Nov. 10, 2008 – Hints of a strong start to season

After a solid season last year, a positive weather forecast this year and falling gas prices, this year’s snowmobile season has an encouraging outlook.
Fall numbers of snowmobile aftermarket companies are supporting the optimism as many have experienced double digit percent increases compared to last year.
Increased sales
Among the companies reaping early benefits is Straight Line Performance (SLP), manufacturer of high-performance snowmobile and ATV parts.
Owner Jason Houle says they’re up almost 45 percent and doing extremely well so far.
“The preseason (orders) were pretty normal, but the secondary orders were stronger than expected,” he said. “Lets say you buy a $5,000 order for your stock, usually that will sit around for a couple months. (Customers) are already re-ordering double what they’ve ordered.”
Houle has heard the same thing from his competitors at snowmobile events.
“Even nationally we can see that the sales themselves have gone up. If you take Hay Days as an example (in Forest Lake, Minn., in September), there wasn’t a single person, direct competitor of mine that did not see an increase,” he said. “At the (Toronto International Snowmobile, ATV & Powersports show) everyone was up. It seems to be a strong start.”
A solid beginning also has been the case for Studboy, manufacturer of snowmobile traction products. Owner Ron Pattyn says the company is up about 35-40 percent compared to this time last year.
“With the pipeline being emptied (from last year) and people not being able to get product quite as quick,” he said, “people are being a little more focused as far as having the basic stuff handy early on in the season.”
Last year some companies had trouble keeping up with the higher than expected product demand, so Randy Oberson, vice president of Woody’s, manufacturer of snowmobile performance parts, says this year the balance between being prepared without overdoing it is key.
“We’re keeping a very close eye on incoming orders and our inventory levels,” he said. “We want to make sure we have product ready to go, but we don’t want to have so much that if it slows down, our shelves are full. It’s a balancing act. Obviously we don’t want to stick our necks so far out that we’re being careless.”
To help gain that balance, Oberson says Woody’s is paying close attention to its customers as well as keeping an eye on the current economic conditions.
“We are in some very interesting times. We have the economic factors involved, which obviously concern us all,” he noted. “We’re approaching it optimistically, but we’re also cautious. Hoping people still have those discretionary dollars where people can go out and recreate.”
Other industry officials think the season’s success has more to do with Mother Nature than the economy.
“As a snowmobile enthusiast I don’t think (the economy) is going to really affect it,” Houle of SLP said. “I really believe (whether we get snow) is going to be the bottom dollar.”
Season preparation
Snowmobile companies can hope for snow all day long, but hoping only goes so far. Houle says Straight Line Performance has adjusted the way it does business to better accommodate its customers.
“Our company changed around from waiting until business picks up to build our company,” he said referring to last year’s season. “We started producing stuff in spring and worked all summer long to manufacture products and get them on the shelves. Our growth has been excellent.”
Producing high-quality products coupled with preparation have been determining factors in SLP’s and Studboy’s success.
“Plan early. Don’t always wait until the last minute,” said Pattyn of Studboy. “If times get going good from a snow standpoint and product gets scooped up, plan early so you have the product you need when it gets here.”
With people riding more last year, a lot of product was moved through the pipeline, and Pattyn says with some snow, it could be another gratifying season.
“The snowmobile industry is about as small as it’s going to get,” he said. “We have the hardcore guys left, and if Mother Nature helps a little bit, it will pull back some of the fringe people like it did last year.
“There’s a lot of positive things we can talk about: fuel prices coming back, the weather forecast looks good; it’s supposed to be a better winter than last year and that’s great, some positive optimism instead of the normal doom and gloom.”
Houle of SLP added, “By the looks of it and conversations with direct competitors and dealers, I haven’t heard anything that’s negative yet.”

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