A robotic lawn mower will be coming soon to an acre of grass near you.
Lake Zurich-based Echo Inc., which manufacturers and distributes landscape equipment worldwide, is expanding its product lines and aims to introduce its new Roomba-like lawn mower to U.S. customers by next year. It's one of the many ways the company has been expanding in recent years.
Echo FactsBusiness: Outdoor landscaping equipment and other devices for consumer and professional use
Headquarters: Lake Zurich
Leadership: Tim Dorsey, president
"Here in the U.S., we are working on the second generation of these products to be sold to sports fields and golf driving ranges," said Barb Gora, senior manager of corporate marketing at Echo. "These are not homeowner products and are designed for large grass spaces requiring regular mowing for surface consistency."
The company has been looking at such new ventures for a while and acquired Belrobotics in Belgium in 2014 for its robotic lawn mowers. The battery-operated mowers work within a border wire as a boundary to move around and trim the grass. Belrobotics has been selling robotic mowers in Europe for more than 10 years. They are used to maintain about 600 soccer fields there, Gora said.
Adding such companies and products has helped Echo expand in a competitive industry. Besides new products, it also continues to sell staples, such as hedgers, trimmers, blowers and other outdoor equipment for landscapers, arborists and other industry professionals. Echo's workforce of 860 employees continues to grow as well as its 37-acre campus in an industrial park in Lake Zurich.
The company's headquarters expanded twice on its local campus. It opened a new 129,000-square-foot warehouse in 2010. Then last year, Echo began constructing a 51,000-square-foot corporate office center at its existing facility. They expect to move in the employees with the marketing sales, finance and IT departments later this year. The existing office then will include product and service-related functions.
"We're pleased that Echo decided to expand in Lake Zurich as opposed to the alternatives of moving away," said Lake Zurich Mayor Thomas Poynton. "They received no incentives to stay and build here, nothing was offered and nothing was asked for."
Echo also sells it products to wholesalers, who then sell the products to about 6,600 independent dealers.
Besides products for professionals, Echo expanded its consumer offerings after it partnered with Home Depot in 1994. Echo products are carried in stores throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
Echo President Tim Dorsey, who has been with the company for 21 years, took the top position in 2014. He is the second American president of the company and replaced the retiring Dan Obringer. Dorsey remembers what it was like traveling to the Tokyo area for his first business meeting with executives of the parent company, Yamabiko Corporation of Japan.
"There wasn't as much English signage back then, so it was challenging," Dorsey said about traveling in Japan. "But it became easier. And I've been shown incredible hospitality, just outstanding. Since that first trip, I got some books to learn more about the culture and language. I even learned to say in Japanese, 'Let's drink' and 'Let's eat.'"
Now, he travels three to four times annually for meetings in Japan.
Besides being part of the team during the company's growth, Dorsey also has seen how the company's name has changed.
In 1972, Kioritz Corporation of Japan opened an office in Northbrook to import small engine products into the North American market. With the growth of the outdoor power equipment market and Kioritz's success, the company changed its U.S. name to Echo and began selling products under the Echo brand. Echo then opened a production and assembly facility in Wheeling in 1979.
As the business continued to grow, the company moved its headquarters and manufacturing to Lake Zurich. By 2009, Kioritz and Echo merged with Shindaiwa, another outdoor power equipment global company, to form Yamabiko.
"I learned a broad perspective of the operations and inner workings of the company over the years," Dorsey said.
Along the way, Echo also acquired companies, such as Belrobotics and West Fargo, North Dakota-based Crary Industries, that makes large equipment for potato growers, and Phoenix, Arizona-based Kwik Products Inc. that makes trimmer heads and accessories, Dorsey said.
It's part of a long-range plan to do more acquisitions when the right opportunities are available.
"We're always looking for opportunities," Dorsey said about acquisitions. "But there haven't been any this year. We're focusing on the expansion here."