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Dealers face challenging effect of poor snowfall

Dave McMahon, Senior Editor
January 23, 2012
Filed under Features

Lack of snow brings fewer December sled sales

Bob Maloney works in sales at Houghton Powersports in Michigan. That might have made him the only salesperson in the snowmobile business with a smile on his face as the calendar turned.

“We’re the only place with snow. There’s no snow in Minnesota, there’s none in Wisconsin,” Maloney said. “We have guys coming from all over with their sleds. We have about a foot of snow. It’s not great conditions, but it’s conditions.”

And conditions are all riders in the Midwest have wanted.

“People have been driving in from Illinois, Minnesota, lower Michigan,” Maloney said. “The furthest was Iowa. Two guys from Iowa loaded their sleds, got in their vehicle and drove until they found snow. They said ‘We spent $28,000 combined on sleds, and we’re going to ride them.’”

A strong snowfall at the beginning of the December was met by warmer temperatures prior to Christmas, followed by rain.

“We had about 200 inches of snow last year, which sounds like a lot, but it’s not when you’re used to 300. And everyone else had great snow — Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois — so people didn’t have to come up here to ride. Last year wasn’t great for us, but this year we’re starting out very good,” he said.

Ample snow in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula greeted a pair of riders breaking in their 2012 Polaris 600 Rush and Yahama RS Vector sleds.

Maloney has found that snow on the ground has plenty of effect on snowmobiles sales. December sales of Polaris and Ski-Doo sleds at the dealership were up compared to 2010.

“Sled sales at the beginning of December were awesome. We were selling like mad,” he said. “The week between Christmas and New Year’s is usually one of our busiest, but it’s dropped off. We’re still selling, but we’re not selling nearly as many as did last year.”

The Ski-Doo Renegade Backcountry and Polaris RMK line have been atop the sales charts at the dealership.

While Houghton Powersports basked in attracting riders from afar, very few dealerships located in typically snowy areas could report the same solid start to Powersports Business.

Bring on the snow
Scott Diercks, co-owner of West End Sports Center in Red Wing, Minn., has found that a brown Christmas hasn’t impacted the dealership’s bottom line. Now if the ground still has that same non-white sheen on Valentine’s Day, he might become more concerned.

“Now that we’re getting to be after Christmas with now snow, that’s a little bleaker outlook. But you never know what’s going to happen,” Diercks said.

One thing that’s likely not going to happen is for Minnesota to experience the abundance of snowfall it encountered last year, when record snow fell. The day after Christmas in 2011, Minneapolis/St. Paul had a record high of 52 F.

It was the inordinate amount of snowfall last year across the state that provided inspiration to riders who dipped into their wallets as they looked ahead to the 2011-12 season.

“Snowcheck was great. We were up considerably, and the anticipation was always there, too,” Diercks said.

Diercks carries only Arctic Cat sleds, and says that the OEM’s crossover sleds have been the most popular category.

“And Arctic Cat with their 50th anniversary sleds, that’s definitely spurred some interest, no doubt about it. We’ll be sitting OK,” he said. “Last year with all that snow, we cleaned out of most of the sleds. As far as this year, you always hear ‘When’s the snow going to fly?’ There’s just anticipation. Anytime you have a good year, you’re pretty much guaranteed another good year until about Christmas. If you get about six weeks of winter, that’s all you need, whether it comes early or late. Everybody’s concerned. If it doesn’t happen, what do you do?”

It was even brown in Buffalo
Snowfall in late December in Buffalo, N.Y., was 3 inches, or 27 inches below normal. At the same latitude 300 miles to the east, Edelmann Sales Inc. in Troy, N.Y., was similarly awaiting snow at the end of December.

“Sled sales have not been good so far this year with no rideable snow,” Edelmann Sales owner Tim Edelmann said. “It’s real unusual to be this late and not have rideable snow by Christmas. Even the areas that people trailer to, they don’t have snow either. Everyone’s waiting for snow. Last year by this time we were riding and had a good snow season all year. We’re hoping once it gets here, it stays.”

No snow has also brought a decline in sled sales.

“Floor traffic is down pretty good right now,” he said. “The preseason guys got what they needed at snowcheck and are just waiting for snow. The other guys? We need snow to remind them it’s winter. Sled sales aren’t great right now.”

Edelmann spoke highly of the 2012 Polaris 800 RUSH Pro-R, the performance trail sled that has an MSRP of $11,699.

“That’s definitely the most popular model,” he said. “The front end of that platform is great for 2012.”

A snowcheck boost
At Shively Hardware in Saratoga, Wyo., (elevation 7,000 feet), co-owner Eddie Glode has seen service on sleds see a rise thanks to impatient riders who can’t wait for deeper snow. While riding around town has been possible but not ideal, Glode said, most riders will trailer 15-20 miles away.

“We’re selling a lot of A-arms. People are bending them a lot now,” Glode said. “We have snow, just not very much snow. People are still riding, but just hitting the rocks slow so they don’t bend anything. But it doesn’t always work out that way.”

Shively’s snowcheck season was highly successful, only to see the “faucet shut off” in regard to sled sales this winter.

“We darn near ran out of sleds. We almost ran out by Thanksgiving, so we bumped up our margin to try to capitalize,” he said.

Admittedly “in RMK territory,” Glode’s dealership is located in prime sled country.

“They really like the chassis. It handles in the powder, it handles on the side hills. It’s easy if you’re almost stuck to keep riding and get unstuck. That’s a pretty spectacular chassis,” he said. “These riders out here think it’s the next new thing in mountain riding. Polaris hit that 800 two-stroke market sweet with this sled.”

And while riders had not been coming en masse as they usually do in December, Glode knows they’ll eventually show up. In fact, Glode estimates that the Polaris dealership sells about half of its sleds to out-of-state customers.

“My big crew from Iowa showed up yesterday,” Glode said in late December. “They picked up their sleds and were ready to go play. We know how to put them together and set them up. They run perfect. The new sleds are running real good, so they’re happy with that.”

Snowcheck sales accounted for about one-third of the dealership’s total order from Polaris. Glode said the dealership in late December was down to “just a handful” of sleds remaining to be sold.

No snow, but plenty of sales
Duane Worrell, general manager of Owens Cycle Inc., in Yakima, Wash., didn’t have to think twice when asked by a local promotions group to become a partner of an exhibition earlier this month that featured Winter X Game gold medalist and snowmobile freestylist Joe Parsons.

Parsons, a hometown hero, was expected to attract the crowds with his jumps, and the dealership would benefit from the exposure. A best-case scenario would have included snow, but the white stuff has been difficult to find this winter, so Worrell planned to bring some Polaris snowmobiles to the event for show, and allow test rides of the Polaris RZR and Ranger side-by-sides.

“It’s a $1,000 sponsorship, and we think with the exposure we’re going to get it’s going to be worth it,” Worrell said prior to the event. “There will be a lot of local TV and radio coverage. It’s only two hours, and we’ll be back in the dealership by 3p.m. sending out follow-ups.”

Owens Cycle ordered 26 sleds for the season, and was left sitting with seven by the first week of January. About half of those were purchased during snowcheck.

“I’m OK with that number,” Worrell said. “If we had had snow we wouldn’t have any left.”

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