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Warm weather brings cold sales trend

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Andy Swanson, Contributing Writer
April 2, 2012
Filed under Features, Top Stories

New year temps turned interest ‘off like a light switch’

Fueled by customers’ excitement following a cold and snowy snowmobile season last year, new snowmobile sales last fall were brisk. But when warm and dry weather across the Snowbelt lingered into mid-December, the sales climate changed and customers quit calling.

“We were performing damn good until the new year, and then it was off like a light switch,” said Mick Thompson of Staack’s Motorsports in Dillon, Mont. “People kind of got out of the snow mindset.”

Ample snowfall brought out riders in Cable, Wis., but most of the Snowbelt struggled with inadequate amounts that failed to attract sled buyers.

Ejay Dawson, owner of Five Seasons Sports in Eveleth, Minn., sold 80 percent of his inventory by mid-December, he said, but the Polaris and Yamaha sleds that were in stock at Christmas remained in crates outside his store in March. “Without snow, the 20 percent I had left, I still have left,” Dawson said.

Used snowmobile sales weren’t any better. “Nobody was looking for used,” Dawson said. “The person that shops for a used sled doesn’t have the money to spend on a new machine, and lack of snow is just another reason not to buy.”

At Land N Sea Marine in Waterbury, Conn., new sled sales were “pretty close to last year,” owner Phil Tiso said. “We were more fortunate than the other guys.” Tiso blames lack of snow near his shop for flat sales, but says it isn’t an excuse not to ride.

“A lot of guys will look out their door and not realize there’s good snow five or six hours away,” he said. “My full-time manager racked up 1,800 miles this season.”

PG&A down, service steady
Land N Sea Marine was BRP’s No. 2 dealer for parts, accessories and clothing last year. But with fewer sales of drive belts, oil and carbides this winter, Tiso estimates his shop’s business is down about 40 percent from last year.

Babbitt’s Sports Center in Muskegon, Mich., still has 250 Castle snowmobile jackets in stock, a line of which that dealership is normally “pretty clean” by mid-March, co-owner Eddie Babbitt said.

“The weather really cut into our parts, garments and accessories sales,” said Dawson of Five Seasons Sports. “We did get some snow north of us late in the season and that really helped a lot.” Even with the uptick a month ago, PG&A business at Five Seasons Sports was off 40-45 percent this snowmobile season. “It was just a disaster.”

While those Midwest snowmobile dealers saw less business at their parts counters, the repair shop at Staack’s Motorsports was busy this winter. There was snow to lure riders into the Montana backcountry, but not enough of it to protect A-arms and chassis from rocks, stumps and ravines. Sales of parts and accessories at Staack’s Motorsports were up 50 percent over last year, partly due to sales of hard parts used to fix crash jobs.

Mechanics at Five Seasons Sports in Minnesota stayed busy well into the snowmobile season. “It held up very well until mid-February, and then it fell off completely,” Dawson said. Some of his techs worked fewer days per week, but none had to be laid off.

Looking ahead
The success of preseason promotions and the number of carryovers in stock will help dealers determine how many 2013 sleds to order. Even with lagging snowmobile sales and working through a tough snowmobile season, Dawson says he’s looking forward to next year’s selling season, though with some reservation.

“I’m a little concerned about snowmobile sales for next year. I think people are going to wait and see if it snows,” he said. “Normally we get calls steadily when the new stuff comes out, but [the phone is] not ringing like it normally rings.”

There isn’t much 2012 inventory left at Babbitt’s Sports Center in Michigan because the staff set aggressive prices to help move machines out the door. With a little more snow, the store would have been cleaned out, Babbitt said.

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