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Snow boosts show traffic

May 7, 2004
Filed under Features

This fall, the words “Snow Show” have an especially important meaning. Consumer trade shows have done well in markets that had a snowy 2002-03 riding season; markets with less snow have had less-than-average traffic.
Shows in the eastern U.S. have reported large crowds — the Maine Snowmobile Show in Augusta, Maine, on Oct. 3–5 was up 20% over its record-setting 2002 attendance. The Big East Show in Syracuse, N.Y., on Oct. 3-5 was up 11%. (The Big East Show is run by Ehlert Publishing Group Inc., producer of Powersports Business.)
“We felt extreme excitement. From what we heard from exhibitors, and witnessed from the show, people are spending like no tomorrow. They’re ready to dance,” said Bob Meyers, Maine Snowmobile Association (MSA) executive director and organizer of the Maine show. “We had a remarkable winter last year, a new record in registrations which carries over to fall show.”
The Midwest attendance, though, has seen declines. Haydays Grass Drags And Swap Meet near Minneapolis, Minn., on Sept. 7–8, seemed to have a thinner crowd, and the Snowmobile USA show in Milwaukee, Wis., on Oct. 10–12 was down 26% in attendance over last fall.
Displayer David Branscomb, president of New Trails Flex Seats, based in Dubuque, Iowa, said he had good success at the Big East Show, but the Midwest shows — Snowmobile USA’s Milwaukee and Gray’s Lake, Ill., shows and the Supertrax Snowmobile Show in Blaine, Minn., were slow.
“The volume of the traffic was different,” he said. “(Syracuse) got snow last year, so when you talked to people, they were ready to come out and buy. Around here in the Midwest, they’re still waiting for snow to buy.”
Customer mood ranges from optimistic to enthusiastic, depending on geographic location.
“We have not had the tire kickers; they stayed home,” said Tom Anderson, owner of Madison, Wisconsin-based Leisure Features Inc. and the Snowmobile USA shows.
“Those that came to the Gray’s Lake and Milwaukee shows still have the passion for the sport and they’re optimistic that it can’t be three years in a row without snow,” he said.
It’s not just the winter weather that can change show attendance: it’s the daily temperature, as well. In Milwaukee, it was 78 degrees on Saturday and a “gorgeous, beautiful, balmy day,” Anderson said. “You want kind of a nasty, cold blustery day where people don’t want to go out and do yardwork.”
Much like the weather for the Maine show. “We were blessed with the best possible weather,” Meyers said. “We had our first hard frost the night before, and then it rained like hell all day Saturday. You can track the attendance by the weather.”

Product Trends
Though the marginal snowfall has affected his shows, Anderson noted strong sales in certain markets.
“Trailer sales are very strong,” he said. “I assume that may be an indication that consumers are not buying snowmobiles, but they’ll spend $3,000, $4,000 on a covered trailer. The flatbed, open trailers are not selling at all.”
He also noted strong sales in clothing, especially with updated and non-current merchandise. “Coldwave has made major changes to its line, and there’s the Arctiva line from Parts Unlimited,” he said. “There are a lot of leftovers, and good prices, too. And they’re selling at good margins. Some displayers have bought a lot of non-current at a decent price and are making a lot selling it.”
The decreases, he said, have been especially notable with resort displayers. “They were slow in coming this spring with registrations,” he said. “The weekend they lost last February, they just can’t re-sell it at another show.”
Meyers said he hasn’t seen any strong displayer trends at his show, which just completed its seventh year — save the doubling in sales for MSA merchandise.
“We still have a lot of exhibitors from the first year,” he said. “We have manufacturer displays, a good mix of dealers, aftermarket vendors and chambers of commerce, businesses within Maine, as well as the Maritime provinces and Quebec.”
John T. Prusak, publisher of the Snowmobile Group at Ehlert Publishing Group Inc. noted similar stability in Syracuse.
“The Big East Snowmobile Show has a very stable set of exhibitors that come back year after year to sell or display their wares,” he said. “Eye-catching additions this year included the big display from Redline Snowmobiles, the new outerwear from Fox Racing and a handful of smaller aftermarket products — from performance parts to new seats, complete drive systems to handy tools. Once again, we had more potential exhibitors than we had space available.”

From The Floor
This fall is Branscomb’s first season on the show circuit. He’s using the shows as a part of his marketing plan to introduce his new snowmobile seat to the marketplace.
“Shows play a big percentage for us (in marketing),” he said. “Because our technology is so new, it’s a subjective evaluation someone has to do on the product. We want the customer to see it and physically get it in their hands and sit on it. And, of course, we go to sell them.”
He’s been to four shows, and has three to go.
“(A successful show) is different for us,” Branscomb said. “We’re just trying to show the technology to people. For us, it’s the number of people we talked to and the number of seats sold.”
Representatives from Al’s Snowmobile Parts Warehouse in Newport, Vt., will have set up displays at 12 shows by the end of this fall. They cover the Midwest and the eastern snow states, handing out catalogs and signing up people for its mailing list.
“It’s been pretty good, as far was what we’ve seen; compared to last year, it’s up,” said chief information officer Patrick Martell. “The anticipation (for snow) in places like Pennsylvania and New York, where it hadn’t snowed for a few years, was good. Enthusiasm was up again and overall, the shows are up from last year.”
Martell noted especially good results at the Maine show and in Milwaukee. Since Al’s doesn’t sell directly to consumers at shows, it judges its show success by how many catalogs it hands out and how many people sign up for the mailing list — sign-ups generally range between 4,000 and 6,000 names. The company also tracks show-generated orders.
Martell said that since Al’s deals in used parts, factors that bring the rest of the industry down tend to work in the company’s favor.
“If the economy is bad, we do better. If the economy is good, we do equally as well,” he said. Customers would rather buy deeply discounted used parts from Al’s than new products, he contends. “And when the economy is good, everybody’s buying,” he said.

Survival In A Down Market
With the down market in the Midwest, strategies have been adopted to lessen the pain.
“We have tried to work with vendors regarding deposits and the financial end of it,” Anderson said. “We are all in the same boat and have to work together in the down years.”
Anderson said he’s also worked on the appearance of the shows. “We keep the show floor as bright and airy as possible,” he said. “In Milwaukee, where we recently had a 40% space increase, we made wider aisles and put up some of our own displays. We want to keep the image alive that this is a vibrant activity.”

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