With the foam “snow” shooting out of the Ski-Doo booth seeming a definite indicator, winter has commenced.
The 38th annual Haydays Grass Drags And Swap Meet, dubbed “the official start of winter,” took place on Sept. 11–12 in Columbus Township, Minn. This is the largest consumer show in the snowmobile industry, this year attracting an estimated 40,000 people to a sandy field north of Minneapolis.
The event, organized by the Sno Barons Snowmobile Club, features vendor displays, grass drag racing and acres of swap area on its 80 acres. It’s also a place where vendors get their fingers on the first pulse of the snow selling season.
While the Sno Barons attendance estimate was comparable to years past, several vendors noted anecdotally that the crowd appeared to be down from previous years, but people were buying.
Rick LaBelle, owner of Driggs, Idaho-based R.U. Outside, said it was the best sales he has seen at the event in three years. “I’ve had better sales this year than 2002 and 2003 combined,” the outerwear retailer said. Boots and long underwear were his best sellers, he said.
Sales were up for St. Boni Motorsports, a St. Bonifacius, Minn., Ski-Doo and Yamaha dealership. Tim Wilson, parts manager, said sales were mostly of helmets and other clothing items.
“The event does somewhat indicate what the season will be like,” Wilson said, “but the biggest thing is that it brings in some cash flow during a slow month and allows us to clear out last year’s product”
Chris Carlson, owner of Elk River, Minn.-based Sportech Inc., uses the event for two things. First, it’s a place to get consumer reaction to its products. Second, Carlson said, it’s a place to meet with various vendors and other OEM contacts.
Show And Tell
Haydays is a place to see and be seen. Even though LaBelle described sales the previous two years as “lame,” he said he wouldn’t think of not going. “If we’re not here, people will think we’ve gone out of business,” he said. Plus, he added, even the bad years still generate sales and exposure.
For Wahl Bros. Racing this was their first booth at Haydays, and it’s part of a larger advertising strategy, said Joel Howard of Wahl Bros. Sales were up 20% for the company in July, and it sold out of the 400 sets of bearings it brought to Haydays.
Carlson wasn’t selling any wares at Haydays — all product was for display only. He uses the event as a gauge for what products will do well. “The response was better than I expected for a few products,” he said. He called the response to the new diamond-plate-patterned windshield “phenomenal” and is already making plans to expand the line. Ditto for the handguards and windshields with a carbon fiber look
Yamaha Motor Corp. took a similar approach to Haydays, in terms of product research. Consumers were invited into the company’s race trailer, where they gave demographic information and then were asked for preferences and comments on 12 different concept vehicle designs — ranging from a RX-1-like sleds to a motorized snowboard.
This research is not in place of more organized market research, said Yamaha’s Greg Marier, but an informal way to get consumer opinion.
This is also a place for the introduction of new products. Ultimate Sports Inc. of Lafayette, Ind., brought its new SPX ski that came out of the mold just days before the event. FAST Inc. in Eveleth, Minn., was showing its new M-12 suspension.
Both Ski-Doo and Polaris unveiled new race sleds at Haydays. Arctic Cat announced a new event.
The new Polaris race sled, called the 440 IQ, is a Fusion-adapted design. The goals of the machine were to improve steering, gain better acceleration in moguls and reduce suspension bottoming. The end result was a re-designed machine with a chassis that allows the driver to better maneuver the machine, adjustable steering, a tighter turning radius, the IQ IFS front suspension and a 440cc fan with a new crankcase.
Ski-Doo introduced its 2005 MX ZX 440 with minimal changes over the 2004 model. For this season, changes were concentrated on acceleration and durability and include new clutch calibrations, a new MBL drive belt, a stronger chaincase and new bottom clutch gear, a more efficient drive sprocket and an engine control module and ignition calibration for better starting. It also comes with a full-clip track, lighter springs, a new link-type sway bar, new seat material and a stronger ski loop.
Arctic Cat declined to release its race sled at Haydays, and officials cited competitive reasons for keeping the sled under wraps until its late-October race school. Instead, the company made a grand introduction — including live bison — of its West Yellowstone Snow Blast event to be held on March 11–13 in West Yellowstone, Mont.
“We’re trying to re-create Sturgis on ice,” said Arctic Cat vice president of marketing Robert Bonev. “We’re looking for it to be a multi-year event.” The event, which includes concerts with big-name country acts Big & Rich and Sawyer Brown, will take place the weekend prior to the West Yellowstone Expo.
The company is anticipating between 5,000 and 10,000 participants at the event, and said it will donate all profits to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Children’s Miracle Network.
The Sno Barons have purchased new land for a dedicated Haydays facility, but don’t expect to see the event move for another four to five years, said John Seviola, event coordinator
The property is a 140-acre field near North Branch, Minn., north of the current location.
The Sno Barons want to build a permanent facility on the site, but are still in discussions on how to proceed, Seviola said.