WAYLAND, Mass. After divorcing her husband of thirteen years last fall, tech entrepreneur Beth Marquis knew she needed a new source of companionship in her life, but wasn’t sure she was ready for a dog. “I like to walk around Dudley Pond,” she says, “and carrying a steaming bag of poop with you can be a turn-off for some guys.”
So Beth opted instead for a RoboVac, a robotic floor vacuum that was designed for those with little time or inclination to spend cleaning, but which has evolved into a low-maintenance pet for many who don’t like the smell of wet cat food, much less cleaning cat boxes.
“We started getting calls from pet stores instead of appliance retailers,” says marketing director Les Thurston. “The proverbial light bulb went on over our heads, which was a good thing because the non-proverbial fluorescents in the office were starting to flicker.”
The company’s intuition led to a marketing plan that includes “meet ups” by RoboVac owners organized according to zip codes, and activities both indoor and outdoor designed to improve brand recognition, foster customer loyalty, enhance shareholder value and further other corporate ting-tang walla-walla bing-bangs.
This Sunday finds a group of eight men and women of varying ages slushing through powdery snow in the woods west of Boston, accompanied by their RoboVacs, which chug along for as much as a mile before their batteries must be re-charged. “Your little guy is so cute!” says Evelyn Dworski to Bob Felsnap, whose RoboVac Jr.–dubbed “Bob Jr.”–is all he needs to take care of his 750 square-foot bachelor pad.
“Thanks,” he says. “Is yours the Weekender?” he asks, referring to a second-generation model with an oversize dust bin. “Yep,” says Evelyn. “I call her Buelah–she’s like the maid I hope to be able to afford someday.”
Bob and Evelyn continue chatting while their “units” check each other out, circling and nuzzling each other’s large contact-sensing bumpers. “It is so pretty when the snow is clean and new like this,” Evelyn says as she checks her reflection in Bob’s oversize sunglass lenses. “It makes you feel so–pure, and fresh and . . .”
She stops and cocks her ear to an indistinct sound heard just off the trail. “What’s that grinding?” she asks. “I don’t know,” he says. She looks off into the woods and sees “Bob Jr.” mounting “Buelah” from behind, trying to engage her female outlet.
“BAD vacuum cleaner, BAD!” Evelyn shouts as she rushes to protect her appliance, which does not have an extended service plan.
“Sorry, Evelyn,” Bob says with embarrassment. “I guess I left him on the charger too long last night.”