and effectively use the robotic mowers on tough landscapes including dikes, cliffs and steep hills.
“It’s made the work a lot safer and a lot more efficient,” she says. “It’s been a great asset to our company. One of our larger maintenance contracts has a lot of steep dikes and it was taking six guys all week to string trim it safely and cut down the weeds. So, we looked into getting a robotic mower. It’s cut it down (from) six guys all week to now one guy operating the mower.”
Trizzino says that before making the switch to robotic mowers, the terrain was known to cause problems for crews.
“Before you always had to worry about someone rolling an ankle or walking through the tall weeds string trimming and not knowing what they’re stepping on,” she says. “Now you’ve got a guy who is standing back a ways and can just control the mower with a remote control and not have to worry about those dikes and live animals.”
For now, Greenspace crews are only using the mowers at one site, but Trizzino says the property owners are very impressed with the quality of cut and safety measures.
“They are big on safety,” she says. “That’s one of their top priorities. So, if it rained or anything like that, we were never allowed on the dikes to mow because they’d be too slippery. When we brought the robotic mower over, their eyes kind of lit up with excitement for everything it could do.”
Trizzino says having the robotic mowers has even helped the company through a shortage of labor.
“I’m sure every landscaping company has labor shortage issues with finding the right guys and getting a number of employees to show up every day, so reducing our need for more employees to control and maintain these dikes has been nice,” she says.
“As people learn about the technology and the cost structures for these mowers, and the time savings, I think people with larger yards will absolutely go this way. I truly think it will change the lawn care industry totally.” Eric Berg, owner, EMBerg Ventures
While there are plenty of advantages to robotic mowers, Laughlin says he has had to deal with managing expectations.
“It’s not a perfect fit for everybody,” he says of customers who’ve cancelled services. “They wanted it to be 100% hands off. And often times the mower gets stuck, or you have to make sure it isn’t stuck under your vehicle or something like that. Some people just don’t want to hassle with it.”
Laughlin says his limited knowledge of the mower’s capabilities early on caused him to lose a few clients. He explains that when a mower is installed, a wire is run around the perimeter of the property. If there is anything in the middle of the yard that the mower should avoid, those are called islands and wire is ran around them as well.
“I had a customer who ended up with 23 islands…and his yard was over an acre and a quarter,” he says. “I had two robots on his yard and after two or three months of trying to get the two robots to mow his yard, he had to call it quits. The robots really couldn’t keep up.”
Berg adds that some customers are hesitant to make the switch because they are so used to traditional landscaping.
“There’s definitely a learning curve,” he says. “We’re the same, yet we’re different. We do the same thing as a traditional lawn care provider, but we just use a totally different technology to do it. It’s picking up but there has been a learning curve.”
Laughlin says he feels suspicion around the mowers has also kept them from gaining more momentum.
“I think there’s a large gap in the awareness. People don’t really know much about these mowers and are skeptical when they find out about them,” he says.
FITTED FOR THE FUTURE.
As people learn more about them and see more in their neighborhoods, Berg thinks more people will come around.
“To me it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when,’” he says. “As people learn about the technology and the cost structures for these mowers, and the time savings, I think people with larger yards will absolutely go this way. I truly think it will change the lawn care industry totally.”
Currently, Berg and Laughlin say their clients are tech savvy individuals who enjoy testing out the latest trends and gadgets.
“I do think a lot of our customers are early adopters,” Berg says. “They have a hybrid vehicle, or electric vehicle, already. They are tech-forward people who don’t necessarily do things the way they’ve always been done. As we see people get more used to it and acquainted with the technology, I think we’ll see more people sign on.”
Laughlin says he too thinks robotic mowers will continue to make their way into the industry slowly, but surely.
“I think a lot of the yard maintenance companies will start transitioning to this,” he says. “Because long-term, it’s a huge money saver.”