Nov. 2, 2009 – A suddenly popular segment

By Karin Gelschus
Associate Editor
Despite uncertain weather conditions and decreasing new unit sales, the snowmobile aftermarket segment is quite healthy as indicated by the amount of recent interest in it.
A few new players are getting into the apparel side of the market. This comes after some of the market’s current major apparel players, including Arctiva and Klim, have seen increasing sales the past few years and have expressed optimism about the current season.
One of the new players to the segment is national distributor Helmet House, who has decided to test the market in an effort to further suffice its dealers’ needs and boost its market share.
Helmet House is manufacturing and distributing two new apparel lines specifically for the snowmobile industry. This year the company will offer a limited amount of product to select dealers. “The items that have gone out this year were pre-booked,” said Scott Bain, national sales manager of Helmet House. “That’s all the inventory we have for this year.
“In terms of the economic conditions and the challenges the snowmobile industry can be, we’re going in with our eyes wide open.”

Segment status
“It’s a highly competitive marketplace with the four OEMs and the other companies we compete with,” said Don Jensen, brand manager of Arctiva/Trukke. “It seems like there’s a good market for people still wanting to upgrade and buy apparel.”
A solid snowmobile market has held true for companies like Klim.
“For the past four years, we’ve had 45 percent growth each year,” said John Summers, director of marketing at Klim. “So far this year we’ve done really well. We’ve increased our product.”
One area Klim expanded its product offering was in the women’s segment. “We’ve added five new pieces this year,” said Summers, “including some synthetic layering pieces.”
Also seeing positive gains is Parts Unlimited subsidiary Arctiva.
“We’re up,” Jensen said. “We’ve had to do some additional orders, so we brought more product in to meet the demand. We’ve had really good growth over the last five years with the Arctiva brand, and this year will be no exception.
“Obviously weather does have an impact on all the companies out there. If it snows, we’re going to have a great year.”
One adjustment that has contributed to Arctiva’s success is the style of its clothing.
“We feel that so much of snowmobile clothes is style-driven, and it’s important to keep modernizing things,” Jensen noted. “We’ve had a really good preseason going into the fall shows with our COMP 4 men’s and women’s gear. That’s been doing really well for us.
“There are a number of different types of tastes out there about how clothing should be. We’ve found that more race-oriented tends to do better than some of the more conservative styles. We’ve put a little more effort into our race look compared to the more traditional winter black coat type of customer.”

New players
In addition to Arctic Cat’s new apparel line, Arctic Wear, there have been a couple new companies entering the snowmobile market, one of which is MotorFist. The Idaho Falls, Idaho-based company is debuting its line of MotorFist apparel,which prides itself on a lower price point and a lifetime warranty.
A larger player testing the snowmobile market is Helmet House.
“We’re really looking at this in some degree as a test market,” said Mark Gandy, director of products at Helmet House. “Basically what this is doing is giving us a chance to further refine our gear product line. Make sure we’re offering the best possible products with the right features, functions and value. It’s a condensed product line that we’re excited is coming out.”
The two lines Helmet House is featuring is its Tour Master and Cortech products designed specifically for the snowmobile market.
Within the Tour Master line, there is the Cascade range of jackets, snowbibs and gloves and the Journey range of jackets, bibs and gloves. Then within the Cortech line, there’s the snowcross-oriented Blitz performance jacket, bib and gloves.
The two product lines had performed so well in the motorcycle industry that it made sense to carry it over into the snowmobile market, says Gandy.
“A lot of our motorcycle dealers have been asking for snowmobile apparel for a long time because they do well with the motorcycle apparel,” he said. “They’re asking, ‘Why aren’t you making snow apparel?’ Some of this is just to suffice our dealer needs out there.”
To assure it’s satisfying dealers’ and snowmobilers’ needs, Helmet House is focusing on the technical aspects of its apparel lines.
“We’re going to have more to offer as far as venting, the look, the fit, technical apparel, durable,” said Bain. “These benefits are going to make it easier for the dealer to sell our products at a competitive price.”
This year’s release of the apparel lines is really to get feedback and fine tune Helmet House’s lines, says Bain.
“We’re using this year as a test market so we can refine the products and expand on it,” he said. “We’re a very technically oriented company. We don’t want to put out product that isn’t a prime benefit for the marketplace. It’s going to be a value-based line. It’s going to have a lot of features that aren’t available in some of the other product lines.”

Target markets
Most of the aftermarket companies are focusing on the Midwest and eastern part of the country. Summers of Klim says they’re picking up more dealers to keep up with their growth and a majority of those are located in the Midwest and East.
Those two areas are also where Helmet House is focusing its snowmobile efforts.
“We’re getting more pressure from the Northeast and the Great Lakes that they’re wanting more of a 12-month selling season for product,” Gandy said. “Summer season dries up in September, first part of October; they have a long winter before it starts back up again in March. We’ve increased our rep penetration in a lot of the snow markets that we did not have heavy distribution in.
“The Northeast, Great Lakes area is our No. 1 snow market for snow helmets, and that’s probably going to hold true for apparel,” he continued. “We’re also going to have a penetration in the Northwest. When you start getting into Washington, Idaho, there is definitely some snow market, but not nearly to the volume that you find in the Northeast.”
Within the dealership, Kimes says they’re leaving it up to the dealers in where the lines best fit in.
“If he’s looking to trade out something that isn’t working and do it with us, we’re happy to do it that way,” Kimes said, “but we are just as happy to be an additional line. We think we’re a unique addition and give them another opportunity for a revenue stream.”
The dealer response thus far has been positive, says Bain.
“Let’s be honest, the snow business can be quite a wild ride with weather patterns and inventory levels dealers have had to deal with, without a whole lot of snow for the last 10 years up until last year,” he said. “This is relatively new for us, but this stuff has been in development for quite some time. We’re just being more public with it as we’re in the final stages because of the positive response we’ve had.”

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