SNOWMOBILE – Snow Industry Beats Heat at Haydays

LINO LAKES, Minn. - Thousands of snowmobile enthusiasts appeared at the 39th Haydays Grass Drags and Swap Meet, held here September 10 and 11, to inspect new sleds,buy parts, garments and accessories, and watch run after run on the grass dragstrip.
The event, organized by the Sno Barons snowmobile club, has been called “The official start of winter.” The grounds hosted more than 140 companies with products and servies on display, several acres of swap meet space, and grass drag racing sanctioned through the Pro Snowmobile Grass Drag Racing Association.
It could be argued that the only thing cold at the event were the lime-green snocones served at the Arctic Cat booth, or the tented, air-conditioned display at the Ski-Doo booth.
It didn't seem to matter, as a steady stream of enthusiasts perused the grounds - and even went off-grounds to test the new Yamaha four-strokes on a grass track. It was so hot, though, that the testing was suspended due to what Yamaha officials said was fuel boiling in the throttle body.
An official attendance number was not available. Anecdotally, some vendors commented that the crowd seemed down on Saturday while other vendors reported a steady stream of buyers. Vendors did report slower sales on Sunday, but also said that was typical of the event.
Steve Brand, owner of Ontario-based Tekrider, estimated there were 1,000 people in line at the gate at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, which was near his space. The gates opened at 7.
SHOWING OFF: THE ART OF MERCHANDISING
Ski-Doo used the event to unveil its 440 race sled to the public, display a concept version of the Freestyle and show off its new corporate merchandising displays - all in an air-conditioned tent.
The merchandising concept was initially introduced at the Sea-Doo dealer show last fall, and was presented to Ski-Doo dealers in February. The modular displays feature smiling images of snowmobilers, product shots and winter scenes. There is now a way to neatly display every Ski-Doo accessory through custom racking.
“The message behind all of this is that this is our passion and our lifestyle. It's not just a bunch of posters on the wall,” said Ben Dapont, coordinator and product marketing for riding gear, parts and accessories.
Ski-Doo, in partnership with display consultants Lift Unlimited, Toronto, will custom-design a display system to each dealer's shop and budget. Up to half of the expense may be paid through Ski-Doo's co-op program.
“We tell dealers to step out of their dealerships and walk back into it like a consumer would, and with a consumer's eyes,” Dapont said.
Previously, Dapont said that Ski-Doo focused more on point-of-purchase materials and creative product packaging.
Merchandising may be on the corporate mind of Ski-Doo, but other vendors on the Haydays grounds had a different merchandising conundrum: how to make winter jackets and bibs look appealing on a 90 degree day.
It can be done, according to P.J. Wanderscheid, on-line sales manager for Country Cat, an Arctic Cat dealership from Sauk Centre, Minnesota.
The dealership, a long-time displayer at Haydays, has refined its tactics for making a nice-looking booth with a layout that encourages browsing but discourages theft, Wanderscheid said.
Jackets are displayed along the walls of a walk-through semi-trailer and racking in a tented-off attachment displays more gear. Customers can only enter the booth from one side, so employees can keep an eye on merchandise.
Country Cat is one of the few booths that accept credit cards, which also adds to its Haydays appeal, Wanderscheid said. “Since we started accepting credit cards, our sales here have gone up 30 to 40 percent,” he said. The past two years, they had a dial-up connection; this year, they have a credit card reader mounted to a cell phone. Wanderscheid said Saturday traffic seemed way up from prior years, though Sunday felt somewhat down.
Jackets and bibs sell well, despite the weather. “It's not hard at all to sell,” said Nikki Leko, sales assistant at the Country Cat booth. “If you mark it down cheap enough, people will buy it.”
They've discovered that garments are the best-sellers at Haydays. For the first time, they brought some of their snowmobile carry-over inventory, which Wanderscheid said sold surprisingly well - 10 machines on Saturday and five on Sunday. There's a small area of the booth devoted to parts, which owner Dave Wanderscheid said don't really sell too well. “If people want parts, they go to the swap meet,” he said.
Haydays does bring out the swap-meet mentality in customers, though. People who would never walk into the dealership looking for a bargain, will dicker over prices, P.J. Wanderscheid said. The staff at Country Cat is prepped on how much leeway they can give on specific items.
BACK AND BETTER PREPARED
