A Roomba for the lawn. A NC company uses robots to mow your lawn

HomeVP co-founder Nick Sagnella is shown using an app to put a robotic lawn mower in demonstration mode
HomeVP co-founder Nick Sagnella is shown using an app to put a robotic lawn mower in demonstration mode Courtesy of Woody Chin

Hate cutting your grass? A new Charlotte startup uses robots to mow lawns.

HomeVP uses robotic mowers that are sort of like Roomba vacuums, but for your lawn, says co-founder Woody Chin, a former executive at the Dillards department store chain. Chin and his business partner, Nick Sagnella, launched the subscription lawn service earlier this month, and are working to grow the business now that they have established a small customer base.

During its first month, HomeVP did 10 installations, and the goal is to grow that to 1,000 within two years, Chin says.

Here’s how it works: HomeVP uses devices called Robomows that cut grass twice a week and are kept at customers’ homes – a bit how cable companies rent modems to customers. HomeVP has three levels of monthly packages for varying prices – Customers can opt into additional services like weed control, fertilization and aeration.

For now, Chin and Sagnella will be the ones who come out to perform the manual labor that the robots can’t do. They also set up an invisible-fence like boundary so that the mowers stay in customers’ yards, and will come out periodically to do mower maintenance, such as changing the blades.

“Most homeowners we talk to want a one-stop shop (for lawn services),” Chin told the Observer.

Robotic mowers have been sold for decades in Europe, where people tend to have smaller lawns, according to a recent AP story. About 70 percent of robotic mowers today are sold in Europe, the AP wrote. In the U.S., the automated mowers are relatively expensive, and it’s tougher to mow bigger lawns and tougher grasses, like the tall fescue that grows in the South.

Chin describes himself and Sagnella as “a bit of an odd couple.” Chin has a background in information technology – he previously commuted to his job in Arkansas, where he was the chief information officer of Dillards. Sagnella comes from a landscaping background and installed sod in Chin’s backyard about four years ago, and the two remained in touch after that.

Their first business venture – a subscription handyman business that offered services like replacing air filters and changing difficult-to-reach light bulbs – was “monumentally unsuccessful,” Chin said. “It turns out people don’t like to be reminded they’re being neglectful.”

“We realized we could deliver a better business with prices that could be competitive with traditional services,” Chin said.

He also said the use of robots solves a problem faced by landscaping companies today.

“The question that comes up is: Is it a job destroyer? The thing is, when you talk to landscapers, they can’t find the talent,” Chin said.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta