Roomba maker iRobot will pay $141 million for Robopolis, its largest European distributor, in a bid to expand its operations in a key region. The robotics company announced the acquisition in July and has now confirmed and closed the deal.

Robopolis accounted for nearly half of iRobot's revenue obtained in the EMEA region (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa) last year. The region itself generated about 25% of the Boston-based robot maker's total revenue in 2016. That’s why iRobot decided to buy the distributor. This is a big opportunity for the Roomba maker to unify its message across markets and grow the business as a whole, taking control of key operations – Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Roomba’s path to success

Robopolis is based in the French city of Lyon but iRobot’s European operations will be led from its UK office, in London. CEO Denis Guyennot will remain as a consultant, for the time being. According to iRobot, he was “instrumental” in establishing the Roomba brand in Western Europe, which is why he’s sticking around.

Jean-Jacques Blanc, who serves as vice president and general manager for iRobot’s overseas markets, will lead the new and improved European team. He will report to chief operating officer Christian Cerda, whom I recently met in the company’s Boston headquarters.

“I worked in Europe for ten years, I’m very aware of how complex the market is,” he told me. “It’s a complex but huge market, full of potential.” Cerda mentioned that the Roomba brand is insanely popular in Portugal and Spain, where consumers “love” the robot vacuum cleaner more than anywhere else in the region.

Why? Word of mouth, he thinks. “What happens is that people who have one [a Roomba] tell all of their friends.”

Raising awareness is one of iRobot’s challenges. The robot maker has sold over 20 million Roomba cleaners in 15 years, which is not bad; however, Cerda believes that this is an appliance that should be "in every home." He says Roomba's market share is limited to 3% to 6%, depending on the market, simply because a lot of consumers don't know they can have a robotic vacuum cleaner – or don't believe it works.

Buying Robopolis is a way for iRobot to strengthen its marketing in Europe and reach more consumers. At the same time, the company needs to fend off competition as more brands are entering the market.

What’s next for iRobot?

Remember Rosie, the robotic maid who did everything for The Jetsons?

That’s not what iRobot is going for – even though there are portraits of Rosie around the headquarters, as a joke, or maybe as an inspiration.

There are a lot of chores that should be completed by robots, he says, aside from vacuuming and mopping (the company has a mopping robot, Braava Jet). “Dishwashing, monitoring the home, helping senior citizens – there are a lot of areas for consumer robotics to go into,” Cerda states. So iRobot needs to develop different kinds of robots and “build a diverse portfolio.”

The third challenge is broader in scope. It refers to iRobot’s identity as a company in a digital world. “The core of the company was electromechanics: how do you make the wheels, how do you build the engine.

And now, we’re talking about machine learning, object recognition. How do we evolve the company from electromechanical engineering to artificial intelligence and the cloud?” he asks. That’s what iRobot is working on right now, and the reason why they’re mostly hiring software engineers.

“We want to be known as the robot company,” he adds. Not just the Roomba maker.