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Northern Exposure: The Serious Business and Fun of Snowmobiles

Business smarts dictate knowledge of the way your customers ride, and snowmobiling is like any other segment of powersports; there are recreational riders, serious riders and the down right enthusiasts.

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A couple of months ago, I was up in northern Wisconsin on some backwoods trails and I came across a sign that I had never seen before. It had about six different destinations shown on it with the distance to each and an arrow pointing me in the direction I needed to go. Among them were restaurants, “watering holes” and hotels.

There were even universal symbols by each one such as a person in bed, a martini glass and a knife and fork. I’m used to roughing in when I’m in the wilderness and I thought to myself, “boy, how times have changed.”

The sign wasn’t for hikers, backpackers, hunters or campers, but the section of trail I was on was actually a snowmobile trail. As I came to find out, winter powersports aren’t just for fun for the folks up north — they’re serious business.

From a dealer standpoint, the snowmobile segment is serious business, too. According to the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, in 2018, there were approximately 124,786 snowmobiles sold worldwide; 53,179 sold in the U.S. and 47,024 sold in Canada.

There are over 1.2 million registered snowmobiles in the U.S. and 600,00 registered in Canada, meaning snowmobiling makes an economic impact of $26 billion annually in the U.S. What that translates to is serious profit potential.

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Back up north, as the weather turns and the snow begins to fall, snowmobilers are ready and waiting, but there has to be a good base of snow on the trails before they open up. The gates are all open and the trails are accessible, but they’re not ready to ride until the county and the snowmobile clubs determine that the snow is deep enough to create a solid base, ensuring that the ground is not torn up, causing environmental damage.

It’s good to know that governing authorities are conscious of this, because there is industry controversy regarding snowmobiles due to noise and the potential damage they can cause to the environment. Environmental protection groups have been requesting stricter regulations from the EPA and OEMs, and to preserve this segment of powersports, we’ll need to be aware of and respect these concerns.

Business smarts dictate knowledge of the way your customers ride, and snowmobiling is like any other segment of powersports; there are recreational riders, serious riders and the down right enthusiasts.

On average, recreational riders may buy a new snowmobile every two to five years and the more serious and hardcore enthusiasts as frequently as every year. Knowing the types of riders in your area can help you develop your marketing approach and target the proper audience. From 2017 to 2018, snowmobile sales grew by 5 percent in the U.S. and is expected to continue its steady growth, meaning good news for this part of the market.

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Your customers will let you know how serious they are by how and where they ride. There are the trail riders who just want to put miles on the trails, riding from one place to another. There are also the on-trail/off-trail riders who mostly stick to the trails, but if they find a legal off-trail area such as a logging road, they’ll be off to run in the powder or non-groomed trails.

There are off-trail riders who ride snowmobiles equipped specifically for deep-snow. This type of riding is really big in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula as well as out west. These riders only use trails to get to off-trail locations where they want to ride.

The enthusiasts are the ones who are going to put miles on no matter what the snow conditions are. If there isn’t enough snow in the area, they’ll load up their machines and tow them where the snow is. These riders not only use their equipment frequently, but they buy frequently, too. Talking to your snowmobile customers about the type of riding they do will clue you onto what type of rider they are.

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Each type of rider spends their money in different ways, including the types of accessories they buy, apparel, options on new units and whether or not they look for ways to modify their machines. Tailoring your inventory to meet the needs of the customers in your region can set you apart from the competition.

Tourism ties into the grand scheme of this powersports segment as well. Entire towns, including all their hotels and restaurants, benefit from out-of-state visitors heading north to take advantage of wintertime fun. It’s just like a lake or island town in the middle of the summer, people flock in to ride, relax and enjoy their time with old and new friends. Some establishments may make snowmobiles available for visitors to rent, and somebody has to sell to these companies and service their units as well.

An advantage that makes snowmobiles great for new and infrequent riders is that they are incredibly user-friendly. It only takes a few miles of riding to get used to the standard handlebar brake and throttle controls, and they are very stable with excellent handling, making them fun for all, an easy point to add to your sales tactics.

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One thing that all snowmobilers have in common is their desire for some serious fun. For them, it’s not just about the riding, it’s about a riding destination, such as a different town, a restaurant or their favorite watering hole. They enjoy riding the trails and meeting up with fellow snowmobilers. They share their stories of good places to go, and then head back to the trails to their next destination. Signs, like the one I saw in Wisconsin, can be found at most trail intersections that will lead you to one of these places.

Snowmobiling is serious business and serious fun, and it’s just one of the many reasons we’re into powersports. 

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