New models to be rolled out in three waves
One minute I was in Arctic Cat chief marketing officer Greg Williamson’s office; the next I was in Sand Hollow State Park in Utah, riding a Wildcat through dunes and rocks alongside NASCAR legend Tony Stewart.
Williamson recently showed me Arctic Cat’s newest marketing piece for its Wildcat sport side-by-side. The Minnesota-based OEM partnered with Tony Stewart to shoot a 360-degree video of Stewart riding through Sand Hollow and had the video edited into a seamless 360-degree virtual reality experience. Simply slip on a VR headset equipped with a cell phone and Arctic Cat’s virtual reality app, and away you go in just seconds.
“It takes all of our Wildcat vehicles, all three platforms into the Sand Hollow State Park to ride both rocks and dunes, which is a cool way to bring that Wildcat experience to consumers no matter where they are, so that’s been really successful,” Williamson explained.
The video comes as the second in the series, as the first was developed for the snowmobile segment.
Since it was released for the 2012 model year, the Wildcat has been one of the highlights of the Arctic Cat lineup. Starting with just one two-seat model, the Wildcat lineup has grown, with four-seater and trail models added along the way. In its current lineup, Wildcat offers two two-seater X options, one four-seater X version, three sport models and four trail units.
“If you look at what we’ve done over the years, we started with the original Wildcat; we gave it a performance hike, some suspension tweaks with new suspension suppliers, went to the Elka Stage 5 shocks, so we’ve made iterations throughout the life of it,” said Craig Kennedy, director of product development for wheeled products.
With the Wildcat and its marketing partnership with racing star Robby Gordon, Arctic Cat has also been able to emerge in the West and Southwest markets, where it was relatively an unknown brand until a few years ago.
“It definitely broadens our reach, not only geographically but user-wise, out of the utility market and the snowmobile market and into the performance side-by-side market,” Williamson said. “It’s certainly been successful, but there’s still a lot of work to do. We’re still on the journey.”
In an effort to boost Wildcat’s reach and sales, Arctic Cat has begun racing its sport side-by-side at Gordon’s Stadium SUPER Truck races and demoing and displaying the units at Stewart’s All-Star Circuit of Champions sprint car races. Arctic Cat is the title sponsor of that series.
The OEM also sponsors a factory WORCS racing team, which Williamson said has earned a number of podiums already this season.
He said of marketing the Wildcat lineup, “We’re sort of attacking it from all fronts — user activation, cool technology and innovation, like VR, as well as race sponsorships.”
Waves of new models
Though Arctic Cat is already pleased with how the Wildcat lineup is performing, a fresh launch is set for October, part of the OEM’s new model release strategy.
Starting this year, Arctic Cat will be unveiling new product three times per year, in groups they call “waves.” Wave 1 for the 2017 lineup was July 1, though some models were launched within the weeks and months before that. Wave 2 is set for October, and Wave 3 of the 2017 models will be in March.
“What this provides us is a constant pipeline of new products,” Williamson explained.
With three waves annually, Arctic Cat can reveal product when it is ready for wholesale orders to be shipped immediately.
“Continue to look for new product from us,” Williamson said. “When you say new product launch in July, it’s not like, ‘Oh gosh, I’ll wait until next July for the next new product.’ That’s now how we’re going to market. We’re going to market like most consumer product companies would; you go when the product’s ready, and you make big deal out of it. So we’ll continue to launch new products, and they’ll be model year ’17, but it’ll be throughout the next 12 months in these wave timeframes.”
Wave 1 includes the HDX 700 XT Crew, Prowler 500, four Alterras and the Alterra 90.
“All of those models were either completely brand new or updated in some way,” reported Kale Wainer, media relations specialist.
Both Wave 2 and Wave 3 will include new iterations of the Wildcat. Arctic Cat dealers have seen what’s coming in Wave 2, though those models won’t be revealed to the public until October. The new Wildcats will be a “nice shot in the arm” toward better reaching the West and Southwest markets, Williamson said.
“We’re not really holding products to a single, once-a-year launch. And we fully expect to continue to launch new products on a very timely basis throughout the year, and we’re loading our waves accordingly,” Kennedy said.
In addition to new models, Wave 1 also highlights lower pricing on a number of ATVs.
“The big exclamation point for this model year is our value pricing strategy for the MSRPs. We’ve made a significant reduction on some key models as far as the MSRPs are concerned,” Kennedy reported.
Arctic Cat has reduced the price on its Alterra 400 to $5,499. The redefined mid-size Alterra 500 is now $5,999, as is the full-size Alterra 500 4X4. The full-size Alterra 700 is $8,999, and the Alterra 700 XT is $9,999, keeping all of those models under the five-figure mark.
