With world-wide snowmobile sales numbers dropping for the fifth straight year, one may think the interest in snowmobiling has tanked as well.
Not so, according to a study commissioned by the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA) in Haslett, Mich.
The study, conducted during the 2005-06 winter, concluded that non-snowmobiling, motorized recreation enthusiasts have a high level of interest in trying out the sport.
“They didn’t look at us negatively at all,” said Ed Klim, ISMA president. “This means we have a much more positive chance of getting these folks than the manufacturers realized. We just need a concerted effort to reach out and touch these people. There are a lot of people who don’t snowmobile but who really want to try.”
The research, conducted by Consumer Insights of Troy, Mich., was designed to answer three questions relating to non-snowmobilers: What are the barriers to entry? Would they ever purchase a snowmobile? How are they different from snowmobilers?
The data was collected via two 50-person focus groups in New York and Minnesota, and Internet, telephone and mailed surveys to 10,000 people in the United States and Canada. The return rate was 70 percent, Klim said.
Those surveyed fit a certain demographic: a particular income level and a history of owning other motorized recreational vehicles.
Why Not Buy?
The research found winter-time constraints and poor travel conditions as reasons not to buy, but Klim said that the main barrier to entry was return on investment. “They know it hasn’t been snowing very much and they want to feel more comfortable that they could use a snowmobile if they bought it,” he said. “They will cross the threshold when they know there will be a return on investment. They want to make sure they can use them more than once a year.”
Lack of knowledge on where to ride was another barrier. One woman in a focus group, Klim recalled, said she regularly sees large numbers of snowmobilers congregating at gas stations, but with no idea where they came from or where they were going.
“They didn’t know where trails were, didn’t know the club and association end of it,” Klim said of those surveyed. “That lack of knowledge keeps people away. We as a community need to do a better job to tell where snowmobiling occurs. The only people who know about the trail system and where the trailheads are” are snowmobilers.
Klim said he was surprised by the number of those surveyed who wanted to rent machines. On a 10-point scale, with 10 as the highest, people rated their desire to try snowmobiling as an “8,” Klim said. “The rental market in this business isn’t very mature,” he said, noting opportunity for both manufacturers and dealers. “In a pretty high percentage of cases, a rental could turn into a sale,” he said.
Those surveyed were not too different from the average snowmobiler, in terms of income, money spent on recreation and desire to socialize. “When they find out they can snowmobile and socialize, they’re really, really interested,” Klim said. Those surveyed who had RVs were particularly interested in the socialization aspects of snowmobiling — the idea of clubs and a clubhouse, talking at trail breaks, and the year-round club activities, Klim said.
Reaching The New Market
Klim said the snowmobile manufactures will likely use some of this research in developing advertising campaigns to reach new buyers. ISMA will use the information in its Go Snowmobiling campaign, starting with an updated Web site that targets a non-snowmobilers’ concerns. “We need to be less complicated in defining the vehicles, more up front in telling about clubs, where trails are and how to get involved,” he said.
Klim sees potential for sales coming from a good rental experience, but also in how non-snowmobilers are treated in a dealership.
“When dealers see the new snowmobiler, they need to realize that a lot of these folks know nothing,” he said. “They don’t know where trails are, but are not afraid to trailer and they don’t want to be talked-down to. I think we need to be more sensitive to that. Sometimes we are a little insular. Dealers need to be more welcoming to non-snowmobilers and not blow them off.”
Another need dealers could address is product training. “It’s a surprise to non-snowmobilers, especially the women, that there is not any specific training required to operate a snowmobile,” Klim said. “They didn’t know if [no required training] was a good idea, and in some cases it’s hard to argue. They like the idea of mandatory training.” psb
Copyright 2006 Powersports Business