Robotshop.ca is one of the leaders of online robotics. The following is an interview I conducted with its founder, Mario Tremblay. I would like to clarify that this article is not sponsored. I took the time to talk with Mario about Robotshop because I believe that this is an intelligent company at all levels: within its own sector, in Internet marketing, and through the vision of its founder. I discovered Robotshop through a co-worker who left the pharmaceutical industry to work full-time with her husband, who is none other than…Mario Tremblay.
Mario, you are the founder of an Internet site, Robotshop.ca, a leader in robotics. Can you tell us about the company, including its inception (which is part of the adventure), and how many employees you have?
Robotshop, Robotics at Your Service (TM) was founded in 2003. We specialize in robotic technology on both a professional and domestic basis. We offer a wide range of robotic products and services in this sector. Our head office is in Boisbriand, Quebec. Our mission is to provide companies with domestic and professional robot technology that will help increase individuals’ satisfaction, knowledge, freedom and security.
Our team is growing rapidly, and we are very versatile in our expertise; we employ technicians and engineers; robotics experts in Web marketing and logistics; and we also have sales and shipping staff. We are also working with consultant firms for specific tasks that we do not want to take on internally.
Since RobotShop is primarily a specialized online shop, what are your primary products, and who is your target audience: professional, for specialized equipment; or the general public, for domestic robots and toys? Also, whom do you serve? Quebec, the United States, or the International community?
Our clientele is very broad, including students and professors, laborers and blue-collar workers, innovators, “early adopters”, schools and companies, and institutions and governments around the world.
From a surface view, we do feel that RobotShop is primarily a specialty online store. But in reality, RobotShop was developed to distribute the outgrowth of robotic research and development (R&D). It was while we were developing R&D that we noticed shortcomings in the distribution of robotic goods to professionals. So, now we offer specialized robotic parts (microcontrollers, sensors, motors, etc.) Every day, through Robotshop’s Online Support Center, we respond to all sorts of questions about how to build certain applications, what products to use, and so on.
Admittedly, there is one aspect of our robot distribution that improves our everyday lives — the popular robot iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaner; so far, more than 3 million units have been sold around the world. This is the first major success in the robotic “servant” field. We were the first to sell them in Canada and the first in the world to repair these domestic robots in our facility. At RobotShop, we bring robots back to life! (TM)
We also just made a breakthrough in the field of professional robots, a more expensive and robust class of robots that can be used in various applications such as surveillance, security, or even to oversee mine clearing. These robots also serve as a development platform.
That being said, our toy robots and the educational kits that are used to build them should not be neglected, because they are not meant to just amuse people while the robots’ batteries are being drained! Rather, they are used increasingly to train young people in our schools and to encourage their desire and knowledge to create. Kids love robots, and if this can give them a feeling of creating and inventing something useful for society, then that’s a very good thing.
I noticed that RobotShop has a strong presence in the sponsored links (Google Adwords). Do you have a big marketing budget, and have you developed a strategy for it on the Web?
We are investing a lot in marketing since the web is our main market. We have been committed to it in the past, and our consulting firms have recently decided to use our own internal expertise to build our own Web Intelligence Center. This department is expected to really grow and become the heart of the company’s strategic operations. Our goal is to become the world leader on the Internet in the field of robotics and domestic work. We are now preparing to take a dominant position. Our main strategy is simple: know yourself, know your field and know your competitors. With this information at our disposal, we can be proactive and in a position to prepare good action plans.
As I have already pointed out, you do not have an affiliate program, which nevertheless could serve as leverage in your online sales. Is this something you plan to initiate in the near future?
You know, there are different Web strategies. At RobotShop, we believe that good content attracts good links and, thus, good traffic. Tha’s how we’ve built RobotShop in the last 5 years. In recent months, we decided to develop and launch the new Web RobotShop platform, as well as the Forum and the Wiki, which will help build our community on the Web. Our programmers are actively working with the help of our robotics team to provide good content. The most important thing is that consumers find what they are looking for when they need it and at the price they are ready to pay for it. At RobotShop we strive to offer a pleasant shopping experience.
To respond more specifically to your question, we have considered an affiliate program in the short and medium term, but it’s not really a top priority. We don’t believe that this would be as advantageous as other ideas we are implementing right now, steps we are taking right now, but we do believe that this would be an asset at some point.
I see on your site that you are now concentrating on these matters, in particular (Specialists in Robotics, Internet Content, and Internet Marketing Strategy, in charge of Purchasing and Inventory Management), which is a good sign. Do you feel the company can develop this quickly? What about your sales, if that is not too delicate a question?
RobotShop is growing very rapidly, and by its own means. The company has a growth rate of 80 to 100% per year, which it has had every year since its inception. Also, all profits from the company, which has been profitable since its first year, are re-invested. Because we are a privately owned firm, I prefer to keep some things confidential, but I can tell you that the management team is made up of very smart people who complement each other well to make the best strategic decisions. In addition, employees are consulted and actively contribute significantly to the collective intelligence of the company. The continual hiring of skilled creative and visionary personnel is a priority. At RobotShop, we are invested in a mission, and all who are part of this venture firmly believe in that mission.
You should also know that many experts foresee domestic robotics as the next major industrial phase that humanity will experience. Our campaigns have been launched ; we have launched research in the United States, Asia and Europe to create robotic services for everyone. Major funding has been made available by the government to promote research and development, thereby increasing the expertise in technology integration dedicated to domestic robotics. Robotic technology will be everywhere, both to address environmental disasters, for exploration on land or in space, or simply to improve the conditions of the lives of human beings.
What is your long-term goal, and what are your most cherished wishes concerning RobotShop? Are you looking for exponential growth or a takeover by a big company?
Let me personally hope that RobotShop will retain its own soul. You know, there are so many companies that exist only to take advantage of people and are only there for the money. RobotShop is a fine company that has a great mission. I would like to live in such a way that we can all be proud of, and that our children and grandchildren will be proud of. Maybe that’s why it should remain a privately owned firm. You know, at a time when we lose our greatest corporate emblems to the hands of foreigners, and when our governments are trying to save declining industries, it is difficult to predict the future. But I can give you a clue: money has never been my source of energy. It’s the achievement that pushes me forward, and now with the team that we have put in place, I believe we can accomplish a lot of good things. I hope that RobotShop continues its expansion and becomes one of the “success stories” of tomorrow.
Thanks, Mario, for giving me this interview.