“We’ve really taken and bottled this up into a very competitive pricing structure for the dealer and the consumer,” Kennedy said.
Lower pricing has become a trend in the ATV segment lately, which is why Arctic Cat has pushed to be more competitive price-wise in that arena.
“We’re seeing the entire ATV realm becoming much more of a value proposition to consumers,” Kennedy said. “They’re all looking for a very good value in the products that they’re after, and when you start jumping into the higher pricing MSRP segments, they tend to move themselves over to an ROV instead. And we’re seeing that not only in the realm of who we’re talking to with our voice of the customer, but also we’re seeing the competition playing along there as well.”
On the UTV side, the new Prowler 500 has been launched with a $9,499 MSRP, keeping that unit under $10,000 as well. All of these moves follow a successful price reduction Arctic Cat launched on the Wildcat side last year.
“Last year we set some new pricing structures that have been paying dividends as far as how our sales are going. From a value perspective of the features — the suspension travel, all of those — against where our price points are at, we had gone after especially the sport side-by-side segment, the performance side-by-side segment last year with the Wildcats and had set pricing up to a couple thousand dollars less than where our major competitor sits today,” Kennedy said. “We put ourselves in a very good situation, and that is paying off to the dealers for how well the sales are going.”
Though Arctic Cat is partnering with the likes of Robby Gordon and Tony Stewart on the sport side-by-side business, the OEM’s partnerships don’t stop there.
Arctic Cat markets its utility ATVs and side-by-sides to two user groups — farm and ag, and hunters/sportsmen/recreational users.
The biggest highlight of Arctic Cat’s farm and ag outreach is its corporate sponsorship of the Future Farmers of America (FFA). Arctic Cat attends the FFA’s annual conference, showcasing and offering demos on its utility units to the conference’s 65,000 attendees.
“We’re an active participant there with displays and demos, so it allows us to expose the brand and the products to that next generation of user,” Williamson said.
In addition, Arctic Cat sponsors its local chapter of FFA and encourages its dealers to do the same using co-op funds.
“That brings the local dealership, the local community and Arctic Cat together at a very grassroots local level, and those funds get dedicated toward sponsorships; they get dedicated toward facility upgrades, equipment; they use them to send their students to the national convention, so it’s a really neat way to tie everything together at a very local level, where it’s most meaningful,” Williamson said.
On the hunters/sportsmen/recreational side, Arctic Cat has teamed up with nine-time UFC champion Matt Hughes and his Sportsman Channel show “Uncaged with Matt Hughes.” As the title sponsor of the show, Arctic Cat earns vehicle placement and advertising, but the OEM also gives away extreme hunts with Hughes in contests that bring customers into dealerships to register to win.
Arctic Cat also partners with Patriots and Heroes outdoors, a Texas-based non-profit that offers outdoor recreation opportunities for military veterans. Through those efforts, Arctic Cat sponsors hunts and rides and donates vehicles for fundraising help.
Decades of experience
These partnerships with different organizations and celebrities are bringing attention to Arctic Cat, but what makes riders buy is the caliber of the product, Williamson explained.
“What we hang our hat on is knowing the user and knowing what the product is used for, and that’s born out of years and years of experience that sometimes a new entrant into the market wouldn’t have, and it’s born out of our employee base,” he said. “That’s one of the nice things and the neat things about being a Minnesota-based company, a U.S.-based company with 1,500 people, where by and large, if not all, a majority of our employees are users. And whether that’s a utility vehicle, a snowmobile, a performance side-by-side, that firsthand knowledge of how the vehicles are used, we feel really gives us a nice advantage to how we design and innovate around our products.”
Kennedy added that for many employees, especially those at Arctic Cat’s manufacturing facility in Thief River Falls, Minn., their position with the OEM is more than a job; it’s a lifestyle.
“They’re on these vehicles at night, on the weekends; it’s their passion,” he said. “We’ve got so many people that have been in this company for 20 years or more, and it’s because of their passion for the products. Most of them bleed green like there’s no tomorrow, and every one of them is willing to roll their sleeves up just to make sure the job is done and done right.”
Arctic Cat itself is also investing in the betterment of the business. About $26 million has been invested in a new paint line and other improvements in Thief River Falls, while another $400,000 has been spent on expanding the assembly capacity in St. Cloud, Minn. The company’s headquarters are also moving this summer from an 11,000-square-foot facility that’s bursting at the seams with employees to a 55,000-square-foot building in Minneapolis that will house 150-200 staffers over time.
“All of those things are really speaking of the big change that Arctic Cat is going through right now,” Kennedy said. “This is like the calm before the storm, so it’s only going to get more and more fun from here.”