Entrepreneur Jeff Lattimer brings automated lawn mowing to central Ohio and beyond with Autmow.

Jeff Lattimer first became interested in robotic mowers six years ago when he started looking at buying one for his home off Sunbury Road near the Hoover Reservoir. The marketing and business operations project manager discovered the technology offered a solution to his personal lawn care needs, as well as an entrepreneurial opportunity.

In late 2015, Lattimer launched Autmow Robotic Mowing. Now in its third year, the company sells robotic mowers of various overseas manufacturers and provides consulting and other services to property management and corporate clients.

Lattimer says the robotic mowers have been around for more than two decades but have had slow adoption in the United States at less than 1 percent market penetration, compared to 20 percent in Europe. Worldwide, about 1.5 million units have been installed in the last two decades. “I can't say what the [U.S.] numbers are,” Lattimer says. “I do know the U.S. is the biggest market in the world as one of the late adopters.”

Improved battery and GPS technology have made the product more viable for the American market in the last decade. “Americans are getting more and more into automated homes, so [U.S. sales] are beginning to take off with all of that,” Lattimer says.

GPS capabilities enhance the movement of the mower, which is bound by underground wires installed along property lines and around landscaping obstacles much like an invisible fence for dogs. “Before we could connect to the mower via Bluetooth, but you had to be within 100 feet of the mower. Now I can be sitting in Florida and see exactly where my mower is [positioned] in the yard,” he says. A cellular connection allows remote control of the unit.

The units are not cheap, costing about the same as a riding mower with units as low as $1,000 and topping out at about $3,500. “The difference depends on the capabilities as far as how you can connect communicate with it as well as how big of an area it can do.”

Autmow has direct operations in Columbus, Cincinnati and South Bend, Indiana. But it can sell Husqvarna and other brands it represents throughout the U.S. and service them through a network of service providers Autmow trains outside of its core markets.

Most customers now are individual homeowners, but Lattimer says property management companies are becoming interested in the technology. Corporate campuses could also gain from using robotic mowers. “[Those business customers] are starting to do the math when it comes to the cost of seasonal labor and the difficulty of finding folks.”

Hilliard resident Bob Brown says he had a robotic mower installed in April after he and his wife met Lattimer at a home and garden show in the fall 2017 while also considering the option of a lawn service. “After doing a cost comparison, we felt investing in the mower was the wiser choice with a [return on investment] of about three years,” Brown says of the mower that he runs several times a week to maintain aconsistent height. He still has less than 20 minutes of trimming to do around the house and fences. “We like it because it's quiet, and we can run it anytime without disturbing our neighbors.”

Brown, in fact, has presented the idea of a fleet of robotic mowers to care for his employer's corporate campus. “We're all about sustainability, and this fits our culture,” says Brown, who asked that the name of his employer remain anonymous while the C-suite considers the option. “I hope they give it a shot.”

Lattimer's business has grown rapidly after selling 20 units in 2016. “That went well compared to what expected, about double of what we wanted,” he says. “In 2017, we quadrupled that and this year we expect to do that again.” He expects to sell between 150 and 250 units this year.

Lattimer's business strategy is not to offer direct lawn care service in multiple markets. “We want to be able to quickly pivot,” he says. “Rather than controlling small markets of my own, it's more about being able to advise businesses on the best products out there … and offering different capabilities for those who want to do with their own business.”

Brian Ball is a freelance writer.