Sizing up the success of this year’s spring programs – April 24, 2006

March 21 may be the official start of spring, but for Yamaha, spring began on Feb. 13.
The spring selling season has traditionally been a chance for snowmobile manufacturers to offer special deals for early buyers. Some, such as Ski-Doo, offer models only available to spring buyers. Others offer warranty and financing specials.
While only Yamaha has wrapped up its spring sales programs, early indicators point to lower sales numbers than in prior years.
The biggest spring sales change was Arctic Cat’s re-entry into the spring sales after a one-year hiatus from the concept. Last year, the company focused all of its marketing dollars and attention toward the fall selling season, citing a decreased consumer interest in the spring programs.
“We feel we didn’t lose any units by not doing a spring sales program,” Tranby said of last year’s shift in focus.
Dealers didn’t agree.
“Our dealers wanted it back,” said John Tranby, marketing communications manager for Arctic Cat. “They felt it made a difference, and they were more comfortable having it. If they want it, we’ll do it.”
The program includes the consumer choice of a limited-edition black leather jacket (embossed with a “1000” for the 1000cc customers), $600 in Cat Cash toward Arctic Cat accessories, or a three-year warranty with the purchase of a liquid-cooled snowmobile.
The program was advertised in enthusiast snowmobile publications and on the corporate Web site. “It’s really the enthusiast who are buying in the spring,” Tranby said. “We don’t need to be in mainstream media at this time.”
Still, Cat will put its main focus on fall promotions and sales. They’ll sponsor another national open house event, likely ranging from mid-August through October. Dealers will be equipped with a kit that includes promotional items, such as a custom banner with their open house dates, newspaper ads, DVD giveaways, and other programs that won’t be announced until that quarter.
Tranby said the company’s overall marketing strategy has changed because of Sarbanes-Oxley rules that require any special programs be accounted for in the quarter in which they are announced.
Reflecting on last year’s strategy, Tranby can’t think of a part of the program that didn’t really work. “I think the thing that makes the difference is the magic four-letter word, snow,” he said. “I think that helps sales more than anything.”
Ski-Doo’s spring program began on March 1 and runs through April 15. The consumer incentives vary slightly between segments, but it generally includes two choices from three options: credit toward parts, garments and accessories; a second-year warranty on the engine; or electric start. Ski-Doo also has a selection of spring-only machines that generally feature suspension upgrades or styling differences from the regular lineup.
There is no special selling incentive for dealers.
Preliminary numbers show sales are tracking about 15 percent lower than last year, said Francois Tremblay, Ski-Doo’s snowmobile marketing director, though the sales reported prior to the program end-date were minimal.
“We do expect to have slower sales versus a year ago,” he said. “When people put less miles on their machines, there is a longer repurchasing cycle.”
Ski-Doo’s most predictable selling area in the spring are the Western states and provinces, Tremblay said. “First, the spring-only models usually attract the true enthusiast and there’s a high level of enthusiasts out West,” he said. “Second, Western buyers buy early because their season starts earlier.”
He’s expecting slower-than-usual sales in the Northeastern regions, due to a low-snow season.
As for early season marketing, Ski-Doo hasn’t strayed off its usual course of direct mail activities, radio advertising and vertical marketing, Tremblay said. He also noted there was good attendance on spring product showcase tours.
Yamaha’s spring selling season, called Power Surge, ran from Feb. 13 to April 4. Consumer incentives included a three-year warranty, $400 in custom accessories, and 0 percent interest and no payments until March 2007. The spring offer was sweetened this year, Rob Powers, Yamaha’s snowmobile marketing manager, said, with the three-year warranty offer. “That’s about a $600 value,” he said.
For dealers, any sleds sold in the spring count toward their retail target, Powers said.
Powers said their spring sales went well. “The industry is down, so that hurt a little bit,” he said. The new Phazers — particularly the FX, GT and Mountain Lite models — were the best sellers.
March sales of remaining 2006 models were really up, he said. “Overall, we’re healthy. We have a low ending inventory and are on a good business plan,” Powers said.
Regionally, Powers said areas with rideable snow this past winter had better spring sales. “New England wasn’t so good,” he said. The Western states, which saw an exceptional snow season, remained stable. “[The West] never really fluctuates that much,” he said, noting that it averages between 17 to 20 percent of total sales.
Powers said Yamaha is in a unique position to start its spring sales earlier than its competition. “The reason we can do that is that our non-current industry is under control,” he said. “Others have to go as late as they possibly can [to maximize the selling season].”
Polaris is addressing some of its remaining 2006, 2005 and 2004 models with a special offer that runs until April 30. For the 2006 machines, buyers can choose up to $700 in factory rebates, a warranty up to three years or zero down, zero interest, zero payments for 12 months financing offer. The 2005 and 2004 offer is similar, except the company offers up to $1,500 in factory rebates.
Polaris also ran a spring sales program for its new 2007 lineup, which began on March 15 and ran through April 8. The company called the program “Snow Check Factory Connection.”
“This year, customization was a big deal,” said David Johnson, Polaris’ marketing manager for snowmobiles. “We surveyed our customers to find out what they wanted and tailored the program.” Customization options included hood color, track choice, shocks and electric start. Consumers also could choose between a four-year warranty or free one-year financing.
“The biggest benefit was the savings with the customizations, but the four-year bumper-to-bumper warranty was very, very well received,” Johnson said.
The company also offered spring-only models, including the Limited Edition 700 HO IQ Dragon and the IQ Cruiser.
“We don’t have final numbers yet, but the Dragons have been a smashing success,” Johnson said. “Dealers have been happy and the orders have been very strong.” Johnson also said he’s expecting strong spring sales of its RMK Raw from the Western regions.
Johnson said the company had its usual dealer collateral materials and spring sales consumer e-mails, but it added an element. “We really focused on the Web site,” he said. “Consumers are spending more and more time online.”
The Web site featured Polaris’ hometown, Roseau, and its production line for consumers to build their virtual sled. Traffic to that site feature has been two to three times the amount for prior years’ spring programs, Johnson said.
The company also released its 2007 product line through a live Web cast from its dealer meeting.
“[Consumers] were getting information the same time as the dealers,” Johnson said. The footage is still available on the company’s Web site. Johnson said they’ve recorded between 25,000 to 30,000 viewings. “It exceeded our expectations by a pretty wide margin,” he said. psb

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