Young Canadian snowmobile supply company already experiencing growth this season
When Todd Billinger started High Command Distributing in 2009, the injection mold business was reeling. He was selling manufacturing equipment to companies that made plastic parts — primarily businesses that were part of the automotive supply chain. But with the economy tanking, so was the industry that builds cars and trucks, and many of his customers were shutting down. So Billinger decided that he needed to diversify.
Based about 50 miles north of Toronto, High Command Distributing sells Lucas Oil products and Sledez brand snowmobile lifts and dollies, plus a handful of specialty marine products to about 15 stores in central Ontario. Like most other businesses in the snowmobile market, the weather, economy, snowmobilers and dealerships affect the success of High Command Distributing.
Last winter was flat for the company due to poor snowmobiling conditions in its territory during the 2012-13 season, Billinger said, which resulted in sales down at least 10 percent compared to the previous winter. This year, sales are already up 50 percent, with some dealers taking early orders.
“We’re up where we were all of last season, and we aren’t even in the season yet,” said Billinger, who added that he’s mystified by the massive increase. “I have no idea. It might be because everyone’s been hearing the rumors that we’re supposed to get hammered this winter up here. Or old stock is finally out, and guys that let inventory sit for so long actually have to order new product again.”
A battle in selling “higher-priced” aftermarket injection oil like Lucas products, Billinger said, is that snowmobile manufacturers have put fear in consumers that their snowmobiles won’t have warranty coverage if they don’t run oil that has the same label as what’s on their machine’s snow flap. This misconception means that the bulk of High Command’s oil customers are owners of newer snowmobiles that no longer have factory warranty coverage.
“Basically my job is to build the powersport and marine side of things for Lucas here in Ontario,” Billinger said. “People know Lucas for automotive products, and we’re just trying to get the word out on the powersport side of things.”
Earning a living four years ago when many of his equipment customers were closing their shops was tough, but at least now work is more fun.
“I started to do something that I enjoyed instead of being miserable and not making any money. I might as well be happy and not making any money,” Billinger said (laughing).
Billinger, 43, wears many hats as the sole employee, and rounding up dealers happens the old-fashioned way. “Getting in my car, banging on doors and mass emails. Anything I can do, basically,” he said. A good-old-fashioned winter would help, too.
“It’s all based on how the season’s going to be,” he said. “With my stuff we don’t put the pressure on the dealers. We don’t have it where you have to buy a maximum or a minimum. It’s based on how much snow we get up here. It’s been positive so far.”
Andy Swanson is managing editor of Snow Goer magazine, a PSB sister publication.