Aftermarket snow suppliers wary of ‘04; trust rider “passion”

Although summer is just coming to an end, many dealers already have made their orders for the snow season and now are beginning to revamp their showfloors to prepare for the upcoming winter.
Interested in learning how the snowmobile industry will react after a number of years of less-than-average snowfall in many parts of the country, Powersports Business asked aftermarket suppliers what they are banking on.
“We’ve spent the entire summer wondering what’s going to happen,” said Greg Goodwin of Goodwin Performance in Zion, Ill. “I think a lot of people are going to be in a wait-and-see mode and, based on the spring programs, new sled sales will be down. But, generally, people will still spend money for aftermarket products. So, when it snows, they’re going to do something. Until then, we don’t know what’s going to happen.
“More than any year I can remember, we really need some snow early on and throughout the season.”
In business for 12 years, Goodwin Performance deals with Arctic Cat, Polaris, Ski-Doo and Yamaha snowmobiles. New for the firm this year is the Sno Pro Data Acquisition system, which monitors a sled’s temperature, air, fuel and shock position, among other things, giving an exact read-out of the machine’s inner workings. Clutch kits for new models also are being planned.
“We have a couple of ideas we’re working on and haven’t finished yet,” Goodwin said, “but we’ll see what happens here in the next few months. In this business, you always have to be thinking ahead.”
While Goodwin seems to want to enter the season with a bit of caution, Terry Paine of Bender Racing, Inc., says he is cranking out product on the heels of what was a stellar snow season for much of the northeast.
Based in Colden, N.Y., Bender produces product for Polaris, Ski-Doo and Yamaha snowmobiles. Turbochargers, Paine says, are going to be popular in ’04.
“The RX-1 turbo kit is going to be our big product for this year,” he said, “and it better be, because I have about 200 of them sitting right here.”
Paine said a new RX-1 swaybar also is being planned, and should do well with the firm’s other RX-1 product: the aforementioned turbochargers, clutch kits and silencers. “Snow was awesome here last year – probably one of the best years we’ve had in 10, and our RX-1 gear represented our most sought-after products last year,” he said.
Still, while snow was flying in the northeast, Paine says demand in the Midwest — which makes up about 60% of Bender’s business — was off considerably. “So, we were actually lucky to end the season on par with the year before,” he said. “Instead of seeing an increase (in revenue), we broke even.”
Chris Carlson, founder of Minnesota-based Sportech, says he remains optimistic in planning for the coming season. Started in 1993, Sportech has grown considerably during the past decade and is now preparing to double the size of its facility, adding new equipment and hiring new personnel. The firm’s most popular product includes Cobra windshields, Holeshot skid plates, Mighty Mini accessories and control products.
“We’ve had four out of five years with very little snow, but our snowmobile division is growing — not much, but growing,” Carlson told Powersports Business. “I think aftermarket accessories can be a shining star in an otherwise dull environment. Guys are sitting on ’01 and ’02 sleds that have like 400 miles on them, they’re going to uncover them next month and think, ‘I’m not selling that thing, it’s in perfect shape. But what I am going to do is add this piece and switch that.’”
Carlson says Sportech focuses on “clear points of differentiation” when designing its product. Rather than expand part numbers simply because he can, Carlson says a depressed market forces Sportech to be “a little wiser” in its offerings.
“The only things selling in this type of environment have to be really cool,” he said, “and if it doesn’t offer a real strong value, we’re not doing it.
“Can you go into this market and just sell a handguard? No. It’s going to have to be a colored chrome handguard. Can you just come in and offer an OE replacement windshield? No. People aren’t buying them, so we’ve made an adjustable screen. What we’re doing is coming in with things that have real strong features and benefits — things that offer way better protection or look way better on the machine.”
In Idaho Falls, Idaho, Jerry Matthews, operations manager at Starting Line Products, believes the coming winter may prove to be a boon for aftermarket firms.
“I think it’s going to be a pretty good season for us,” Matthews said. “I think the lack of snow in the Midwest is actually going to help the aftermarket out a little bit. I hear it all the time — customers that aren’t getting a new sled are going to put money into the old one. For the OEs, that’ll be a bad thing.”
Last year, while many firms were down on sales, Starting Line was up “considerably” compared to the prior year, Matthews said. A worldwide purveyor of aftermarket snowmobile equipment — 17 different countries across the snow belt — Starting Line’s most sought after product last year were the firm’s exhaust systems and Powder Pro skis.
“We debuted our Powder Pro last year, and sales doubled what my initial estimate was,” Matthews said. “I would expect, based on what it did last year, that the sales trend will continue and that that ski is going to go ballistic. Arctic Cat put it in its accessory catalog this year, so a lot of people are just finding out about it.”
“The cool thing about snowmobilers is that the passion is still there,” Sportech’s Carlson surmises. “I think they’re just sitting back and waiting for what’s going to happen. When it snows, hang on to your boots – consumers are going to come out of the woodwork and spend money and ride.”

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