For sheer thrills, snowmobile officials insist there's nothing like riding a sled. “I love watching someone get off a snowmobile for the first time,” says Eric Lindquist, Polaris' general manager for snowmobiles. “Across powersports, there's nothing that compares to the exhilaration of that first ride.”
So why, then, have new snowmobile sales decreased dramatically over the past eight years? The obvious answer is a lack of snow. “That's the elephant,” as one factory official puts it. But is that all? “Anytime sales in an industry decline, the consumer is trying to tell you something,” says Lindquist. “We need to find out what we're missing.”
“I'm a real believer that weather is the main factor (behind slower sales),” says International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA) President Ed Klim. “For example, Michigan had a very hot summer and the boat business went crazy despite the poor state economy.”
Still, Klim allows that a dearth of snow isn't the only factor depressing new units moved. To help stem the slide, ISMA is ramping up a Go Snowmobiling! campaign complete with commercials. “I think we in the industry have done a great job of understanding our main customer, but maybe not as great a job at figuring out non-consumers,” Klim says, describing Go Snowmobiling! as, “A three-pronged attack: One, reach non-snowmobilers. Two, retain and encourage current riders. Three, portray a positive family image to everyone.”
“To grow snowmobiling, you have to change the perception of non-snowmobilers,” agrees John Tranby., marketing and communications manager at Arctic Cat. Factory officials hope Go Snowmobiling! can help do that.
“Look at the RV industry,” says Francois Tremblay, Ski-Doo marketing director. “That was a stagnant market for years, and the Go RVing campaign portrayed it as a lifestyle, a family activity. Something similar can help us. Go Snowmobiling! is a great way to celebrate a winter wonderland.”
Ski-Doo, though, certainly isn't relying solely on the new ISMA campaign. As part of its strategy to attract fresh riders to the sport, the manufacturer is introducing the Freestyle, a low-displacement machine with a price tag of less than $4,000. “We're really concerned about the average age of riders; it's gone from 37 to 43 in just a few years,” says Tremblay. “And the price of machines have been going up, up, up. The Freestyle brings it back down. Introducing a teen model in a new platform is a bold move, but we hope it helps rejuvenate the sport and bring new blood to it.”
In the meantime, ISMA is doing focus work on Go Snowmobiling! and aims to have commercials on the air by winter. Tranby hopes the new campaign and snow will combine to cure current problems. “If we keep investing in technology that makes the sport more attractive to new riders, get Go Snowmobiling! going and get consistent, regular snow, things will come around,” he concludes. “They always do.”