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Feb. 11, 2008 – Percentage of first-time buyers climbs slightly

February 11, 2008
Filed under Features

There appears to be a slight overall increase in snowmobile buyers who are new to the sport, although many dealers report that the new buyers are few and far between.
A recent Powersports Business survey of more than 150 snowmobile dealers found that
13.8 percent of new snowmobile buyers were buying a sled for the first time. That is a significant jump over last year’s reported 9.5 percent of buyers new to snowmobiling. However, two-thirds of survey participants reported the number of new-to-snowmobiling buyers at their dealerships was less than 10 percent.
Bignell’s Power Sport, Westfield, Wis., was one of 27 dealers to report an increase in those new to snowmobiling.
“I would say there’s probably a larger percentage (of buyers new to snowmobiling), but it’s still a relatively small percentage of total buyers,” said Craig Grant, manager at Bignell’s. “I think a lot of it has to do with advertising. There are a lot of people in certain positions who have more disposable income.”
The dealership doesn’t specifically target those customers, but aims to appeal to the full range of snowmobile buyers with its advertising, Grant said.
There is something to the excessive disposable income argument. Don Pishney, owner of Classic Motor Sports in Traverse City, Mich., believes that’s the only place new-to-snowmobiling buyers can come from these days.
“I’m not sure that people feel that they have the flexibility, the discretionary income they used to have and so they look at how they want to spend that discretionary income if they can only participate in one motorsport activity,” Pishney said. “Here (in Michigan) it’s more likely to be motorcycling first, then ATVs and then snowmobiles. Warmer weather activities are six, seven, eight month activities. Snowmobiling is at best three months.”
Many dealers report having seen very few, if any, buyers who hadn’t purchased a snowmobile in the past. In fact, several have even seen their fair-weather and family snowmobile buyers fall to the wayside.
“We’re down to our real diehard snowmobilers,” said Tom Nelson, Jr., a salesperson with T Nelson Sales in Ontario, N.Y. “It’s a huge commitment in getting into snowmobiling. The cost in New York is very expensive.”
Inconsistent snowfall and snow cover haven’t helped with enticing new people into the market. Southeastern Minnesota saw a healthy dose of early snowfall, only to have it melt away in an early January warm-up. The two previous years didn’t see any heavy snowfall until February and into March. That would have to change entirely for new people to consider buying a snowmobile, said Tim Spaudinger, sales manager at Fix Power Sports in Byron, Minn.
“There would have to be a minimum of two years of really good snow before people would even do anything,” Spaudinger said.
A change in the economy could also lead to more first-time purchases.
“If the economy turns a little bit and we have proper incentives to get people into the sport, then I could see that happening,” said Bruce Ashby, general manager of Sport Motors Performance Center in Pocatello, Ind.
Or maybe it wouldn’t matter. Most people are familiar with snowmobiles and either participate and buy new snowmobiles to replace their old ones or don’t get involved at all, said Robert Kallstrom, owner of L & M Supplies in Dillingham, Alaska.
Experience says the amount of people entering snowmobiling could remain small, no matter advertising techniques, snow or economics. “It’s pretty steady; I’ve been doing this since 1972 and I’ve never seen a surge (in buyers new to snowmobiling),” said Mike Scholl, president of Scholl’s 4 Seasons Motor Sports in Elgin, Ill. psb

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