RIA: How is the economy effecting the used robot market?
KW: This is a good time to be in the used robot market. There are a lot of robots available from companies that are downsizing - newer models with fewer hours.
At the same time, a lot of companies are looking for ways to maintain the robots they have. We've seen an increased need for parts and replacements of existing models. In addition, the economy is definitely effecting the way companies look at their workforce. Companies are concerned that they might not be able to keep their skilled laborers. Many companies are looking to used robots as a way to automate while still conserving capital.
RIA: Has the robot customer changed because of the economy?
KW: Yes. We've had a lot of new customers who are automating for the first time. Many of these customers were waiting to automate because they didn't have an incentive and they felt they could maintain skilled labor. I think it's telling that these first time buyers are not necessarily small companies. The economy is making it so large companies are considering automating more, with less of a workforce. We use the Internet to make sure these customers have the information they need to explore automation.
RIA: Tell us about the marketing strategies your company is using to reach customers.
KW: Knowing that companies are struggling with the current economy, and that there is an interest in robots, RobotWorx is doing a few things to make it easier to automate. We're trying to put ourselves in their shoes, "If I was going to do buy a robot right now, what would interest me?"
We started by offering the simple thing of free shipping. This way we take care of all the logistics. For first-time customers the details of setting up robot shipping can seem overwhelming. This way, everything is handled for them.
RobotWorx has also extended a No Money Down guarantee on all robot systems. This way, customers don't have to pay a cent until they are completely satisfied with the finished product. We try to make customers aware of financing and leasing options. Instead of putting down a lot of capital, companies can take advantage of leasing and pay in small installments.
RIA: What kind of advice can you give to others in the robotics industry?
KW: Companies are always going to want to automate, but the robotics industry needs to make it easier for them to make this decision. Anything we can do to minimize risk, the better. Maybe the manufacturing market has slowed down, but the need for robots is always going to be there.
In addition, now is a good time for those in the robot industry to make contact with existing customers. Take this opportunity to discuss their needs and interest them in upgrading their systems with new features and safety.
If the new stimulus bill does give incentives, be prepared to cater to customers that might only buy one robot in their lifetime. Provide as much information on your website for customers - to make it easier for them to make a decision. Those who haven't automated before will want more information.
Above all, stay flexible. Be open to things like reintegrating existing cells. RobotWorx recently helped a company that needed to change their robot system to fit a new job. We were able to use the customer's existing robot, add upgrades and reintegrate a whole new workcell. It saved them a great deal of money and hassle.
RIA: What do you think the future holds for the robotics industry?
KW: Starting with the new stimulus bill, there's going to be incentives for companies to keep production in the United States. I think there will be a trend to buy American products in order to keep jobs in the United States. In order to make that happen, U.S. products will have to be cost effective on a global basis. The only way to do that is to automate.
I think we're also going to see an increase in the need for robots in all sectors. As much as 90% of manufacturers haven't automated because they're small businesses. Robot automation is going to find its way into new industries. Clean energy is one of the major areas of growth. That's a whole new industry that will require robots to keep costs low.