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Spring sales events often follow weather trends

By By Kate Swanson

OEM innovations give snowcheck sales added boost

For some powersports enthusiasts, spring is the time to trade out their heavy snow boots for more suitable footwear. For those who count down the days to the first frost, and love a good sale, spring sales of 2016 snowmobile models is the perfect time to find their next frozen prize.

In its infancy, snowcheck programs were a definitive way to make sure customers could claim the upcoming season’s sled before all snowmobiles were sold out, says Gary Wilkinson, senior advisor at Handlebar Motorsports in Durango, Colo.

Ronnie’s in Bennington, Vt., celebrated its Fifth Annual Snow Show in November. The family-friendly event features a current snow gear fashion show, raffles and giveaways.

Ronnie’s in Bennington, Vt., celebrated its Fifth Annual Snow Show in November. The family-friendly event features a current snow gear fashion show, raffles and giveaways.

“When they were first conceived, oftentimes if you didn’t snowcheck a particular model, that model might not be available when the season came about,” he added. “At one time it was an availability issue; you snowchecked to make sure that you would be able to get the product.”

While earlier snowcheck programs were used for availability, now Handlebar’s main customers are seasoned riders who like the new product offerings and know that snowcheck promotions offer them a good deal on it.

By volume, Wilkinson says the dealership sells more Arctic Cat sleds, followed closely by Yamaha. This year’s successful snowcheck is owed partly to the new innovations released from the OEMs. “We were quite excited by the changes that Arctic Cat made to its mountain segment, which constitutes the biggest share of our sales within the Arctic Cat line,” Wilkinson said.

Handlebar Motorsports has facilitated snowcheck programs since the 1980s, and although unpredictable weather is an issue, Wilkinson says that customers continue to support its programs.

A successful snowcheck relies on several key factors, including weather, preseason programs and interest in the next year’s models. “The strength — or lack thereof — with the preseason programs directly relate to how the new product is perceived by the consumer,” Wilkinson said. “If the consumer is excited by the changes that are made in the product, they are more likely to participate in the program.”

After two low-snow years in a row, Handlebar has seen a 20 percent decrease in snowmobile sales. “We live in an area that can see 100 inches of snow in town in a season,” Wilkinson said. “But lately we’ve seen years when we didn’t get 20 inches. That makes a big difference in sales.” Wilkinson remains positive that once the weather provides a better snow foundation, sales will again increase.

“It has become more difficult over time to get people to commit, I think for a variety of reasons, with the unpredictability of the weather being the biggest single factor,” Wilkinson said.

Despite the poor weather, Handlebar had a healthy amount of snowcheck participants this year. “We think our snowcheck numbers are going to be better compared to last year based on what we’ve sold so far and the deals that we’ve got working,” Wilkinson added.

Wisconsin weather takes a hit

At least one Wisconsin dealership’s snowcheck was also affected by unfavorable weather this year, according to Bob Van Zelst, owner of Don & Roy’s Motorsports in Brookfield, Wis.

“Last year we had some really good snows, but this year, the trails in Wisconsin never opened except for way up north,” said Van Zelst, whose dealership sells Polaris, Ski-Doo and Yamaha. “A lot of people just didn’t get as much usage out of their snowmobiles. It’s affected snowcheck this year because people maybe didn’t get enough riding in, so they figure they can do one more year on theirs.”

The 2016 product lines boast “a lot of nice refinements” that Van Zelst says will help persuade customers to buy. He added that half of the dealership’s snowmobile market is dominated by Ski-Doos.

When trying to promote snowcheck, Van Zelst has found consumer interest and good deals drive the market.

“If the models are compelling enough, they’ll buy, or otherwise they’ll just wait,” Van Zelst said. “But really it’s not about those special models as much as the deal that you can get on an in-season model with the warranty and rebate that normally you just don’t see in-season.”

Many dealerships offer enticements or financing to appeal to customers and help them commit to buying during the snowcheck period. Don & Roy’s offers customers a $100 gift card with a snowcheck purchase to get its customers started in its parts and accessories department. In addition to the snowcheck deals, Van Zelst says the dealership strives to stay committed to its customers not only before, but after the sale.

Snowy with good sleds

In the East, with record snowfalls and bizarre weather, dealers experienced a different snowcheck than in other parts of the country.

“Snowchecks have been flat line for the past couple of years, but a good flat line. Probably about 30 percent of our sales for the year for new units will be snowchecked,” said Wayne Ouimet, owner of Ronnie’s. The dealership, which is split between two locations, sells Polaris snowmobiles in Pittsfield, Mass., and Ski-Doo and Yamaha at its Bennington, Vt., location. Ouimet also owns dealerships in Adams, Mass., and Guilderland, N.Y.

“I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but it’s fairly normal in our area. Snowcheck is something that a lot of people look forward to — they know it’s the very best deal of the year,” Ouimet said.

In order to get out the word, Ronnie’s places print ads in regional snowmobile magazines to help promote its snowcheck program.

“Our customer base is the Vermont and Massachusetts area. We hold the presses until about the time that our managers go to the show and learn about the new product,” said Ouimet. “We place our ads, so they can go to thousands of people.” Between the record snowfalls and print publicity, Ronnie’s is looking forward to positive snowmobile sales for the rest of the season.

Bob Weaver, owner of Bob Weaver Motorsports & Marine, in North Tonawanda, N.Y., is also looking forward to another positive sales year.

“Snowcheck picked up a lot this year because of how good the winter was, No.1, and No. 2 how good the Polaris sleds were,” Weaver said. “A lot of people got a chance to ride a friend’s Polaris or maybe get a chance to demo one. Once you ride one of those, people are sold.” The new Polaris AXYS chassis are becoming the “hot ticket” to snowcheck at the Buffalo-area dealership.

Bob Weaver Motorsports, a Powersports Business Power 50 dealership, does well in snowcheck, but Weaver says most of its sales happen in-season. “The only people who buy early are the diehard people who can plan ahead that far,” Weaver added. In the past, the dealership has completely sold out of its snowmobile inventory, a “tremendous” tradition that it hopes to continue.

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