By Karin Gelschus
State snowmobile associations have attracted more people to the sport through events with the help of dealerships, but only when stores are willing to partake. Dealer participation can be hit and miss, but the rewards can be substantial for both parties.
One dealer reaping the benefits of working with a state association is Nelson’s Speed Shop in Greenville, Mich. Every year for more than 20 years, the dealership hosts an event called Sno-Motion with the help of the Michigan Snowmobile Association (MSA).
The event has grown considerably during the years, says Jack Nelson, owner of Nelson’s Speed Shop. “It’s given us great exposure throughout several states,” he noted. “It’s really ballooning, and every year it exceeds our expectations.”
Bill Manson, executive director of the MSA, says it’s not uncommon for the dealership to have 20,000 people attend during the two-day period.
“As it’s grown, we’ve been involved more, and he’s been involved more with us,” Manson said. “It’s a very good partnership.”
The event is held every August, and pro racers appear for freestyle and drag racing. Nelson says they have many things pertaining to the winter sport, including a SWAP meet.
Manson says the Michigan Snowmobile Association provides about 50 volunteers to work his showroom, tents and booths he has set up with product for sale. The volunteers are able to talk about snowmobiling and the association throughout the event. Manson says its great publicity for the association.
For the association’s efforts, Manson says Nelson’s Speed Shop presents a donation to the association every October. In addition to helping the snowmobile association, the dealership collects $2 donations at the door from attendees, which is split between the association and the American Cancer Society.
“He’s probably one of the biggest (dealers) who gets it as far as knowing the importance of organized snowmobiling, whether it’s clubs or state associations and the relationship to improve trails,” Manson said. “He sees that working with (clubs and state associations) gets more people into his shop.”
Manson says the Michigan Snowmobile Association is willing to work with any dealership in the state.
“We’ve had two-three different programs where we’ve worked with dealers,” Manson noted. “We did have a program that we put out to all the dealers and let them decide where they wanted to be involved.
“We encouraged snowmobile dealers when they sold snowmobiles to hand out information about the snowmobile trails in Michigan and the state association. Then we encouraged them to include a membership in the association with that program. We had about six dealers participate in the state.”
Another dealer Manson has worked with is Lakeside Motorsports in Mecosta, Mich. They’ve provided product for raffles and supported the association financially for some fund-raisers.
The California Nevada Snowmobile Association (CNSA) is putting on an event in January that will have OEMs and dealerships involved. This is the first year for Dealer Demo Days, but Richard Brightman, safety director of the CNSA, says all four manufacturers are involved as well as about six local dealerships.
Brightman says the event aims to get more people out riding and introduced to the sport.
“We’re after anyone who wants to try it,” he said. “We’ll do a safety orientation with them. Get them fitted with helmets and a person will lead them through a set course in a park area. It’ll be about a 10-15 minute loop. We don’t want them going fast since they’ll be people who’ve never been on a sled.”
If Dealer Demo Days is anything like the Poker Runs the CNSA has hosted, the event will have a good turnout.
“Our poker run is very successful. We get hundreds of people to that, and that continues to grow every year,” Brightman said. “The Dealer Demo Day hopefully will grow each year. Realistically, I’d like to see a couple hundred people there. If more than that shows, great. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on it already, so I’m feeling pretty positive about it.”
While some dealerships routinely hold events and work with local clubs and state associations, Manson says a majority just don’t get involved.
“The dealer network in my opinion has been one of the weakest links in snowmobiling,” he noted. “We have a great rapport with the clubs that actually maintain the trails. We work together with them, the Department of Natural Resources and legislature. We don’t have a good rapport with all the dealers. There are 200 and some here in Michigan. You can’t get out to all of them. When you send them literature, you get very little response on whether they would participate.”
Manson says the lack of involvement is missed opportunity for additional business.
“The more involved they would be with their local club or the state association, the more it would help their business out,” he said. “Plus it would give them a better knowledge of the trails and how the system works in Michigan. I understand their job is to sell that snowmobile or ATV or that boat and make the customer happy. I think they could make the customer happier if they knew more about the snowmobile system, the trail system, instead of, ‘Here’s your sled. Here’s the throttle. Here’s the brake. Go have fun.’”
It can be difficult, however, for dealers to tell if the extra events generate more snowmobile business. Bill Vickery, owner of Vickery Motorsports in Denver, says they work with a local snowmobile club and hosts an open house night, but the turnout hasn’t been significant enough to notice additional customers.