Back for its second season, Slydog Snowmobile Skis, Arlington, South Dakota, were a bit more prepared for the event.
The company introduced its ski last year at Haydays, and was completely unprepared for certain questions, said Jamie Fenner, sales manager. “We didn't have a Web site set up,” he said. “People wanted to know our racer program and if we were accepting racer resumes.”
Yes, the company now has a Web site, has a racer program and will gladly accept resumes, he said.
The company currently sells direct, though it wasn't taking orders at Haydays. It's in the market for a dealer network, which it hopes to have set up by next winter.
NEW LOCATIONS, NEW CUSTOMERS
When the team from Starting Line Products (SLP) arrived at the grounds, they weren't quite sure where to go.
They knew they weren't going to be in their regular location - and they rejected their first relocation. Just when the Idaho Falls, Idaho-based crew was leaving for the event, they found out they had been squeezed out of their next location, said Jeremy Barnes, sales, marketing and Web design for SLP.
They found their new location - trackside and at the finish line. Barnes said that there was a steady flow of customers on Saturday.
Mary Ostwinkle, from True North Adventure Gear, Boise, Idaho, was happy with her new location in a vendor area far from the track.
In 2004, she said she was trackside, toward the end of the shutdown area and after a long row of trailer dealers. “People would look down, see all the trailers, and just assume that nothing else was there,” she said, and noted that she was now near an entrance. “I didn't have 20 percent of the business I've had this year.”
She feels its important to make a showing at these events, as 40 percent of what the company ships is to eastern addresses.
Her top seller at Haydays is the Storm Glove, and said she even took orders for a couple dozen of its new Powder Storm Glove - which isn't available quite yet. The other major seller are lightweight backpacks.
Partnerships
Haydays has become the venue where business partnerships are announced to the public, sometimes with large displays.
Arctic Cat and Polaris showed their recent NASCAR-related affiliations emblazoned on semi-trucks.
A bright orange Tony Stewart-lettered truck was in the Arctic Cat booth. On display in front of the truck was one of Stewart's race cars, as well as a snowmobile and ATV in Tony Stewart graphics.
Polaris announced its recent affiliation with DuPont Paint and Finishes as a sponsor of the Judnick Race Team. Driver Matt Judnick will pilot a DuPont-graphics Polaris on the snocross track this winter. The large, glossy black DuPont semi-truck served as a backdrop to the unveiling of Polaris' new 440 race sled.
“This was not a case of Polaris knocking on doors looking for race sponsors,” said David Johnson, Polaris' marketing manager. “DuPont approached us and asked to be a part of our winning program.”
Polaris also reiterated its new affiliations with Ride snowboards and off-road bike maker KTM.
Other partnerships were not the subject of loud announcement, such as the recent agreement between Polaris and Baxter, Minn.-based Erlandson Performance Inc.
Diane Erlandson, company owner, talked of the company's new partnership with Polaris, which was announced on September 8.
Erlandson clutching products will be available through the Polaris catalog starting in October.
Erlandson said the deal has been in the works for a few years, and should be mutually beneficial, each giving credibility to the other. “Consumers like if a product is endorsed by the manufacturer,” she said. “Erlandson Performance products have already been in the market and are established. “
The agreement is for clutch kits for the 600, 700 and 900 Fusion models, and the 600 and 800 SwitchBack sleds. The co-branding is currently limited to snowmobiles, but Erlandson said that they're working on a partnership deal for ATV performance products.
NEW RACE SLEDS INTRODUCED
Polaris and Ski-Doo used Haydays as a platform to introduce their new race-only snowmobiles to the public.
The Polaris 440 IQ was unveiled to a large crowd. The updated machine has an approximate 10-pound weight reduction, a new stator, a new 1.75-inch lug track with a dual drive system, new Walker Evans shocks, a new Team Industries light weight driven clutch and new rear suspension geometry. Changes were designed to improve the machine's holeshot.
Ski-Doo's new MX Z 440 also has changes designed to improve the holeshot, reduce weight and improve durability. New on the machine is an electronics control modual, carbs, a Team Industries driven, Pilot 5.7 dual-runner skis, track pitch and 1.75-inch lug height, lower profile front radiator, chaincase and chain.
Arctic Cat has released details on its 440 racer, but it won't be shown in public until its October 29 race school in Thief River Falls, Minn.

- Lynn Keillor

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