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Snowmobile dealers hope for snow

January 20, 2003
Filed under Features

Dealers across the country used their most optimistic voices possible when describing their fall, pre-holiday and post-holiday sales.
For some dealers, such as Lynn Felker of Felker Motor Sports in Loveland, Colo., the excitement came easily: he reported sales up 60% over last year. “The REV and Summits have (sold equally well),” the Ski-Doo dealer said. Parts, garments and accessory (PG&A) sales are also up 60% and the service department is busy.
“Last year was really dead for me,” Felker said of PG&A sales. “Now people are letting go of some of their money.”
For others, though, optimism seemed a bit more forced. Conrad Rollins, of Conrad’s Sales and Service in Abbot, Maine, reported fall and early-winter sales off by 40%. “We’re on track to sell 112 to 120 this year,” Rollins said. “That’s our goal.” The Polaris dealership typically sells 150 snowmobiles annually.
“The only way the snowmobile business is going to pick up is with snow: a long, good riding season,” Rollins said. “Another bad season will be devastating to the industry.”
Changing Perspectives
Ridable snow — and its distance from the dealership door — will always play a role in sales.
But dealers we contacted have found some different ways of managing unpredictable snowfall with sales.
Dan’s Polaris, located in Farragut, Iowa, began specializing in mountain-specific sleds a few years ago. Owner Dan Hilger estimates 85% of his total snowmobile business is mountain-related. “We’re only about 600 miles from the mountains,” he said.
The Polaris RMKs and Vertical Escapes have been good sellers this year, and the service department is “finally getting close to caught-up,” he said. “We do a lot of mountain performance stuff, annual tune-ups, the jetting and the clutching.”
Still, he said his early season was down about 10% this year on his 30-sled average. At one point, he used to sell double that amount annually.
Rollins says, he’s made the move toward 2-Up touring sled sales, and cites economic changes for the increase. He noted a local population drop of 15% in the past 10 years, and says it’s economically more feasible to buy a 2-Up machine than two solo sleds.
Dealers also seem to be making prudent choices when ordering their season stock.
This season, Tim Fritz, sales manager at Downers Grove Yamaha in Downers Grove, Ill., placed a light spring order due to anticipated carryover of 2002. “Our biggest push this year was getting rid of last years’ stuff,” Fritz said.
Several dealers said they refuse to order machines they know won’t sell. In past years, dealers complained about being forced to order unwanted models.
Frank May Jr., co-owner of Frank May Ski-Doo Sales in Brigham, Utah, only orders what he sells. For him, that means Ski-Doo Summits and REVs. “We’ve been long-tracking a lot of REVs,” May said. “We normally don’t sell any MX Zs.” He averages 100 new sled sales annually, but said he’s about 50% off for this season.
May said his service department, though, is definitely busier than last season. Some of it is due to the regular mishaps (“I’ve been selling a lot of trailing arms because of rocks,” he said) but he also noted a change in his customers.
“I think snowmobilers have changed over the years,” he said. “They’re getting their machines in ahead of time (for service) rather than waiting until it snows.”
A Wisconsin-based Cat/Ski-Doo dealer, who didn’t want his name used, also noted a difference in his customers. “In the early and mid-90s, the touring stuff was very popular,” he said. “I think maybe the family-touring riders have lost interest due to the lack of snow. The die-hard, performance-oriented riders are more willing to chase snow.”
REVs and Arctic Cat Firecats have been his best sellers.
Movers And Shakers
While hot sleds varied a bit regionally, dealers reported customers were most interested in the three big newcomers: the Ski-Doo REV lineup, the Arctic Cat Firecat lineup, and the Yamaha RX-1 series.
“The performance stuff has been good,” said Butch Grenier, owner of Track Side, Inc., in Eagle River, Wis., referring to his Firecat and REV sales. Slow-movers for him are the Arctic Cat ZLs and the Polaris Classics.
Fritz, of Downers Grove Yamaha, said the RX-1 and the MX Zs sold the best for him, while he had a hard time selling his Polaris models, including the XC SP lineup. Rollins noted a similar sales slump with his XC SP machines.
Ancillary Products Doing Well
Service departments have remained busy, if not swamped in some locations.
“We wrench from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day,” said Troy Ashby, sales manager at TJ’s Sports in Alpine, Wyo.
Rollins said his service department is “carrying the load” of the store. “People are anticipating (the snow).”
In low-snow areas, service departments are seeing plenty of trailing arm damage.
Several dealerships reported they’re still doing pre-season tune-ups and getting machines prepped for sale.
PG&A sales vary from store to store. Some report a sales decrease of nearly 50% from last season; others are on track or even ahead of last season.
Fritz said that his customers are buying snowmobile gear to use with their ATVs, and he’s happy with the sales.
Tony Bjornson, owner of Kent Kawasaki/Arctic Cat in Kent, Wash., noted a large decrease on the day-to-day oil and helmet sales. “Sales are down because no one is using their equipment,” he said.
TJ’s Sports is hoping for an increase in PG&A. It increased its order by 200% and opened a satellite store that sells only clothing.

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